Palio in Siena: The "Corteo Storico"

Previously: Blessing the Horses

Shortly before 5pm, all entries on the Campo are closed, except the one at the "Bocca dell'Onda" which will remain open until the last minute before the race. The track is cleared of the crowd which presses into the centre of the Piazza or onto the tribunes around it. It is time for the parade to begin. A detachment of mounted "carabinieri" enters the Campo. After having completed a first round of the Piazza at a slow trot, they suddenly break into a charge at full gallop, all swords drawn, for a spectacular second round.


The "carabinieri" then exit the square, and the "Sunto" or "campanone" - the huge bell on top of the tower of the Mangia - begins to toll, announcing the arrival of the historical pageant.

The successive groups forming the pageant enter the Campo from the "Bocca del Casato" and progressively spread all around the Piazza, proceeding at a slow and solemn pace. The whole progress will take a full two hours, during which the bell of the Palazzo Pubblico will continue to sound in its characteristically low tone, marking the advance of the various delegations.

The first group to enter the Piazza is a deputation representing the Comune of Siena and the various towns, territories and castles that belonged to the former Republic of Siena, each with its own standard-bearer.


Occupying a place of honour within this delegation of the ancient Sienese state are the communes of Montalcino and Massa Marittima.

Then comes a group representing the former military organization of the Sienese Republic. The Captain of the People, mounted on horseback, is followed by the standard-bearers and centurions of the three historic "terzi" of the city - Città, San Martino and Camollia -, and finally by the captains the Masse.

Following them is a delegation of the venerable University of Siena, founded ca 1240, with its rector followed by four lecturers and four students.


Immediately after the Studium come the representatives of the ancient guilds or corporations of the city: merchants, painters, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, shoemakers, carpenters, bakers, leatherworkers, apothecaries, wool carders, notaries, masons, wool vendors, potters, bankers, silkworkers, weavers and dyers.


It is then the turn of the contrade to make their entrance, greeted by the cheers of their respective contradaioli. First come the 10 contrade taking part in the race.

Each "comparsa", or parade unit, consists of a drummer, two "alfieri" or flagwavers, the "duce" or leader, with two men-at-arms, the principal page carrying the large flag of the contrada accompanied by two standard-bearing pages, the jockey mounted on a large parade horse, and finally the horse that will run for the contrada, led by his "barbaresco".


Each "comparsa" will make several stops at fixed points along the track to allow its "alfieri" to show off their skills, executing complicated figures with their flags.


Following these first ten "comparse", and separated from them by a group of young pages bearing festoons of laurel, come those of the seven contrade not competing for this year's Palio. Their composition is similar to the preceding ones - except for the horses and jockey, since they do take part in the race.


Next is an impressive and somewhat mysterious group of masked horsemen representing the so-called "contrade morte": Gallo, Leone, Orso, Quercia, Spadaforte and Vipera. These six contrade disappeared or were suppressed in the course of the 17th century, and their territories divided between the seventeen surviving contrade.


They are then followed by a group of armed guards, crossbowmen for the most part, preceding the Captain of Justice mounted on horseback.


The climax of the parade comes with the entrance on the Campo of the "carroccio", the triumphal cart of the Commune, evocative of the one captured from the Florentines at the famous battle of Montaperti (1260) - and thus a symbol of Sienese liberty and independence. The cart is drawn by four white oxen and bears the Balzana - the black-and-white flag of the Sienese Republic - and the new Palio banner to be won. Seated on the chariot, beside the trumpeters of the Commune, are the Four of Balìa, ancient magistrates of the city.


Riding just behind the "carroccio" are the representatives of six ancient noble families of Siena: the Pannocchieschi d'Elci, Salvani, Piccolomini, Salimbeni, Ugurgieri and Tolomei.

The passage of the "carroccio" followed by the knights marks the end of the "corteo". The Palio banner is taken down and brought to the judges' stand where it will remain for the duration of the race. The low tolling of the bell that has been going on for two hours finally stops. The moment everyone has been awaiting is finally at hand. It is time for the race !


Continued: The Race