There is a lot of activity occurring at the Piazza del Campo as Siena gets prepared for Palio!
Siena is essentially a pedestrian city. You can own a car and vehicles are allowed into the city for deliveries, etc., but it is very difficult for them to get around due to the number of pedestrians so there is very little vehicular traffic. Additionally, many of the streets are very narrow and often times have steps so they are impossible to get through with a car.
The Piazza has many little roads and lanes that lead into it and they are slowly being blocked off as the crowd control is very tight for Palio. As such, it is already becoming a challenge to get into the Piazza. Our l’insegnante (teacher), Roberta, told us today that on the day of Palio the crowds are so thick that it takes forever to get into the Piazza.
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, the Piazza was actually a lawn which is why it has the name “Campo”, meaning field. It has long since been paved with brickwork.
To prepare the course, tons of dirt are hauled into the Piazza and spread around the area in which the horses will eventually run. This was completed yesterday or the day before and is being wetted down throughout the day to provide comfort for the horses’ hooves. Barricades are being set up to keep people off the course once the activities begin. I can’t imagine how much dirt they had to bring in or how much it must cost to lay it down and then clean it up!
To attend Palio you have a choice of either being trapped in the middle of the Piazza for free or purchasing a seat or place to stand on a platform or balcony on the outside of the course.
The Piazza is a very irregular shape (it is supposed the shape of a boar which is a local animal and the meat is used in a lot of the cuisine) and it is also very oddly sloped. Because of the shape and slope, if you stand in the center of the Piazza, you can have either an awesome view or a disastrous view depending on where you end up, and I hear there can be a lot of fights. I sprung for a seat, it was a lot of money so I hope I enjoy myself!
The irregularity of the Piazza also adds to the danger of the race as the jockey needs to navigate some strange angles. One corner, in particular, is quite sharp and is uphill until you reach the corner and then there is a sharp downward right. This is where most of the accidents happen and the course is actually lined with Formula I racecourse padding at this corner to help absorb impact of any crashes / collisions.
The bleachers are already stacked up along the outer edge of the course. There is just enough room for people to walk under the stacks and get into the shops and restaurants but there is no longer any outdoor seating which is one of the things that make the Piazza so inviting. The center of the Piazza is also used as a sort of ‘beach’ where people meet and often time lay down and sun themselves for extended periods of times. It is quite an interesting place!
I am attaching a few photos.
On Saturday the horses are drawn, I hope to see that happen and will share in a future post.