The Palio is not a manifestation exhumed and organized for tourism purposes: it is the life of the Sienese people and in its various aspects and feelings. It has remote origins, with some regulations still valid since 1644, the year in which the first prize was held with horses, as it still happens.
The territory of the City is divided into seventeen Contrade with borders established in 1729 by the Violante Notice of Bavaria, Governor of the City. Each Contrada is like a small state, supported by a Seggio led by the Prior and guided in a "carousel" by a Captain, assisted by two or three contradaioli called "mangini" or "lieutenants".
Each contains a Church, called "Oratorio", with the official headquarters attached, equipped with a Museum, where all its heritage is kept: relics, banners of victories, costumes of the Apparition - those in use and many of ancient date - flags, archives and everything else concerning the life of the Contrada itself.
The complex mechanism of the celebration reaches its fulfilment with the burst of the firecracker announcing the exit of the horses from the Entrone. Each rider is given a bullock with which he can incite the horse or hinder opponents during the race. Then we proceed to the approach to the "move", that is the point where two ropes are thrown, and the horses and the jockeys will be called to line up. The order of entry is established by fate, in fact the Contradas are called according to the order of extraction, decided secretly and declaimed aloud. Absolute silence reigns in the Piazza. If the start is not valid, a burst of the firecracker will stop the horses. They’ll have to complete three laps of the track for about 1000 meters and only the first one will be crowned victor. The winner is the horse and not the jockey, in fact the former can also cross the line without a jockey and still win.
The celebrations begin immediately: the Contradas receive the Palio and go to the Basilica of the Madonna di Provenzano (for the Palio of July) or to the Duomo (in August) to sing Maria Mater Gratiae to thank the Madonna for the victory. From this moment on, everyone is reminded of the victory won by the Contrada, until autumn, when, between the month of September and October, the victorious district is decorated, and the victory feast is attended by thousands of contradaioli and, residing in place of honour, the victorious horse, is admired as a hero.