The Palio occurs every July 2nd and August 16th. It has occurred on these dates since 1656 (the August 16th date was added in 1701). There are 17 neighborhoods (contradas) in Siena, each with their own symbol…. Duck (Oca), Snail (Chioccola), Panther (Pantera), Shell (Nicchio), Giraffe (Giraffa), Dragon (Drago), etc. There is only space for 10 contradas compete in each Palio so nearly half of them do not actually run. Even when not running, they are still very much a part of it in their spirit.
The race itself is at 7pm and it lasts all of 3 laps around the Campo, totaling less than 2 minutes of action. But as I learned, it is not even so much about who wins the race more than it is about the ceremonies, the traditions and the love of the event and for the contrada. For the three days leading up to the race, there are dinners, chanting sessions, parades (and not the kind with beads), blessings of the riders and horses (yes the horses go in the churches and are blessed by the priest), numerous trial races, and streets so packed with people that you better hope you have no where else to be because you are not getting there anyway.