The culminating event for each Palio is the no-holds-barred horse race in which ten jockeys riding bareback race three breath-taking laps around the square in hopes of winning the cloth banner or Palio that is presented to the victor.
The jockeys represent ten of Siena's seventeen contrade or neighborhoods and the competition between them is rife with ancient traditions, rivalries, hostilities, and shifting alliances.
The week before the race, tensions mount and the contrade that are participating display their colors in banners and light fixtures on palace walls and in the fazzoletti or scarves worn by the contradaioli.
Each contrada has its own set name, emblem, church, museum, meeting house and fountain which are found within the borders of its designated part of the city.
In the days leading up to the race, horses and jockeys are selected according to set guidelines. A mixture of sand and volcanic soil is placed around the campo to create a soft track and mattresses are anchored to particularly dangerous corners. The day of the race a long and stately historic procession winds around the city and ends in the square.
All seventeen contrade participate, wearing historical costumes, waving banners and beating drums. The striking combinations of patterns, colors and sounds is thrilling to the eyes and ears and sets the war-like mood for the start of the race.
By the time the race begins, emotions are surging, blood is pumping and a hushed, tense silence fills the air. The winning contradaioli cry with joy and relief, then celebrate their victory with dinners and carnival-like festivities that continue day and night.