The Palio is a complex and ritualistic event that has taken place in Siena, Italy since the twelfth century. The Madonna became central to this celebration and the Patron Saint of the famous ceremony. The Palio, sometimes called “Race of the Soul,” is linked very closely to the historical, political, religious and civic events of the Republic of Siena.
Although the earliest race was solely without riders, it later escalated to a race between the 17 Contradas in Siena, each of the neighborhoods into which Siena is divided. Each Contrada is like a small state with its own organization of self-government and is represent by a particular animal, such as porcupine, wolf, caterpillar, giraffe, and eagle with the appropriate coat of arms, banners, and extravagant helmets.
Palio denotes the race, which circles the Campo three times, and also the victory banner. The race takes one and one half minutes. Approximately 15 hours before the race the Contradas set off to meet the other Contradas in the Cathedral piazza. The participants and all the Contrada members take part in the ceremony of the blessing of the horse. The final words pronounced by the priest are directed to the horse who is obviously the main protagonist of the Feast.
It is noted that quite early in its history women raced for their Contrada.