The Curves of Piazza del Campo
As well as being the emblem of Siena, the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo is one of the world’s finest Medieval squares. The square features two sharp curves joined by a straight line of buildings. During the frantic Palio race, held in Siena generally twice a year, the Curva di San Martino and the Curva del Casato (named thus after Via del Casato, one of the eleven streets that opens into the Campo), these two curves represent the most thrilling moments of the race.
On the day of the Palio the horses make three rounds of the square in less than a minute, thereby ending days and days of elaborate preparations and ceremonies. The high speed of the race, in which the jockeys ride bareback, means that the two curves are particularly dangerous both for rider and mount. The Curva di San Martino in particular, which is approached downhill, is generally regarded as being the most dangerous and it has at times been necessary to put down race horses that have fallen and broken their legs at this point, despite a number of trial races run on the days prior to the Palio.
A number of races in recent years have been decided at the Curva di San Martino. This is also the point from which the so-called comparse, those dressed in Medieval costume who take part in the great procession involving all the contrade taking part in the race, watch the Palio. In the past the borders of this curve were covered in mattresses in an attempt to protect falling horses and jockeys. Recently, however, the curve is sheathed in the same plastic material used as buffer in car racing.