We started with a guided tour of Siena at the Duomo, which, like I said, was the most beautiful I had seen in all of Italy. The facade was so intricately carved that it was hard to look away from it to even enter the building, which was equally as stunning inside. At one point, before the plague nearly destroyed the town in the 1300s, the church was bigger than any other in Italy, even bigger than those in Rome. When it fell to ruin and had to be rebuilt the Pope demanded that it should only be rebuilt to half of its size.
After seeing the Duomo our guide also gave us our first view of the Piazza del Campo, which had already been decked out for the race, with a gated area in the center of the piazza for spectators and sand laid in ring around the outer edge for the track. Bleachers were also ready to be set up, which I found out cost upwards of 300 euro per seat, while space on the balconies looking into the piazza went for well over 500 euros! After the tour we were given a couple of hours to ourselves for lunch and walking around, so I chose to grab a quick sandwich and head back to the Piazza del Campo and try to catch more of the action. As I was walking I would see groups of people heading towards the piazza, usually an oddly dressed gentleman leading the way, singing a song and chanting. This I found was each of the districts, parading into the square for the horse lottery. After each horse was called, the district would cheer and then lead the winning animal out of the piazza, singing and chanting the same song over and over. Some of the horses were pretty wild, probably due to all of the screaming, but several times the crowd would have to run and dodge an uncontrolled horse as it was led through the narrow streets. After one of the last districts had chosen its horse I tagged along at the back of the crowd to see where they were going. It turns out that they take the horse back to their district, where it is lead directly into the church to be blessed. From then forward, until the race, the horse is treated like a new born babe, watched and catered to 24/7 by members of the community. It was all very fascinating to watch.
After the excitement had died down I winded my way back down the city streets, grabbing a gelato on the way of course, to meet my group for our departure. I do wish that I would have been able to see the actual race, but the way it is set up, unless you have a place in the bleachers or balconies, you will be stuffed into the center of the piazza with thousands of others, in the hot summer sun, where you will not be able to see more then the horses heads speed by. If you even see that much. I'm not really much for crowds so I think witnessing the lottery will have to be enough. I'm happy with that :)