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It isn't easy to remember the names of Siena's 17 neighborhoods let alone their colors and symbols. But if you want to get into the Palio spirit, there's no way around knowing them. Luckily only 10 out of the 17 contrade can participate at each Palio race, so for starters just have a look at the 10 neighborhoods that participate in the race you attend. 

To prepare for the Palio on the 16th of August 2013, these are the colors and symbols you need to get familiar with:

Lupa (shewolf): Black and white with orange.
Torre (tower): Symbol, an elephant with a tower on its back. Bordeaux with white and blue.
Bruco (caterpillar): Yellow and green with blue.
Chiocciola (snail): Red and yellow with blue.  
Aquila (eagle): Yellow and black with blue.
Nicchio (seashell): Blue and and yellow with red. 
Oca (goose): Green and white with red.
Onda (wave), symbol a dolphin: Blue and white. 
Tartuca (turtle): Yellow and blue. 
Selva (forest). A rhino with a tree on its back: Green and yellow-orange with white bands. 

The enemy contrade of the August Palio 2013 are Chiocciola vs Tartuca and Oca and Onda vs Torre. Bruco and Selva don't have any enemies (support one of these if you are a pacifist at heart), and the rival contrade of Nicchio, Aquila and Lupa are not participating in the August race. A jockey (in Italian fantino) who has its rival neighborhood running the same race, will not just have to try and win the race, but also needs to impede the victory of the enemy contrada (even more so if the enemy contrada has been lucky to draw a more promissing horse). 

Bordeaux, blue and white: the colors of la Torre (the neighborhood of the tower)
The jockey and members of the Torre neighborhood wearing the fazzoletto in the contrada colors

Once you have an idea of the contrade, walk around town and look at flags and symbols and try to identify the neighborhood you're in (if you need help, have a look at their emblem on Siena's Palio website). Then pick your favorite contrada, either because your hotel happens to be in its territory or because you know somebody of that neighborhood. Or maybe you just have an affinity to a particular part of Siena or the symbol and a contrada's colors. In any case, the best way to join the competitive vibe in Siena, is if the members of your family or travel group support different contrade! 
If you want to take part in a neighborhood dinner the night before the Palio, obviously do so in your favorite contrada, or - if you're undecided yet - choose one of the smaller neighborhoods (like for an example Selva or Aquila). Larger contradas like Nicchio or Chiocciola have often less space available during these dinners due to the bigger population ratio. 

Too hot and too crowded to see the Palio on piazza del Campo? Have a glass of chilled white wine, enjoy the aircon and nibble some Tuscan goodies at Un Tubo (via del Luparello, 2) whilst watching it all on TV. Which is what I'll be doing this August. From a mountain top in Switzerland (see how to watch the Palio on TV or live streaming). 

For a concise introduction to the rules and history of the famous horse race read What is the Palio di Siena


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