Twice a year, on the 2 July and 16 August, the Palio di Siena horse race is held in Siena, Italy. This is an event like no other, which is known for its high levels of thrill and excitement. The race consists of ten horses, and jockeys who ride bareback around the track. People are able to place bets on the horses, and the atmosphere is filled with excitement, as viewers wait eagerly to see who will win. Each participant is dressed in a specific colour, which stands as a formal representation of the city ward from which they come. The two races each have their own names, with the race in July known as the Palio di Provenzano, which commemorates the Madonna of Provenzano, while the race in August is known as the Palio dell’Assunta, which celebrates the Assumption of Mary.

A Traditional Experience of Festivities

The Corteo Storico is a day of festivities and a parade that takes place before the race and is known to attract tourists from around the world. These two days are especially significant, as they are celebrated by locals and visitors, who are able to come together and celebrate the rich history and culture, that has survived for generations. The celebration takes place as a march through the city in honour of the traditional customs and institutions within Siena. All participants are dressed in traditional, medieval clothing, along with accessories like helmets and swords. After the march and other formal procedures, there is a range of musical performances, which spectators get to witness, and then join in on the celebrations.

A Competition for the Brave

Unlike modern horse racing events, the rules during these two races are a lot more flexible and less strict. The two races begin at 7:30 pm and 7 pm respectively, signalled by the release of a loud explosion. The race then covers three laps around the dirt tracks of the Piazza del Campo, while thousands of people watch in anticipation. The race is known for its level of danger and raucousness. Jockeys may use whips to distract other horses and their riders on the track. The procedure of the race is also different from that of the usual, seen in other destinations. Rather than all horses being released at the same time, nine of the horses are held back, until the tenth one enters at a later, usually strategically timed, stage.

The rider that wins the race is given a hand-painted silk banner known as the Palio, which is a unique representation of periods of history in Siena. Because of this historical significance, local spectators are so passionate about the outcome of the race that they often gather around each other hugging, crying and chanting victory songs. Another unusual aspect of the race is that, rather than the horse that finishes last, the horse that finishes second is considered to be the real “loser” of the race. With these races being held each year, this is one of Tuscany’s most celebrated events and one of the most exciting around the world.