A horse race, known all over the world as the Palio, is held twice a year in the Tuscan city of Siena. The Palio competition lasts eight days, from the 29th of June till the 2nd of July, and from the 13th of August till the 16th of August. The second of July and the sixteenth of August are the official dates of the feast.
As the Sienese people say, life in the city is divided into three periods, before, during and after the Palio. The attitude to the holiday is explained by the subtle sense of local patriotism. The race alludes to the important political victory of Siena over Florence in 1260. The haughty neighbor had been trying to bring Siena under control for a long time, but freedom-loving townspeople defended their right for independence. Up to nowadays, you can feel the spirit of competition and hostility between people from Siena and people from Florence.
All seventeen districts of Siena, which are called contrade and have administrative independence, take part in the Palio race. Yet, only ten of them, by rotation, nominate their jockeys for competition. All the rest representatives of contrade choose, which district to support, and cheer for it it.
Horse riders, wearing historic medieval costumes, accompanied by drummers and standard bearers, go down the Costarella dei Barbieri slope to the main square, Piazza del Campo. One of the most beautiful squares in the world turns into an arena whelmed with sand for the Palio race. The surrounding buildings become lodges for viewers. Even though the Palio has been held twice a year in Siena for seven centuries already, still almost all Sienese population come to see it again and again, as well as thousands of city visitors.
Ten participants take part in every tour. Horses make three rounds, which last just about ninety seconds. The winner is awarded with the flag, which will decorate the streets of the district he represents for the following year.
The Palio race is one of the most beautiful costume shows in Tuscany. It is definitely worth visiting it at least once.
The main architectural masterpieces are concentrated in the capital, Siena. You can feel here the pride of the ancient romans who founded a military colony on the place of an Etruscan settlement.