Thousands of people are expected to gather today at Piazza del Campo in Siena for the traditional annual Palio di Siena horse race.
Ten riders on their horses, riding bareback and dressed in the colors of the contrada (city ward) they represent, will circle Piazza del Campo three times. The race itself doesn’t usually last more than 90 seconds. It is not uncommon for some of the riders to fall off their horses, although the race still continues; the first horse to reach the finish line, with or without its jockey, wins.
The race is preceded by a spectacular pageant, the Corteo Storico, which includes alfieri (flag wavers) in medieval costumes.
The Palio di Siena is held twice each year, on July 2 and August 16. The Palio held today is named Palio di Provenzano, in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano, who has a church in Siena.
The Palio di Siena, which in its modern form took place the first time in 1656, is not just a horse race; rather, it is the culmination of ongoing rivalry between the contrade, which compete with great passion and pride. There are 17 contrade in Siena, but only ten participate in each race: the seven that did not participate in the previous year's Palio and three chosen by drawing lots. The contrade racing today are Giraffa, Chiocciola, Drago, Tartuca, Selva, Bruco, Aquila, Lupa, Pantera and Onda.
The Corteo Storico begins parading at 4:30 pm. The race begins at 7:30 pm.
Watch below a video from last year's Palio race: