Palio di Siena
Twice each year - on the 2nd of July and the 16th of August - the historic town of Siena comes alive for the historic horse race, the Palio di Siena. Held for the first time in 1656, the Palio is one of the most history-rich sporting events in the world and a magnificent display of pageantry: billowing buntings adorn the city's central square, and the riders still ride bareback, dressed in traditional clothes representing 10 of the city's 17 contrades (wards). The different contrades are notoriously competitive and the festival is a passionate affair which the locals take very seriously. The race takes place on a dirt track circling the Piazza del Campo and is a high-octane affair - it is not uncommon for riders to be thrown from their horses as they enter the sharp turns, and for horses to finish the race jockeyless. Apart from the horse race there are all sorts of other festivities to enjoy and it is ultimately a celebration of Siena's culture and history. If you plan on visiting Italy, and Tuscany, in the summer, be sure to include the Palio di Siena in your travel itinerary - it is a fantastic and exhilarating way to experience real Italian culture.
Venue: Piazza del Campo, Siena
Date: 2 July and 16 August annually