What is the history behind the annual Palio horse race in Siena, Italy?

The Palio horse race in Siena, Italy, is a tradition that dates back to the medieval period. The origins of the Palio can be traced back to the 13th century, when Siena was a powerful city-state and its citizens were divided into different districts or contrade.

Each contrada had its own emblem, colors, and patron saint, and the rivalry between them was intense. As a way to celebrate their identity and assert their dominance, the contrade organized various competitions and games, including horse races.

The first recorded Palio took place in 1633, but it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the race became an annual event. Nowadays, the Palio is held twice a year, on July 2nd and August 16th, as part of the festivities for the Feast of the Visitation and the Assumption of Mary, respectively.

The race consists of a three-lap circuit around the Piazza del Campo, the main square of Siena, which is transformed into a dirt track for the occasion. Ten of the seventeen contrade are randomly selected to participate, and each one competes with a rider and a horse representing their district.

The race lasts only about 90 seconds but it is highly charged with excitement and passion. The jockeys, who ride bareback, often use tactics such as whipping, pushing, and blocking to gain an advantage over their opponents.

Despite its long history and cultural significance, the Palio has been criticized for its cruelty towards the horses and its commercialization. Nevertheless, it remains a beloved tradition for many Sienese and visitors alike, a spectacle that captures the essence of the city’s identity and spirit.

Sources:
– [Wikipedia](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palio_di_Siena)
– [CNN Travel](https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/siena-palio-horse-race/index.html)

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