Not A Stipe In Sight

Palio di Siena - run on Tuesday 2 July

The small Italian city of Siena is renowned for Gothic architecture and astonishing Renaissance art collections.

The tranquil gem was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

But on Tuesday, a bizarre horse race will become the centre of attention. The Palio di Siena dates back centuries, and may have started life as a Roman military exercise.

The Palio di Siena is a race that is held twice each year, on 2 July and 16 August, in Siena, Italy.

Ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colours, represent ten of the seventeen contrade, or city wards. The city districts field a horse in a race for glory. For three laps of the narrow, dusty track laid out in the main square, chaos ensues.

The rivalries are fierce. When the ‘Eagle’ district recently beat neighbouring ‘Panther’, an Eagle-allied church blared out mocking slurs from its tower for a month.

Bribery and betrayal abound: the jockeys are selected and paid by each contrada, but dirty tricks are inevitable. A wad of euros may convince any of them to pull back at a corner, or surge ahead.

Saddle up for a bumpy ride!

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