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Il Palio di SienaBy Anthony Parente
This traditional medieval horse race is held on July 2nd and August 16th. The July event is called the Palio di Provenzano in honor of the Madonna of Provenzano and the August event is the Palio dell'Assunta in honor of the Assumption of Mary.
The city of Siena is divided in 17 Contrade (wards or districts): Caterpillar, Dragon, Eagle, Forest, Giraffe, Goose, Owl, Panther, Porcupine, Ram, Seashell, She-Wolf, Snail, Tortoise, Tower, Unicorn and Wave. Each Contrade has a banner and colors that are proudly displayed in their district. In each race only 10 of the 17 Contrade participate. The seven Contrade that did not participate on that date the previous year and three that are drawn from the remaining lot.
The Piazza del Campo, Siena's main square, is transformed into a race track as tons of clay cover the piazza. To protect the jockeys and horses a row of mattresses are placed against the walls of the treacherous San Martino corner.
As the horses jockey for position at the starting line in the order they were drawn they wait for the large rope to drop and the race to begin. The horses must complete three laps around the Campo navigating the narrow and dangerous curve of San Martino that has seen many jockeys and horses collide into the wall over the years. The first horse to cross the finish line with or without the jockey wins the race. The winning Contrada receives the Drappellone, which is a painted silk banner that they can proudly display in their district.
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