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Palio di Siena 2009 July 2, August 16
The "Palio di Siena", known to the locals as "Il Palio", is a horse race held twice each year in Siena, Italy on the 2nd of July and again on the 16th of August. Ten horses and ten riders, dressed in their colors, represent the seventeen districts of the city. The seventeen are: Giraffa (Giraffe), Drago (Dragon), Bruco (Catepillar), Aquila (Eagle), Chiocciola (Snail), Civetta (Little Owl), Istrice (Porcupine), Lupa (Female Wolf), Leocorno (Unicorn), Niccio (Seashell), Oca (Goose), Pantera (Black Panther), Onda (Wave), Tartuca (Tortoise), Selva (Forest), Torre (Tower) and Valdimontone (Valley of the Ram). The race merely consists of the riders making three loops around the main square and is over in about 90 seconds, but the event itself is widely celebrated hours beforehand, with various parades and festivites.
In the morning, before the races, each of the horses are led into the church to be blessed. Afterwards, the city explodes, while excited citizens and tourists head to the Piazza del Campo. More than 50,000 people find their way into the middle of the square, prepared to watch this amazing event. An event that's prepared all year long in Siena, where each rider devotes everything they have to winning.
The Palio is a banner and is decorated with an image of the Virgin Mary, which is presented afterwards to the winner of the race. At nighttime, the winner, along with the locals, head to the church, where the palio is given behind the altar, and a festival of sounds can be heard outside- brass bands, fireworks, choirs and more! If you'd like to or are planning to be in Siena at the time of the race, book fast and in advance. Usually seats are booked out even months in advance, so it's best to just go there and try to find a spot among the railings.