I’ve only ever been to Siena in the Autumn—well after the annual summer horse races which have helped make the Medieval city famous. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help being taken with the magnificent, bowl-shaped Piazza del Campo and imagine it packed with spectators, the thunder of horses hooves creating a sense of excitement and danger.
If I were in Siena today, I would be able to witness Il Palio myself. Each 2 July (and 16 August), ten horses and their riders—dressed in the colorful garments and bearing the colorful flags of the various city “wards” which they represent—compete in the treacherous race, three times around the piazza. It is not uncommon to see horses cross the finish line riderless for the bareback horsemen are frequently thrown from their steeds.
The race has Medieval roots; it replaced the city’s bullfighting event when the Grand Duke of Tuscany outlawed the cruel sport in 1590.
The horse above, which is Danish, not Italian, was made in 1961. Who knows where his rider went. Click on the photo to learn more about it.