Imagine a horse-race that takes a year to prepare for, and which transports its observers back to medieval times. If you are looking for a gripping, exhilarating race, then look no further. The Palio, or Il Palio, is a horse-race that takes place twice a year in Siena, Italy, in honor of the Virgin Mary, whose apparition is said to have appeared in the doorway of an old Siena home.
The race features ten sleek horses and ten daring riders. Each horse represents its respective ‘contrade,’ or district. Each contrade has its own government, its own coat of arms, and its own patron spirits.
Up to 25,000 people gather the night before the race, carousing in pre-celebratory festivities in the Piazza. The race itself circles the Piazza del Campo, where a thick layer of dirt is laid on the ground, and the riders bust through, bareback, on their horses.
The crowd screams and whistles as the horses and riders circle three times around the Piazza, on treacherous turns, and many a rider is de-horsed. The most unique aspect of this race is that a horse, without his rider, can claim the win. A horse who wins the race without his jockey is called a ‘scosso’.