Palio di Siena: Italy's Historic Horse Race Festival

The Italians’ factional tendencies can be seen in all their swaggering glory at Il Palio, a bareback horse race that last for about a minute and a half.

Jockeys compete at the historical horse race Palio di Siena, in Siena, Italy Photo © Getty Images/Awakening


Il Campo, Siena, Tuscany, Italy


2nd July and 16th August each year


During the short bareback dash around central piazza Il Campo, which is covered in packed dirt for the occasion, jockeys are allowed to do anything to their opponents other than tug their reins. The winning steed is often rider-less.

The crazy gleam in the mares’ eyes is reflected in the stands, because this event strikes at the heart of Sienese civic pride. Each horse represents one of the city’s 17 contrade (districts), all of which have their eye on the victorious palio banner.

The displays of loyalty are as much of a spectacle as the race itself. The horses are blessed in the contrades churches and medieval parades accompany the competitors when they register at the Palazzo Comunale. Before the race, pageboy types wave bright flags bearing the contrades ancient symbols, including a double-headed eagle and a crowned dolphin.

Level of Participation

3 – lay a bet and smell the nervous sweat.


Get there four hours before the race starts for a place near the rails, or watch the warm-ups on previous days.

Other Local Attractions

A World Heritage site, Gothic Siena also makes a great base for touring the medieval Tuscan towns of San Gimignano and Volterra.

More Info: Il Palio Website in EnglishSiena Tourist Information

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