Palio di Siena
The city's famous scallop-shaped Piazza del Campo is transformed into a racecourse as the bareback horserace is run, causing huge excitement amongst locals and visitors on both July 2 and August 16.
Run for the first time during the sixteenth century, Il Palio is a historic pageant celebrating Siena's 17 contrade (districts), which race against each other; each of the jockeys and horses wear their contrade's colours. Once the rope is dropped, the race is over in less than two minutes. The horses charge around the Piazza's narrow track three times at breakneck speed - unlike other races, a horse can win even if the jockey has fallen.
The race itself is preceded by a magnificent historical pageant, with participants wearing costumes that date back to the early 15th century.
The procession winds its way around the Piazza del Campo, headed by a mounted flag-bearer carrying the standard of Siena, followed by drummers, trumpeters, and flag-bearers with the standard of the "Terzi" (districts) of the town and of the contrade. Bringing up the rear is a triumphal chariot drawn by huge oxen.
The standing area in the Piazza is free, but you must arrive very early to get a spot and once you are in, you'll be stuck in the heat for about four hours. Try to get a ticket for a seat in the terraces - apply early - or make some enquiries and book a space on a private balcony.