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The Palio Di Siena, locally called Il Palio, is one of the most intense horse races in the world. The race is held in the tiny Piazza del Campo in Siena with ten riders representing ten of the seventeen Contrade, which is kind of similar to a city ward, compete for honor. The riders dress in the appropriate colours and giant banners are raised all over the city.
One of the more intense parts of the race is that the riders actually ride bareback. Luckily the three laps around the piazza usually only lasts 90 seconds and many of the riders get knocked off trying to round the tight turns. For those fallen jockey's the winner of the race is decided by the horse to cross the finish line first not the jockey, making it still possible for their Contrade to still win.
The Contrade that wins gets the amazing Palio itself, a large banner of painted silk that is created but new artists every year. The winning jockey also gets a small prize and there is very little betting going on. Sadly getting second place is a great disgrace because there is no silver medal in this competition. The events leading up to race are intense and the celebrations that follow afterwards are not to be missed. Some have called the race it self the best 75 seconds of their entire trip!
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The piazza has always been a popular location for sports events such as boxing, jousting and bullfights. Starting in the 14th century horse races organized by the Contrade became popular and were held throughout the city. Then when the Grand Duke of Tuscany banned bullfighting in 1590, the Contrade organized the first races in the Piazza. In the begining the races were either on buffalo back then replaced by donkeys with horses eventually replacing the other animals. On July 2, 1656 the first modern Palio was held.
Today the race is held twice a year once on July 2 and then on August 16. Only 10 of the 17 Contrade can be represented in the race so to make it fair the the 7 not in the last race are automatically included in the next one and the last three spots are chosen by a lottery. The locals back their horses profusely and have been known to cheat. Luckily most spectators just pray the night before to their Contrade patron saint for good luck and winning. Interestingly more attention is paid to the Contrade that has gone the longest without winning and not the one that wins the most often. It is a very rare event to have a Contrade win both races in one year.
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The race starts at 7:30pm for the July race and at 7:00pm for the August Race. Loud fireworks are set off to signal the beginning of the race.
The tickets for the race can be very expensive and hard to find. Remember that not every ticket seller actually has tickets and each ticket seller sells their tickets for a different value. It is best to get the help of a trust worthy travel agent. The more expensive tickets in the windows of buildings or in the band stands can be upwards of €380, while standing room is generally free. Remember to buy tickets you should contact ticket vendors 6 to 9 months a head of time.
The race is held in the central plaza called the Paizza del Campo. Remember that the plaza is pretty small and will fill up early so get there early if possible.
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Located in the centre of Siena there are plenty of option for eating
Located in the city center drinking options are easy to find.
For sleeping options refer to the Siena article.
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