Tomorrow, the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy will be filled with colorful flags and banners and as many as 70,000 spectators for the running of Il Palio the famous horse race that has been run in Siena since medieval times. It is run twice a year - on July 2nd and August 16th. Ten jockeys, each representing a contrada or district of Siena, ride bareback on their horses around the Piazza (which is turned into temporary race track by laying down thick layers of dirt) three times. The horses and riders wear the bright colors of their contrada and the spectators wave vibrant flags representing their district.
The celebrations begin in Siena several days before the Il Palio with many celebrations including the selection of the barbero (the term for racehorse in Tuscany) and the blessing of the horses and jockeys. The night before the race, festive street dinners are held in each district. The day of the race, the Corteo Storico takes place in the Piazza featuring a parade of banners, armored horsemen, drummers and chariots representing each of the contrade.
The race itself only lasts around 90 seconds, has very few rules and is highly competitive. Jockeys often push or shove each other and it is not uncommon for jockeys to be unseated during the race. The Palio is different from traditional horse races as the horse, rather than the jockey, is the winner of the race. If a jockey is unseated, the horse will still win the race if he crosses the finish line first.
The winning horse and jockey are presented with a banner of painted silk, or palio, which is hand-painted by a different artist for each race. The victorious contrada has bragging rights until the next Palio is held.