BEIJING, Aug. 19 (Xinhuanet) -- To Italy now where the Tuscan city of Siena is preparing for the Palio, a famous horse race held twice a year. Ten horses and jockeys riding bareback and representing 10 of the 17 city wards gallop furiously around the main piazza.
Dating from the17th century - Siena’s Palio horse race is one of Italy’s most famous traditions. The city’s 17 districts - or Contrados - are each represented and here in the Contrada della Lupa there is a sense of anticipation. This year "The Specialist" is amongst the favourites, having won last year’s race.
Andrea Viviani, Prior, Contrada Della Lupa, Siena, said, "It has been a long time, too long since we last won - 24 years. For us it is really important to win, to bring a little pleasure to all those young people who have yet to experience the joy of victory."
The Palio takes place twice a year in July and August. Up to 40,000 people pack the central Piazza del Campo as the horses race three times around the course. Rivalry between the different Contrados is as fierce as it was when the race was first run back in 1656.
Francesco, Siena Resident, said, "It’s our life. When you start taking an interest - it gets under your skin immediately. If you don’t know the race, it is difficult to understand the feelings it can arouse here. It’s a mix of faith, religion and violence."
"People become crazy when it comes to these horses. It’s really an important thing for Siena’s citizens."
It is indeed serious stuff - in the Forest quarter it’s the head of the Contrada - the prior - who carries out baptisms on Asumption Day instead of a priest. This indicates, perhaps, that while the palio may last just a few minutes - allegiance to a Contrado is a lifetime commitment.