The Palio di Siena, or Il Palio as more commonly known, is the most famous event held in Siena, Italy. Sienese all year round await with much excitement this 90-second horse race around the Piazza del Campo. The race has roots tracing back to medieval times but it was first run with horses in 1644.

Il Palio is run twice a year by 10 of the 17 Contrade (city wards) and its origins are deeply religious. The first this year, on 2 July, is named Palio di Provenzano, in honour of Madonna of Provenzano and the second, on 16 August, is named Palio dell’Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary.

While the race itself is only 90 seconds, festivities begin from 4 days before the actual race with the assignment of horses, ending only with the race. On the morning of the race day, a Mass for Jockeys is celebrated in the Piazza del Campo after which a Benediction of the horses will take place in the church of each contrada participating in the Palio, where it’s considered a good omen if the horses defecate on the church floor. Following the Benediction, contrada members dressed in the historical costumes of their contrade congregate near the Cathedral, where they will begin a 2 hour long historical parade to the Piazza.

There are no rules during the race itself and jockeys split their attention between riding their horses hard and tripping up their opponents. The winner is the first horse to cross the finish line—with or without its rider, and the loser is the second-place horse. The winning contrada receives the palio, or prize banner, but everyone parties late into the night with processions, dances and freely flowing alcohol.