Lightroom: Palio il Sienna

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Held twice a year on July 2 & August 16, Il Palio is Italy's most spectacular festival. Dating back to the middle ages, this incredible bareback horse race takes place in the heart of beguiling Sienna to honour the Virgin Mary.

For little more than 90 exhilarating seconds the 10 horses - coming from 10 of Sienna's 17 contrade (town districts) - complete three high adrenalin laps around the city's stunning Piazza del Campo with a speed and violence that will make your hair stand on end. The competition is so fierce that fist fights sometimes break out between spectators from rival districts. Scheming rivals have even been known to ambush jockeys & drug their horses.

Most incredible though is the track. At all other times of the year the steeply undulating square is lined with the tables& chairs of cafes. During this time small numbers of tourists wander, locals mingle & pigeons flock. But during Il Palio, tens of thousands of spectators descend on the Medieval city.

Riders jostle & fall with regularity & horses win, whether their jockeys remain in the saddle or not. For those keen to sample this truly incredible festival, Utracks has tours priced from $1450.