On Friday, July 2nd, Silvano Mulas trampled the competition, winning the Palio Race, held every year since the mid-1600’s, in the beautiful medieval city of Siena, Italy. Every year on July 2 and August 16, almost without fail since the mid-1600s, 10 riders compete bareback around Siena’s shell-shaped central square in a bid to win the Palio, a silk banner depicting the Madonna and child.
This world famous event, involves intensive year long preparations. Siena’s seventeen competing neighborhoods (contrada) are so driven to win, they are known to invest every spare Euro and available moment working towards the event. On the eve of the race, each of the respective neighborhoods rehearse their victory celebration with an all-night, outdoor feast. More than 25,000 people fill the street, singing, dancing and partying-hearty in anticipation of the next day’s great race.
The following morning, each race horse is led into the contrada church to be blessed. Following this solemn ritual, the city erupts in anticipation, as the citizenry rushes to the exquisite, shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. 50,000 people flock to the square, with a few thousand lucky patrons seated on reserved bleachers and terraces lining the perimeter, located directly in front of the 15th-century palazzi. Once the pageantry begins, the crowds roar, evoking the middle age era when this mesmorizing holiday was born.
As the horses and jockeys arrive, each is passionately hailed by the denizens of its contrada. Officially, the jockeys now attempt to line up their mounts behind the rope which marks the tenuous starting gate, but everyone knows they are really taking their time, making secret deals to crush their patrons’ enemies. 120,000 eyes are glued to the jockeys’ hands, lips, eyes and body movements. When at last the judge lowers his arm, they tear off around the track at breakneck speed, unaware of the screams of the crowd. No one cares if, in the pandemonium, a jockey is unhorsed. The first horse to cross the finish line will win, with or without a rider.
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