At the Palio, the entire city of Siena packs into the main square, Il Campo. Finally, it's time for the race. A cart pulled by oxen carries the coveted Palio banner into the arena. At its sight, the crowd goes wild.
As the starting places are announced, our guide Roberto is traumatized. It's not going well. (Sometimes it seems that the Sienese care as much about their rivals losing as their own district winning.)
Ten snorting horses and their nervous riders line up to await the start. The jockeying includes a little last-minute negotiating...it's complicated. (Watching the last-minute shuffling, I understand where the expression "jockeying" comes from.) Silence takes over. And then...
They race! Once the rope drops, there's one basic rule: There are no rules. The jockeys race bareback like crazy while spectators go berserk. In Siena, life stops for these frantic three laps...just about 90 seconds. And the winner is...Lupa, the She-wolf district.
(Unfortunately, for legal reasons I can't show the actual race here -- but you can catch it on YouTube.)
This is Day 98 of my 100 Days in Europe series. As I research my guidebooks and make new TV shows, I'm reporting on my experiences and lessons learned in Vienna, the Alps, the Low Countries, England, Siena, and beyond. Find more on my travel blog.
(This post originally appeared at blog.ricksteves.com/blog/palio-race.)