Siena is a city in Tuscany, Italy.
Siena was the seat of a Christian bishop by the 5th century.
In the early 12th century a free commune replaced the earlier aristocratic government; Siena's republic usually worked in political opposition to its great rival, Florence, and was in the 13th century predominantly Ghibelline in opposition to Florence's Guelf position.
Siena also rivalled Florence in the arts throughout the medieval period; the important late medieval or early renaissance painter Duccio (1253-1319) was a Senese, but worked across the peninsula, and the mural of "Good Government" in the town hall is a magnificent example of late-Medieval/early Renaissance-art as well as a representation of the utopia of urban society as conceived during that period. Siena was devastated by the Black Plague of 1348 and never recovered its earlier glory, losing out to Florence in inter-urban rivalry.
Siena hosts one among the most important italian universities and is an important cultural centre, specially for humanist disciplines.
Siena's cathedral, begun in the 12th century, is one of the great examples of Italian gothic architecture. The saucer-shaped piazza is another architectural treasure and is famous for hosting Il Palio.
Il Palio is a horse race held twice each year, in which the horse and rider represent one of the seventeen contrade, city wards. Both horse and rider are dressed in the colours and weapons of the wards: Tortoise, Wave, She-Wolf, Goose, Shell, Porcupine, Dragon, Owl, Snail, Panther, Eagle, Caterpillar, Unicorn, Ram, Giraffe, Forest and Tower.
The race itself runs thrice round the Piazza del Campo. The riders, or fantini, ride the horses bareback from the starting line, where there's only place for 9 horses. The 10th, the rincorsa, stands behind those nine. The start is given by a local authority called Mossiere, that has to wait for all the horses being in the correct position; when this moment is (with a huge difficulty) achieved, he activates a mechanism that instantly removes the canapo, the starting chord.
On the dangerous track, on which several riders and horses have died, the riders are allowed to use their whips not only for their own horse, but also for disturbing other horses and riders. The winner is the first horse to cross the finish line with its head ornaments in tact - the riders does not necessarily have to finish.
The winner is awarded a banner of silk, or a painting, called palio. The enthusiasm after the victory, however, is so extreme that the ceremony of attribution of the Palio is quite instantaneous, being the first moment of a long celebrating time for the winning ward.
After the race, a certain curiosity might traditionally regard the result of the bets that the inhabitants of each contrada (Contradaioli) made about the Palio; frequently, the loosers have to publicly perform funny actions.
The race is usually preceded by a spectacular exhibition of Sbandieratori, flag-wavers, in medieval costumes.
Although often contested, there is no serious evidence that horses are treated with drugs before the race. Some more concrete suspects usually regard the eventual corruption of some fantini.