Even if the first settlement (as well as probably the name itself) goes back to the Etruscans, Siena was founded as a Roman colony by the Emperor of Rome Caesar Augustus, and it took the name of Saena Julia.
Often connected to the history of Florence, especially for its geographical location in the Chianti area, in 1555 Siena was definitely conquered and included in the grand-ducky of Tuscany under Florence, loosing this way its independence. Siena reacted with an extraordinary attachment to its traditions, such as the Palio.
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The Palio di Siena Italy (known locally simply as Il Palio) is a horse race held twice each year in Siena, on July 2nd and on August 16th. Ten horses and riders, dressed in the appropriate colours, represent ten of the seventeen Contrade, or city wards.
The seventeen Contrade are: Aquila (Eagle), Bruco (Caterpillar), Chiocciola (Snail), Civetta (Little Owl), Drago (Dragon), Giraffa (Giraffe), Istrice (Crested porcupine), Leocorno (Unicorn), Lupa (Female Wolf), Nicchio (Seashell), Oca (Goose), Onda (Wave), Pantera (Black Panther), Selva (Forest), Tartuca (Tortoise), Torre (Tower) and Valdimontone (literally, “Valley of the Ram” – often shortened to Montone). A magnificent pageant precedes the race, the Corteo Storico, which attracts visitors and spectators from around the world.
Any connection with the sacred games of the ancient Romans being obscured by time, the earliest known antecedents of the race are medieval. The town’s central piazza was the site of any public game, largely combative: pugna, a sort of many-sided boxing match or brawl; jousting; and in the 16th century, bullfights. Public races organized by the Contrade were popular since the 14th century; called palii alla lunga, they were run across the whole city.
When the Grand Duke of Tuscany outlawed bullfighting in 1590, the Contrade started organising races in the Piazza del Campo. The first such races were on buffalo-back and called bufalate; asinate, races on donkey-back, later took their place, while the horse-racing continued elsewhere.
The first modern Palio (called palio alla tonda to distinguish it from the earlier palii alla lunga) took place around 1650. At first, one race was held each year, on July 2; a second, on August 16, was added later.