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The Palio is the most important event in Siena, taking place on July 2 and August 16 every year.
In the Palio the various Sienese "contrade", or areas in which the city is divided, challenge in other in a passionate horse race in the heart of the city in the Piazza del Campo.
Originally, there were about fifty-nine "Contrade"; now only seventeen remain, ten of which take part in the historical pageant and in the race at each Palio (seven by right and three drawn by lots).
The 17 Contrade are: Eagle, Snail, Wave, Panther, Forest, Tortoise, Owl, Unicorn, Shell, Tower, Ram, Caterpillar, Dragon, Giraffe, Porcupine, She-Wolf, Goose.
Each Contrada has its own unique emblem and colors and represents an area of the city.
The Palio horse race has its origins in the distant past, with historical records indicating horse races in Siena already taking place in the 6th century.
The Palio is much more than a simple event for the Sienese, it actually is a large part of their lives since the time of their birth. Each person belongs to a Contrada, participates in the life of the Contrada and the organization of the Palio throughout the entire year. The Sienese live the Palio with great passion and you'll certainly be able to see this if you have the chance to attend one of the races.
The big event in Florence for Easter is the Scoppio del Carro, or the "explosion of the cart", an event which dates back 300 years. Today, an elaborate wagon built in 1622 and standing two to three stories high is dragged through Florence behind a fleet of white oxen decorated in garlands to the square between the Baptistry and Cathedral. The cart has been properly rigged with a suitable arsenal of fireworks so that when a dove-shaped rocket (symbolising the Holy Spirit) slides down a steel cable at full speed from the Cathedral altar, it will set off a ferocious dance of fire on impact. A big bang ensures a good harvest, and a parade in medieval costume follows. The Explosion of the Cart takes place around 11 a.m. so watch out for the cart on the streets of Florence an hour beforehand.