Siena cancels Palio horse race

Italy cancels Siena Palio for first time since world war two.

The Palio di Siena, Italy's historic horse race, has been cancelled due to the coronavirus, reports Italian news agency ANSA.

The bareback race, which takes place in the heart of the Tuscan city of Siena, was called off to avoid the large crowds that gather to see the colourful spectacle each summer.

The Palio dates back to the 17th century and is traditionally held on two dates, 2 July and 16 August, attracting tens of thousands of spectators.

Palio di Siena. Photo: Migel / Shutterstock.com

The event sees riders and horses race three laps around Piazza del Campo, Siena’s central mediaeval square, in a fiercely-contested competition between the city's rival contrade or neighbourhoods.

However this year the city council has voted to cancel the 2020 edition - for the first time since world war two - due to the health risk associated with large numbers of people gathering in the era of covid-19 and social distancing.

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Siena mayor Luigi De Mossi said the city had originally hoped to postpone the races until later this year before coming to the "painful but unanimous decision" to cancel the popular event entirely.

Reuters reports that the race has only rarely been cancelled down through the centuries, including in 1855 because of a deadly outbreak of cholera.

In recent years the Palio has been the subject of protest from animal rights activists who claim that horses suffer greatly during the event.

Photo credit: M. Rohana / Shutterstock.com

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