Il Palio (Siena)
Twice each summer, July 2nd and August 16th, Siena undergoes a miraculous transformation. The town is festooned in medieval splendor of the seventeen districts, each with its own color and design of costumes, crest of arms and flags. Its remarkable town square, Piazza Del Campo—actually a brilliantly designed and very beautiful thirteenth-century concave fan, paved with brick, constructed to gather rainwater for the town’s wells—is converted, thanks to countless truckloads of sand, into a crowd-packed horse racetrack. But the crowd is in the middle, and the horses race around the crowds, under the walls and balconies. Not to be missed for the medieval pageantry, excitement, and the sight of grown men crying because the horse (sometimes rider-less) from their district wins or loses the race. Don’t ask how it works—there are mystifying bets and switches and intrigue. Just go and enjoy.