According to the historian Ogerio Alfieri, ancestor of the more famous Count Vittorio, in the Year of the Lord 1280, the city of Asti “…was bursting with riches, enclosed within solid walls erected recently, and consisted almost entirely of buildings: towers, palaces and houses, all of recent construction…” In his accurate, detailed description, Ogerio stresses the good qualities of the people of Asti, stating that they are “…wise and noble, rich and powerful…” and says that in case of need the city can count on “…a cavalry of six hundred men with two horses each…” while the surrounding countryside can supply “…an additional cavalry of one hundred and sixty men each with a horse or a mare…” It was at about this time that the Palio was first held in Asti. The first mention of the race goes back to the year 1275 when, according to Guglielmo Ventura, another local historian, his townsmen ran a horse race for their own amusement, beneath the walls of the enemy city of Alba, causing heavy damage and devastation to the vineyards. Today, the city still preserves a structure that bears witness to the greatness of its past, with the towers and bulwarks of its medieval palaces and the characteristics streets of its historical centre that provide an appropriate setting for the fascinating historical revival of the Palio. There are twenty-one contenders in the race and, in the weeks that precede it, they all do their utmost to propitiate the victory by holding huge banquets, enacting magic rituals, playing terrible pranks on their adversaries, right up until the big day when they meet on the field, preceded by a sumptuous parade of over twelve hundred persons in medieval costume.
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