The Palio, a tradition dating back centuries that attracts tens of thousands of spectators each July and August, will be cancelled this year for the first time since World War II after the Tuscan city decided it was too risky to hold it amid the ongoing health crisis.

Mayor Luigi De Mossi called it “a painful but unanimous decision”.

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

The city had originally hoped to postpone the two bareback races that make up the Palio to late August and September of this year, but on Thursday confirmed that there would be no racing until 2021 as the huge crowds would be a threat to public safety.

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.

The Palio joins the long list of events cancelled or cut short in Italy this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, including Carnevale in Venice, Ivrea’s orange festival, the Perugia journalism festival, several trade fairs, exhibitions, music and theatre performances, and all sporting events including the nation’s top-tier Serie A football championship.