The Palio, the famous breakneck, bareback horse race around Siena's main piazza, has been clouded by a debate over this year's official banner which features Islamic, Jewish and Christian symbols.
The banner was painted by Lebanese-born artist Ali Hassoun and is to be awarded to the winner of Friday's big race.
The painting features St. George wearing what appears to be a black and white checkered keffiyah. Above him is a picture of the Madonna, featuring a crescent moon — one of the most prominent symbols of Islam — the Jewish Star of David and a cross on her crown, surrounded by Arabic writing.
This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com
[ed: If I'm not mistaken, the Arabic writing says "Sura Maryam"]
The city of Siena has called the painting "beautiful." But right-wing groups and at least one conservative newspaper have called it blasphemous.
On Thursday, Siena's Roman Catholic diocese said the Islamic and Jewish symbols on the Madonna's crown were "problematic" but said it hoped the debate that has ensued would recall the Christian traditions of the Palio.
Hassoun said his painting was an expression in favour of dialogue and finding common ground among cultures, according to the CnrMedia news agency. "I note that the cross is higher up than the other symbols, because this is the tradition of the country where we live," he said.
Source: Canadian Press