The “Palio di Siena” – Palio of Siena

This is an excerpt of the book “Siena, Volterra, San Gimignano

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Siena’s “Piazza del Campo” is still used today for the well known Palio di Siena horse race which is one of the most famous popular Italian manifestations. It takes place every year on July 2 and August 16. The “Palio di Siena” is run to celebrate the miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mary near the old houses that belonged to Provenzano Salvani. The holy apparition was therefore called “Madonna di Provenzano” in whose honor the very first “Palio di Siena” was run on August 16, 1656. The Palio di Siena was run for the first time in 1701 in honor of the “Madonna dell’Assunta” the patroness and Advocate of Siena through all the tragic events since she protected the Siena militia at the famous battle of Monteaperti on September 4, 1260, against the Florentines.

The “Palio di Siena” is a historical secular tradition strictly connected with the origin of the Contradas of Siena (districts into which the town is divided). The Contradas are spectacular agonistic institutions each having their own government, oratory, coat of arms, appellations, sometimes titles of nobility, emblems and colors, official representatives, festivities, patron Saints, with protectors, delimited territories and population which consist of all those people who were born or live within the topographic limits of the district, according to the proclamation issued by Violante Beatrice of Bavaria on January 7, 1730, at that time, Governess of the town.

Originally, there were in Siena about fifty-nine “Contrade”; now only seventeen remain, ten of which take part in the historical pageant and in the race at each Palio di Siena (seven by right and three drawn by lots).

Here is a list of their names, emblems and colors grouped into “Terzi” or “Terzieri” (third part – in older times the town was divided into three sections called: “Terziere di Citta’”, “Terziere di San Martino” and “Terziere di Camollia”.

Siena: Terziere di Citta’

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AQUILA (Eagle) a double-headed eagle with imperial symbols. Yellow with black and blue bands.
CHIOCCIOLA (Snail) a snail. Yellow and red with blue bands.
ONDA (Wave) a swimming dolphin wearing a crown. White and blue.
PANTERA (Panther) a rampant panther. Red and blue with white bands.
SELVA (Forest) a rhinoceros bearing a huge tree hung with hunting implements. Green and orange-yellow with white bands.
TARTUCA (Tortoise) a tortoise. Yellow and blue.

Siena: Terziere di San Martino

CIVETTA (Owl) an owl. Black and red with white bands.
LEOCORN0 (Unicorn) a unicorn. White and orange-yellow with blue bands.
NICCHIO (Shell) a seashell. Blue with yellow and red bands.
TORRE (Tower) an elephant with a tower on its back. Dark bordeaux red with white and blue bands.
VALDIMONTONE or simply MONTONE (Ram) a rampant ram. White and yellow with red bands.

Siena: Terziere di Camollia

BRUCO (Caterpillar) a caterpillar. Yellow and green with blue bands.
DRAGO (Dragon) a flying dragon. Red and green with yellow bands.
GIRAFFA (Giraffe) a giraffe. White and red.
ISTRICE (Porcupine) a porcupine. White, red, black and blue bands.
LUPA (She-Wolf) the Roman She-Wolf suckling the twins. Black and white with orange-yellow bands.
OCA (Goose) a crowned goose with the cross of Savoia round its neck. White and green with red bands.

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Siena’s “Contrade” first appeared in the middle of the 15th century to celebrate certain solemn events. They were represented by special wooden devices shaped like animals, such as, for instance, a giraffe, a dragon, a porcupine, a she-wolf, a caterpillar, a goose etc. – worked from inside by the youngsters of the districts they represented.

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