Contrade of Siena
A contrada (plural: contrade) is a district, or a ward, within an Italian city. The most well-known contrade are probably the 17 contrade of Siena that race in the Palio di Siena. Each is named after an animal or symbol and each with its own long history and complicated set of heraldic and semi-mythological associations.
These districts were set up in the Middle Ages in order to supply troops to the many military companies that were hired to defend Siena as it fought to defend its independence from Florence and other nearby city states. As time has gone by, however, the contrade have lost their administrative and military functions and have instead become simply areas of localised patriotism, held together by the emotions and sense of civic pride of the residents. Their roles have broadened so that every important event – baptisms, deaths, marriages, church holidays, victories at the Palio, even wine or food festivals – is celebrated only within one's own contrada.
Every contrada has its own museum, fountain and baptismal font, motto, allied contrada (only Oca has no allies) and adversary contrada, typically a neighbor (only four, Bruco, Drago, Giraffa and Selva, have no declared adversaries). Often the adversary contrade share borders.
There were originally 59 contrade, but consolidation over the centuries has seen the number reduced to today's 17. During the seventeenth century some contrade were slowly dying out until their abolition, which took place officially in 1729. These districts were Gallo (Rooster), Leone (Lion), Orso (Bear), Quercia (Oak), Spadaforte (Strong Sword) and Vipera (Viper).
The abolition of six quarters has always been surrounded by uncertainty. The deletion is traditionally traced to disorders related to the Palio of 1675: according to some because Contrada Spadaforte (with support of five other Contrade), despite the victory of Lupa, claimed the victory for itself; according to others Spadaforte was forbidden to play for the Palio, it can not rely on its actual influence area. The six "rebel" districts were therefore deleted.
The six quarters were officially abolished the edict issued by Violante Beatrice of Bavaria (known as Notice of Violante of Bavaria) in 1729, which marked the boundaries of New Division Contrade still valid. These six were then incorporated into other contrade as follows;
- Gallo was incorporated into Civetta, Oca, and Selva.
- Leone was incorporated into Istrice.
- Orso was incorporated into Civetta.
- Quercia was incorporated into Chiocciola.
- Spadaforte was incorporated into Leocorno and Torre.
- Vipera was incorporated into Torre.
Today the six abolished contrade are remembered in the historical procession preceding the Palio di Siena: six riders with their helmets lowered, accompanied by a groom, parade in the ninth group of the Corteo Storico Historical Parade.
Their last victory was on July 3, 1992 (Andrea de Gortes on Vinegar on Floater) and they have had 24 official victories.
Aquila's symbol is a double-headed black eagle holding an orb, a sword and a sceptre. Its colours are yellow, trimmed with blue and black.
Aquila's patron saint is La Vergine (the name of the Most Holy Maria), her titulary festival being celebrated on 8 September.
They are allied to the Civetta (Owl) and Drago (Dragon) contrade. They are opposed to the Pantera (Panther) contrada.
Bruco's symbol is a crowned caterpillar crawling on a rose. Its colours are green and yellow, trimmed with blue.
Bruco is one of only four nobile (noble) contrade; its title was earned in 1369 by its people's bravery in helping to defeat Charles IV, and consolidated in 1371 when they led the revolt to replace the Sienese council with a people's government.
Its Sede is at Via del Comune, 44.
Its patron Saint is Madonna (Visitation of the Saintest Mary) and the Titulary feast is on 2 July.
Its motto is "Come rivoluzion suona il mio nome" (As revolution sounds my name).
It is allied to the Istrice, Nicchio and Torre contrade and not officially opposed to any other contrade since its animosity with neighbouring Giraffa (giraffe) ended, formally, in 1996.
Last victory- 16 August 2008. It has 37 official victories.
Chiocciola is situated in the south-western corner of the city; traditionally, its residents worked as terracotta makers. Chiocciola's motto is “With slow and deliberate steps, snail leaves the battlefield triumphant.” The district’s patron saints are the apostles Peter and Paul with a feast day of June 29. Chiocciola's official rival is Tartuca, the Tortoise. Their last Palio victory was on August 16, 1999. There is an expression in Siena, “The people of the Snail, drowners of saints.” In 1888, after losing a Palio, the contrada was so angry that they threw a statue of Saint Anthony (patron saint of horses) into a well. The statue wasn’t removed until 1910 and the district won in 1911. Chiocciola's symbol is a snail. Its colours are red and yellow, trimmed with blue.
Civetta (Little Owl)
Civetta's symbol is a crowned owl sitting on a branch. Its colours are red and black striped with white. Its motto is: "Vedo nella Notte" (I see in the night).
For years Civetta was considered the nonna (grandmother) because it had not won a palio for over 30 years. Civetta won the Palio in August 2009, thereby losing the name "nonna".
In August 2014, Civetta once again won the palio. On September 19, 2014, members of the Civetta contrade held a street celebration in honor of their victory.
Drago's symbol is a flying golden dragon carrying a banner with the letter "u". Its colours are red and green, trimmed with yellow. Drago won the Palio on July 2, 2014.
Giraffa has the title of contrada imperiale (imperial contrada). It was bestowed this title by King Vittorio Emanuele III when it won the palio in 1936, the year the race was dedicated to Italy's empire in East Africa.
Giraffa won the Palio on 16th August, 2011.
Istrice (Crested Porcupine)
Istrice occupies the north-westernmost edge of Siena and contains the San Vincenzo e Anastasio church, home of the city's oldest surviving fresco and burial place of Pinturicchio.
Istrice's symbol is a porcupine. Its colours are red, white, blue and black. Istrice adversary Contrada is the "Lupa" (She-wolf).
Its motto is: "Sol per difesa io pungo" (I prick only for self-defense).
Istrice has the title of contrada sovrana (sovereign contrada). It was bestowed this title as a result of it headquartering the Sovereign Military Order of Malta during the 14th century.
Istrice won the Palio in July 2008.
Leocorno is situated to the east of the Piazza del Campo. Traditionally, its residents were goldsmiths.
Leocorno won the Palio of August 16, 2007
Lupa's symbol is a female wolf nursing twins. Its colors are black and white, trimmed with orange. The she-wolf of this contrada refers to the legend that Siena was founded by Senius, the son of Remus who, along with his twin Romulus, was raised by a wolf. Because of this, Lupa's sister city is Rome.
Nicchio is situated in the far eastern corner of the city. Traditionally, its residents worked as potters.
Nicchio's symbol is a crowned scallop shell flanked by two branches of coral. Its colours are blue, with yellow and red trim.
Oca's symbol is a crowned goose wearing around its neck a blue ribbon marked with the cross of Savoy. Its colours are green and white, with red trim.
Oca is one of only four nobile (noble) contrade; it earned its title for its people's bravery during many battles fought by the former Sienese Republic.
The most recent palio win for Oca was in the July 2, 2013 race, with jockey Giovanni Atzeni riding Guess.
Onda's symbol is a dolphin. Its colours are white and sky blue and the contrada describes itself as "The colour of Heaven, the force of the sea"
Onda has the title of contrada capitana (captain contrada) because in the past its soldiers mounted guard at the Palazzo Pubblico. One of the famous members of Onda was the sculptor Giovanni Duprè, after whom the main street in Onda is named. Onda's adversary is Torre.
Onda won the Palio of July 2, 2012 and August 16, 2013.
Pantera's symbol is a rampant panther. Its colours are red, blue and white.
Selva runs west from the Piazza del Campo in the centre of the city. Traditionally, its residents were weavers, but when the contrade were mainly military they had a reputation for being excellent archers.
Selva's symbol is a rhinoceros at the base of an oak tree hung with hunting tools. Its colours are green and orange, bordered with white.
Winner of the Palio, on August 16, 2006, with Salasso on Caro Amico. Won the Palio last on July 2, 2010, to much upset from Nicchio (favored to win).
Tartuca is situated at the southern end of the city. Traditionally, its residents were sculptors.
Tartuca's symbol is a tortoise with alternating Savoy knots and daisies. Its colours are yellow and deep blue.
Winner of the Palio, on July 2, 2009, with Giuseppe Zedde on Già del Menhir. Tartuca last won the Palio on 16 August 2010
It is opposed to Chiocciola (snail)
Torre's symbol is an elephant (the contrada's original name was Liofante or Lionfante) with a tower on its back. Its colours are crimson, striped with white and blue.
Torre is the enemy of both Onda (wave) and of Oca (goose). It is the only contrada to have two enemies, making it the most contentious contrada in Siena.
Valdimontone (Valley of the Ram)
Valdimontone's symbol is a crowned rampant ram, with a blue shield emblazoned with the letter "u" for Umberto. Its colours are red and yellow, with white trim.
It is allied with Onda (Wave) and opposed to Nicchio (Shell), its neighbour.
Valdimonte last won the Palio on 16 August 2012
- Thepalio.com: Summaries of each individual Contrade—(English)
- ilpaliodisiena.com: Contrade of Siena—(Italian)
- ilcittadinoonline.it: Museums of Contrada —(Italian)
- Jacopodellatorre.com: Guide to Palio experiences—(English)
- "The Contrade, the Palio and the Ben Comune—(English), scholarly article from political science perspective.