The day we arrived in Siena happened to be the day of the parade for the sienese contrada Tartuca (tortoise), which sent me into a rabbit hole learning everything I could about this fascinating history of Siena.
The parade goes through the streets and winds around the piazza. They have flags, which they wave and throw to the beat of a drum. Each weekend has parades for the different contrade.
The city of Siena has 17 contrade, each named after an animal or a symbol. These contrade date back to the Middle Ages, and have shifted over the decades. Today, the allegiance to the contrade seems to run deep, with the competition between contrade culminating with two horse races, the Palio di Siena, one in July and one in August. A representative from each contrade is chosen to race their horse around the track created on the periphery of their main piazza. The winner has bragging rights for the year.
The most fascinating part is that usually each Contrada has an ally and an adversary, except Oca and Lupa have no allies, and Bruco, Drago, Giraffa, and Selva currently have no declared adversaries. The allies and adversaries can be officially declared or resolved.
The neighborhoods are designed to match the flag and symbol of the contrade. You’ll see flags, sculptures, ornamentation on the light posts.
We also saw the Torre (Tower) Contrada practicing in the small piazza behind our Airbnb. The older guys were teaching the kids how to march with their flags.
If you think it’s as interesting as I do, you can find a list of all the contrade and their attributes here.
Loved learning about the Contrada? Let’s cheers with a glass of wine!