Siena Travel Guide

Culture

Contrade

Siena retains a ward-centric culture from medieval times. Each ward (contrada) is represented by an animal or mascot, and has its own boundary and distinct identity. Ward rivalries are most rampant during the annual horse race (Palio) in the Piazza del Campo.

The Palio

The Palio di Siena is a traditional medieval horse race run around the Piazza del Campo twice each year, on 2 July and 16 August. The event is attended by large crowds, and is widely televised. Seventeen Contrade (which are city neighbourhoods originally formed as battalions for the city's defence) vie for the trophy: a painted banner, or Palio bearing an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For each race a new Palio is commissioned by well-known artists and Palios won over many years can often be seen in the local Contrade museum. During each Palio period, the city is decked out in lamps and flags bearing the Contrade colours.

Ten of the seventeen Contrade run in each Palio: seven run by right (having not run in the previous year's corresponding Palio) together with three drawn by lot from the remaining ten. A horse is assigned to each by lot and is then guarded and cared for in the Contrade stable. The jockeys are paid huge sums and indeed there are often deals and bribes between jockeys or between "allied" Contrade committees to hinder other riders, especially those of 'enemy' Contrade. For the three days preceding the Palio itself, there are practice races. The horses are led from their stables through the city streets to the Campo, accompanied by crowds wearing Contrade scarves or tee-shirts and the air is filled with much singing and shouting.

Though often a brutal and dangerous competition for horse and bare-back rider alike, the city thrives on the pride this competition brings. The Palio is not simply a tourist event as a true Sienese regards this in an almost tribal way, with passions and rivalry similar to that found at a football 'Derby' match. In fact the Sienese are baptised twice, once in church and a second time in their own Contrade fountain. This loyalty is maintained through a Contrade 'social club' and regular events and charitable works. Indeed the night before the Palio the city is a mass of closed roads as each Contrade organises its own outdoor banquet, often for numbers in excess of 1,000 diners. On the day of the Palio itself the horses are accompanied by a spectacular display of drummers and flag twirlers dressed in traditional medieval costumes who first lead the horse and jockey to the Contrade parish church and then join a procession around the Piazza del Campo square. This traditional parade is called the Corteo Storico, which begins in the streets and concludes in the Piazza del Campo encircling the square. There are often long delays while the race marshall attempts to line up the horses, but once underway the Campo becomes a cauldron of wild emotion for the 3 minutes of the race.

This event is not without its controversy however, and recently, there have been complaints about the treatment of the horses and to the danger run by the riders. To better protect the horses, steps have been taken to make veterinary care more easily available during the main race. Also at the most dangerous corners of the course, cushions are used to help protect both the riders and horses.

Art

Over the centuries, Siena has had a rich tradition of arts and artists. The list of artists from the Sienese School include Duccio and his student Simone Martini, Pietro Lorenzetti and Martino di Bartolomeo. A number of well known works of Renaissance and High Renaissance art still remain in galleries or churches in Siena.

The Church of San Domenico contains art by Guido da Siena, dating to mid-13th century. Duccio's Maestà which was commissioned by the City of Siena in 1308 was instrumental in leading Italian painting away from the hieratic representations of Byzantine art and directing it towards more direct presentations of reality. And his Madonna and Child with Saints polyptych, painted between 1311 and 1318 remains at the city's Pinacoteca Nazionale.

The Pinacoteca also includes several works by Domenico Beccafumi, as well as art by Lorenzo Lotto, Domenico di Bartolo and Fra Bartolomeo.

Fashion

Siena has grown in importance because of its easy access to locally produced luxury goods in Tuscany and with new independent fashion designers such as Romana Correale.

source: Wikipedia

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