Le Contrade di Sienna

Banks, Horse racing and Medieval Revelry

Day 12 — Location Sienna on June 24, 2014


Contradas and Horse Races

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Sienna was a fascinating city that resonated a cultural pride and loyalty. Sienna- the home of The Palio Horse Races was a fiercely competitive city made up of different neighborhoods or “Contradas.” The Contradas themselves were independent entities sporting their own governments, coats of arms, and immense loyalty from their residents. During the Palio di Siena, each contrada was also responsible for hiring its own jockey to compete in the race and for bribing all other jockeys to lose the race.

Medieval Feast

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One of the highlights of this trip to Sienna was to be the special guest of a Contrada for dinner. Our tour group feasted at a long table in the hallway of the contrada, with their coat of arms hanging above. Our meal consisted of rich pastas, meats, and sauces. It all felt very medieval as we dined on our steaming four course meal with the suits of armor looking on. We were also able to see the Sienna dumo, which we thought was one of our favorites, with its ceiling of gold and blue depicting a starry night sky and the striped marble pillar adopted from the Byzantiam empire. We also loved a beautifully painted and decorated nook of the church that had been build to be the pope’s library but had never been used, thus remaining bright and flawless in its detail, instead of caked with the soot of candles.

Watching the Italian World Cup

After dinner we went out with some of our tour members to watch on of the Italian world cup soccer games at a local pub overlooking the piazza, or open courtyard where the horse races are held. We were determined to take Trina’s advice and to mix with the locals, appreciate what they are passionate about, and get a sense of the culture of each city. We ordered an aperol spritz made of prosecco, aperol, and soda and watched the soccer game. It turned out to be an intense but bizarre soccer match where one player ended up biting another. We enjoyed watching the game, but found it interesting how silent the Italian viewers were, with a conspicuous lack of emotion despite the rapt attention. After the game, we headed home passed the vast, moonlight-lit stretch of piazza, that had seen its share of Medieval plagues and dusty horse races.