Siena Local Customs

  • Local Customs
    by croisbeauty
  • Local Customs
    by croisbeauty
  • Local Customs
    by croisbeauty

Best Rated Local Customs in Siena

  • Helga67's Profile Photo

    Contrada

    by Helga67 Updated Feb 16, 2005

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    Siena has 17 "contrade" (districts). Each contrada has its own animal sign that you will find in the streets on signs, flags ...

    The little sign here on the wall next to that lovely lamp is this of the contrada of the Anguila. It consists of a two headed eagle, an imperial crown and a golden sun.

    Twice a year there is a competition between the different contrade called the Palio. This feast is being held on 2 July and 16 August. There is a horse race on the Piazza del Campo that only takes 90 seconds. The winning contrada gets a silk palio (drape). The race is preceded by a parade, animated by splendid costumes, drums and the flag waving.

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  • Trekki's Profile Photo

    What's that green wreath in autumn?

    by Trekki Updated Dec 5, 2010

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    Happy graduation :-)

    During all my travels in Italy, I have never been there mid November and so this was new to me. We saw a lot of young people in elegant nice dresses and some had a green wreath on their head. Obviously celebrations were going on. Claudio, one of my teachers, told me that these were the celebrations going on after finishing university – Laurea. And the wreaths are what the newly graduates get, together with flowers and other gifts. The wreath is said to symbolise wisdom. A cute custom I think.

    © Ingrid D., December 2010.

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  • Trekki's Profile Photo

    The stables, very important contrada part

    by Trekki Updated Dec 6, 2010

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    Since the horses play the major role during Siena’s Palio, each contrada has a stable of course. Most stables are not marked at the doors (of course, since each contradaiolo knows where his stables are), but some are and have quite beautiful decoration on the doors, like the one of Selva (photo 1 and 2). Nicchio’s stable has only a small sign and the one of Chivetta I only regognised from the documentation I have linked above. During the time of Palio, the horses live in these stables, well, they sleep there and are fed. A fence will separate the stables of course and the ones who take care of the horses are always there to make sure that the horse is well all the times. In the Palio documentation (6 videos) I have linked above Civetta’s stable is also visible from the inside and I must say that the horse has a much better “home” for these days than many people!

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  • Trekki's Profile Photo

    The famous Palio carriage :)

    by Trekki Updated Dec 6, 2010

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    At 5 p.m. at the day of Palio, a corteo storico is passing through the town. It follows very strict rules as of the sequences of groups and costumes. But one of the highlights in this corteo is for sure the carriage where the palio (= the flag for the winner) is being shown to the crowd. Somewhere I have read that this carriage resembles the Fiorentino one which was taken as loot after the famous Battle of Montaperti was won by Senese troops. Such a carriage played an important role during the ancient battles; it was drawn by oxen and carried the standard of the respective town. And so the Palio carroccio is also drawn by four white oxen as part of the historical procession. The carriage is on display behind glass in the little road Via Casato di Sotto, which leads off south from the Campo. Thanks Claudio for pointing it out. Although it is clearly visible, I would have passed it otherwise....

    More information about the corteo and the sequence can be found in Wikipedia’s article about Corteo Storico, Siena. At the bottom are several links to youtube videos which show parts of the corteo.

    © Ingrid D., December 2010.

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  • Trekki's Profile Photo

    The contrade's fountains: not only for water

    by Trekki Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Apart from Siena’s regular fountains which date back to the early days of the town, each contrada has its own fountain. Each of these has its artistically made icon or symbol of the contrada. The fountains play a major role in the life of a contradaiolo, especially when he or she is born. Because each year at the contrada's patron saint day, each baby which was born during the year is being baptised with the water of the contrada’s fountain. It is then when it receives a scarf with the contrada's colours, in a way the official entry into the contrada. A very cute custom! I even found a video on youtube, which I have linked in the website section.

    The fountains in my photos are of Panthera (panther), Selva (forest, the tree) and Torre (the elephant). Especially Pathera’s fountain was nice, they also have a small band with Panthera’s colours red and blue and a small panther embedded on the ground (last photo).

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  • Trekki's Profile Photo

    The Contrade, Siena’s lifelines

    by Trekki Updated Dec 10, 2010

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    Like for many Italian towns, the quarters are more important for the locals than the town as a whole. They are the place where the people have their roots and family ties, their friends, their neighbours, it is their haven. Siena has 17 of these quarters. Today, the contrade are the smallest unit in Siena, but the town is officially divided into three terzi: Terzo di Città, Terzo di San Martino and Terzo di Camollia. But back to the contrade: originally they were the neighbourhoods where specific craftsmen settled and did their trade. Each contrada has a patron saint, a community house with kitchen and all that to celebrate events within the community, an own fountain and a church. Of course the most important event for each contrada is the Palio, well, one of the two which are being held (July 2 and August 16). Already weeks before the Palio, the contrade start preparing the event and the days before the race, flags are hung out, tables and chairs are put on the streets and everyone is busy. It is also easy to see in which contrade one is when walking through Siena, because many houses have their symbol on the wall or at the letterboxes or little animals in the windows. I had a lot of fun trying to find out where I was. Bookstores in Siena will sell specific town maps where each contrada is marked.

    A good overview about the 17 contrade is given on Wikipedia: Contrade of Siena. And details with link to each contrada with detailed information about seat, church, saint and fountain in another part of Wikipedia.

    In case you want to have some impressions about the days of Palio, I found two nice videos on youtube which seem to capture the activities well:
    video with emphasis on the horses (4 minutes),
    video about the days before Palio (3 minutes).

    And last but not least, a very atmospheric documentation I have on DVD is obviously also on youtube, in six parts (Italian with Dutch subtitles), each approx. 8-9 minutes. It shows days in the life of people of Contrada Civetta:
    Palio, part 1
    Palio, part 2
    Palio, part 3
    Palio, part 4
    Palio, part 5
    Palio, part 6

    © Ingrid D., December 2010.

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  • Trekki's Profile Photo

    Fantastic photogenic old clocks everywhere

    by Trekki Updated Dec 5, 2010

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    My alltime favourite clock of Siena :-)
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    In addition to these marvellous frescoes and signs I loved the huge clocks everywhere in Siena. Not all have the traditional “design” like the one in my main photo with big and small hands. The one at the old hospital opposite of the cathedral (photo 3 and 4) and the one on Torre del Mangia have only the big hand, so to calculate the minutes is a bit more of imagination. What I liked is the additional date sign at the clock of Torre del Mangia at the point where the “12” is. But my most favourite clock was the one of Chiesa di San Niccolò del Carmine, which was next to where I stayed. Every morning when I got up and looked out of the window, I saw it and I was happy that one day at least the sun was shining so I could take this close up photo.

    © Ingrid D., December 2010.

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  • Trekki's Profile Photo

    Signs, madonne and frescoes everywhere

    by Trekki Updated Dec 9, 2010

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    The dentist - ouch!
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    Don’t just walk through the streets but look up to find amazing details. I found wonderful frescoes, partly in need of restoring, partly full and rich in colour, little and small statues of madonne at corners or above the entrance doors. But the best I saw was this sign of a dentist. The dentist is long gone but the sign is still there. It is in Via di Città, just behind the Campo. The sign in photo 3 is obviously a city sign, with historical relevance. However, no one could tell me what it means, not even the people at the ticket booth of the cathedral (that's where I took the photo, it is at the walls of the church).

    Update, shortly afterwards :-) Thanks dear VTer who wants to stay anonymous for telling me what the sign in photo 3 stands for. It is the coat of arms of Pope Alexander VII, who was born in Siena, actually of the Chigi dynasty. I am still amazed that the personnel at the duomo ticket booth didn't know that! And I should have known as well, since I have read both, Angels and Demons and Da Vinci Code while I was in Siena... crossed keys under the Triregnum.... (haha, but that... will be another story in context with the church of Santa Maria Servi).

    © Ingrid D., December 2010.

    Related to:
    • Historical Travel
    • Photography
    • Architecture

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  • Trekki's Profile Photo

    Contrade's churches: big enough for horses

    by Trekki Updated Dec 6, 2010

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    A contrade’s church serves as a church of course but during the Palio it has another special function. Just past lunchtime of the day of the race (between 2 and 2:30 p.m.) service is being held and the horse is being blessed by the priest. This is a very special event and yes, the horse is being brought into the church for the blessing. I found a video of the blessing of horse Fedora Saura, racing for Selva in July 2010 (and won) on youtube, see website section. It is rather unusual that visitors can watch this, for many reasons. First of all most of the churches are small and the space should be reserved for the members of the contrada of course. Second, given the very much emotional bond, Senese people have to the Palio and every part of the preparations; they might not like visitors to disturb their celebrations. But of you have the chance and maybe are invited, follow one specific rule: NO FLASH and silence.

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  • Trekki's Profile Photo

    ... and the winner is... Tartuca (Aug 2010)

    by Trekki Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    After the Palio, it will be very obvious which contrada has won the race. The August one was won by Tartuca, the contrade where Dante School was located. And each time we went to the city, we passed Tartuca’s fountain and the showcase next to it. A pacifier in blue-yellow, the colours of Tartuca, was hanging at the little pole and Claudio explained me that this is a sign for Tartuca’s victory. The idea is that a Palio victory is considered as birth or rebirth of the contrada and many contradaioli hang pacifiers around their neck and suck on them. Many also have baby bottles filled with wine after the race. On the streets in Tartuca little turtles were painted on the pavement, of course in the contrada's colours (photo 2). Another sign of the victory.

    © Ingrid D., December 2010.

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  • Trekki's Profile Photo

    The only ghibelline remains in Siena

    by Trekki Updated Aug 12, 2013

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    There they are - the ghibelline pinnacles :)

    Ever since I saw the swallow-tail pinnacles on the walls surrounding Arsenale in Venezia, they fascinated me. Since history wasn’t my favourite at school, I had to catch up with a lot of matter before, during and after my travels. It was then when I learned about the eventful time in Italian history when guelphs (supporters of the church) and ghibellines (supporters of the emperors) – the disputes that went for many decades until eventually church took over and most of the cities and towns in central Italy had to face their own dark ages. Siena was among the first ghibelline towns but 1277 the ghibellines (nobles) were thrown out of town and the council of the nine was formed. That’s why Palazzo Pubblico has rectangular, guelph, pinnacles. But there four ghibelline pinnacles have remained, on Palazzo Chigi-Saracini. I would never have found these because they are well hidden and only visible from a tiny side lane. Again thanks, Letizia! One day when we walked through town, she asked me if I want to see the only remaining pinnacles and led me through this tiny lane next to the palazzo. We walked a bit and then she told me to turn around. There they were, indeed very much hidden!

    Since I can’t find street names, I have marked the point where to see the pinnacles on Google Maps.

    © Ingrid D., December 2010 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)

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  • rexvaughan's Profile Photo

    Local Pep Rally

    by rexvaughan Written Jan 18, 2005

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    Tartuca parade

    Our first day in Siena, we were just exploring the narrow and hilly streets around the Campo when we heard drums approaching and soon encountered what we would call in the US a full blown pep rally. This was a couple of weeks before the July 2 Palio (a second is held August 16) and obviously the festivities had already begun. The parade we encountered was one of the 17 "contradas" or districts which make up the city. There were 40-50 young men in identical medieval costumes of royal blue and bright yellow who were carrying banners of the same colors witha large turtle in the center. They were followed by a band, women pushing babes in strollers, other women and a group of men lustily singing. The group was from the Tartuca (turtle) contrada gearing up for the equestrian melee which was coming. Evidently the prize in this race is simply bragging rights. Unfortunately we were not there for the Palio, but it must be quite a spectacle iwht 15,000 people jamming the square for the race. As we wandered around we noticed the street lamp standards all bore the colors of their contrada. As near as I could tell, we were staying in the Contrada of the Owl.

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  • Tijavi's Profile Photo

    Descendants of Remus

    by Tijavi Updated Jul 9, 2009

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    Only a few cities in Italy can trace their roots directly to the legendary brothers Remus and Romulus - no not even Renaissance Queen Florence. Rome, of course, and yes, Florence's main rival, Siena.

    According to legend, Siena was founded by the son of Remus. The city takes as much pride in this as it does take its Palio seriously. This pride is very much visible in the ubiquitous statues of the wolf feeding Romulus and Remus that dot the city - and even the Duomo (picture 3).

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    • Historical Travel

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  • Tijavi's Profile Photo

    The contrade

    by Tijavi Updated Sep 15, 2009

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    Siena is steeped in many traditions, many dating back to the medieval times. One of the city's most enduring is the contrade system that divides the town into 17 districts. Each district or contrada has its own church, colors, traditions, and symbols - usually in form of medieval animal mascots.

    Loyalty to one's contrada is fierce as is the competition among them - particularly during the Palio. Twice every year, in summer, on 2nd of July and 16th of August, 10 of the 17 contrade compete in this exhilirating 60-second horse race around Il Campo. The Palio is arguably one of Italy's most spectacular festivals and is beamed live over national television.

    If it's impossible to be in Siena to witness the Palio live, there's a 20-minute documentary at the city's only cinema, Cinema Moderno on Piazza Tolomei, showing between May and October. Unfortunately, I visited Siena in November, so it was "off-season." If all things fail, get a DVD copy of the Jamed Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. The opening action scenes characteristic of James Bond movies were filmed in Siena during the Palio. The downside is, the cameras were more focused on Daniel Craig rather than the race itself.

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    • Historical Travel
    • Arts and Culture

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  • croisbeauty's Profile Photo

    Marking the territory of Contrada with street-lamp

    by croisbeauty Written Sep 27, 2005

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    the street-lamp marks the terrotory of an Contrada
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    When strolling around you'll noticed unusual but very attractive street-lamps in the old core of the town. After a while, you'll realized the different shapes and colours that street-lamps have. Each colour and shape marks one specific territory which belongs to one specific Contrada.

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