Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Siena and the Palio (A City of Medieval Rivalries)


Piazza Del Campo (Photo: Anon) 

If Emilia-Romagna is the culinary heart of Italy (although other regions may dispute this claim) then Tuscany is the cultural centre, with Florence at it's heart. Tuscany, the birth place of the Renaissance, claims to speak the perfect Italian, and boasts the beautiful cities of Pisa, Lucca and Siena. In the days before Italy came into existence as we know it today, the country was instead made up of powerful city states. During that time, the fiercest rivalry of them all was between Florence and Siena, a bitter rivalry both in Art and War. I'll always have a soft spot for Siena as it was my first taste of Italian life when I attended an intensive language course there three years ago. 

The winding streets of Siena (Photo: @SaritaAgerman) 

The historic centre of Siena is made up of narrow streets which lead onto the main square Piazza del Campo, a gently sloping piazza in the shape of a shell. During the warm Summer evenings, the piazza is full of young people, families and elderly couples sitting, chatting, eating ice cream or simply enjoying an evening stroll or passeggiata. In the day time, you can climb the Piazza's Tower (La Torre Del Mangia) and see a wonderful view of the city below. There are many activities in the Summer, the streets have designated areas for busking and graffiti and so the streets have a great variety of musicians and artists. The latter often re-create famous paintings with 24 hours and wash it away the next day of create amazing 3D graffiti.  

Street Painting: Da Vinci's Portrait of a Woman

Street Painting: Botticelli's The Birth of Venus

The city itself is divided into distinct districts or contrade, each with its own flag and symbol. They even have their own traditional ally and enemy amongst the other contrade. The competition that exists between these contrade is just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Siena remains a city of medieval rivalries; rivalries which have been brewing for over a thousand years. They bubble under the surface for the whole year and then erupt spectacularly twice a year in the form of the famous Palio, a frantic bareback horse race around the main Piazza. Spectactors are in the thick of it, herded into the middle of the piazza while the race encircles them. The frenzied action is all over in less than two minutes but nonetheless is a matter of great pride for the winning contrade. It is not uncommon to see grown men reduced to tears and women in fits of hysterics following the race. The race has all the pomp you'd expect from a medieval dual with the jockeys dressed in all their finery. It is not without its perils however and often the first horse over the finish line is riderless. 


Flag of the Onda (or Wave ) Contrada (Photo: @SaritaAgerman) 

For those with a dicky ticker or who have fears for the safety of the horse and rider (and there are certainly many who feel the race is outdated and dangerous for the horses), you can always enjoy the post-race festivities instead. Not only is winning contrada's flag or bandiera hoisted all over the main square but the winners parade through the square on most if not all the nights of the subsequent month. These street parades seem to spring up spontaneously and spill out onto the streets. The parade gains many tens of followers as they march joyously behind the winning flag through the contrade. Those sat in Piazza Del Campo can hear the drums reverberating around the square several minutes before it arrives. The people make guesses as to which tiny opening the throng of people will appear. Suddenly they arrive and fill the piazza with cheers and an infectious party atmosphere. 

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Gelato (Photo: @SaritaAgerman) 

Siena was also the place where I fell in love with real Gelato where it is usually displayed in mouther-matering pyramids topped with fresh fruits and syrups. For more information on Italian Gelato, look no further than my previous blog post Travel Journal: Venice. Speaking of gelato, if you're ever in Tuscany do try and visit San Gimignano, a small Medieval town in the province of Siena. The town, set on a hill and famous for its towers also has a very prestigious gelateria (with an ubiquitous 'world's best" sign!). The gelateria is tiny but it has delicious and unique flavours like their subtle saffron ice cream or refreshing raspberry and mint. 


The Medieval towers of San Gimignano (Photo: @SaritaAgerman)

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(Photo: @SaritaAgerman)

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 If I haven't managed to tempt you to jump on a plane yet, maybe these pictures of the Tuscan landscape with its Cypress trees and luscious vineyards will do the trick! 


Tuscan Countryside (@SaritaAgerman) 

Vineyards near Monalcino (Photo: @SaritaAgerman) 

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Photos were all taken by @SaritaAgerman unless otherwise stated. 


1 comment:

  1. Hi there! How I wish I could go there to see the beauty of Turin. I will be looking forward to visit your page again and for your other posts as well. You have such a very interesting and informative page. Thank you so much for sharing us some information about Venice Italy tour. This is a very good read. Keep up the good work!
    The command structure in the army was different from that of the fleet. By ancient law, no nobleman could command more than twenty-five men (to prevent the possibility of sedition by private armies), and while the position of Captain General was introduced in the mid-14th century, he still had to answer to a civilian panel of twenty Savi or "wise men". Not only was efficiency not degraded, this policy saved Venice from the military takeovers that other Italian city states so often experienced. A civilian commissioner (not unlike a commissar) accompanied each army to keep an eye on things, especially the mercenaries. The Venetian military tradition also was notably cautious; they were more interested in achieving success with a minimum expense of lives and money than in the pursuit of glory.
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