"...Siena is the city of the Blessed Virgin and of it's heraldic symbol the "Balzana", the white and black. It's passionate and contemplative, known and unknown, steps and alleyways of days long gone. The singular colour of the Piazza del Campo takes one by surprise. In the districts, museums and oratories of the contradas, the songs of the Palio evoke ancient rituals and modern cheer, while at night the footsteps of shoes on the deserted streets couldn't be further from the peace of the green valleys, closed out of the town by the walls built hundreds of years ago, before Siena became a true city. Siena is also the Duomo, the cathedral and the breathtaking view from the Facciatone; the Pilgrim's Hall at Santa Maria della Scala, the Piccolomini Library and the prestigious Chiagiana Academy.
The overpowering fortress now holds the Enoteca Italiana, and with it the most precious wines of the region, of Tuscany and of the whole country; the smells from the trattorie, the sound of the craftsmen and the splashes from the fountains; Fontebranda and the mystery of Diana, the famous underground river and the geometric architecture of the Piazza, at once suggestively neo-Gothic and cathartic. These are the reasons why "Cor magis tibi Saena pandit" (Siena opens her heart more than her doors to you), as engraved above Porta Camollia...."
Siena is a city of contrasts - from medieval treasures found within its historic walls to modern shops and facilities located around the city. Enjoy the tranquility found in the hidden back streets or experience Palio preparations, races and celebrations which go on in the main squares for over half a year. It is a small city but has a large student population (of both Italians and foreigners), meaning that there are plenty of places to go and things to do in your free time - from bars and clubs to restaurants and pizzerias; from theatres and cinemas to museums and art galleries.
Staying in Siena
It is an historic medieval city in the region of Tuscany, located in the north of Italy, and lying some 70 km (43 miles) south of Florence. It is probably best known for a colourful horse race, Il Palio, conducted twice each year in the summer. Siena is the most compact of the cities,It’s built on three ridges that radiate out from the Piazza del Campo, rather like some mysterious, theree-legged sea creatures long embedded in a rock. Each leg forms one of the “terzi” , or thirds , into which the city has tradionally been divided . Everything is then neatly enclosed within a ring of well-preserved medioval walls. Country: Italy, Region: Tuscany, Province: Siena (SI), Mayor: Franco Ceccuzzi (since May 2011), Elevation: 322 m, Area: 118 km², Population: 55.000, Density: 447/km², Time zone:
CET, UTC+1, Coordinates : 43°20′N 11°20′E, Gentilic: Senesi, Dialing code: 0577, Postal code: 53100, 53010, Patron: St. Ansanus
The origin of this fabulous spectacle possibility goes back to the 13th century, when a feast and horse race were held giving thanks to the MADONNA for Siena victory at Motaperti in 1260. The Palio takes place 2 in a year-2nd July and 16th August. Ten out of the 17 contradas take part in each one . Seven are guaranteed a place if they missed in July race the preceding year , and the other three are drawn by lots. A week before the race il Campo is covered with earth, il tufo, to create the track. In the run up to the race a lot of dealing . and double dealing goes on. The jockeys are all outsiders, often from Sardinia and can earn large sums of money from the race. Captains of the contradas negotiate to get the best rider for their district, but jockeys also do deals between
one another. Ten horses are also chosen. Three days before the race, there is a public draw to assign the horses from the pool to the competing districts:
once allotted they can' be changed. The horses are then led to special stalls within their contrada and are placed under 24-hours guard On the day of
the race the horse and jockey are blessed in the relevant contrada church. The race is preceded by a parade , with contrada members dressed in medieval
costumes, waving flags and beating drums. The jockeys continue making deals on the starting line and scramble for position. Once the race begins, riders
can beat one another and their horses and if jockey fall off it does not matter, the horse that finishes first is the winner, rider less or not.
Once the race is over- and it only lasts 90 seconds, the celebrations begin. The next best thing to winning the race is seeing your anemy lose it.
The winning contrada becomes the "baby" and members wear dummies round their necks-uou'll frequently see this aroud the city long after the Palio is over.
The one that hasn't won for longest becomes the "nonna", or grandmother . A dinner is held by the winning contrada- the horse being the star guest.
In the months after the race , victury dinners continue to be held outdoors and preparations begin for the next Palio.
Yet for all the pageantry the race is just the tip of the iceberg, it is the contradas that are the soul of Siena, not the Palio.
Siena is built on the three ridges that radiate out from the Pizza del Campo, rather like some mysterious, three-legged sea creature long embedded in a rock. Each leg forms one of the "Terzi", or thirds, into which the city has traditionally been divided. There are "Terzo di Città" , "Terzo di San Martino" and "Terzo di Camollia". The contradas are the 17 that race in the Palio of Siena- each named after an animal or symbol and each with its own long history and complicated set of heraldic and semi-mythological associations. The names of the Contradas are: Aquila (Eagle), Bruco (Caterpillar), Chiocciola (Snail), Civetta (Owl), Drago (Dragon), Giraffa (Giraffe), Istrice (Porcupine), Leocorno (Unicorn), Lupa (She-Wolf), Nicchio (Shell), Oca (Goose), Onda (Wave), Pantera (Panther), Selva (Forest),
Tartuca (Turtle), Torre (Tower), Valdimontone (Ram). These districts were set up in the Middle Ages in order to supply troops to the many military companies that were hired to defend Siena as it fought to defend its independence from Florence and other nearby city states. As time has gone by, however, the contradas have lost their administrative and military functions and have instead become simply areas of localized patriotism, held together by the emotions and sense of civic pride of the residents. Their roles have broadened so that every important event - baptisms, deaths, marriages, church holidays, victories at the Palio, even wine or food festivals - is celebrated only within one's own contrada. Every contrada has its own museum, fountain and baptismal font, motto, allied contrada (only
Oca has no allies) and enemy contrada (only four - Bruco, Drago, Giraffa and Selva - have no declared enemies). There were originally 59 contrade, but consolidation over the centuries has seen the number reduced to today's 17.