Contrada of Siena
A contrada (plural: contrade) is a district, or a ward, within an Italian city. The most well-known contrade are the 17 contrade of Siena whose representatives race on horseback in the Palio di Siena, run twice each year. Each contrada is named after an animal or symbol and each has a long and complicated history with semi-mythological associations.
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 preserve its independence from Florence and other nearby city states. With the passage of time, however, the contrade have lost their administrative and military functions and have become areas of localised patriotism. The communities are held together by their histories, and the emotions and sense of civic pride of the residents. Their roles have broadened so that in the 21st century, 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 and Lupa have no allies) and adversary contrada, typically a neighbor (only four, Bruco, Drago, Giraffa and Selva, have no declared adversaries).
Originally 59 contrade were established, taking on functions like a clan in a tribal society. Consolidation over the centuries as needs changed has resulted in the number being reduced to 17 in the early 18th century, given in part that prior, some contrade were slowly dying out before their abolition, which took place officially in 1729. These districts were Gallo (Rooster), Leone (Lion), Orso (Bear), Quercia (Oak), Spadaforte (Strong Sword), and Vipera (Viper).
The abolition of six quarters has always been surrounded by uncertainty. The deletion is traditionally traced to disorders related to the Palio of 1675. Some sources say that Contrada Spadaforte (with support of five other Contrade), despite the victory of Lupa, claimed the victory for itself. Or according to others, Spadaforte was forbidden to compete in the Palio, given it could not rely on its area of influence. Any event, the six “rebel” districts were therefore deleted.
However, these more salacious sagas are not supported by contemporary records. The more practical history notes the abolition came about because of poor organization among the contrade and their lack of participation in the larger public life of the city.
The six quarters were officially abolished by the edict issued by Violante Beatrice of Bavaria (known as Notice of Violante of Bavaria) in 1729. It defined the boundaries of the New Division of Contrade, which are still valid.
The six eliminated were incorporated into other contrade as follows:
Gallo was incorporated into Civetta, Oca, and Selva.
Leone was incorporated into Istrice.
Orso was incorporated into Civetta.
Quercia was incorporated into Chiocciola.
Spadaforte was incorporated into Leocorno and Torre.
Vipera was incorporated into Torre.
Today the six abolished contrade are remembered in the historical procession preceding the Palio di Siena: six riders with their helmets lowered, accompanied by a groom, parade in the ninth group of the Corteo Storico Historical Parade.
The 17 CONTRADA
Aquila (Eagle) – Allies: Civetta, Drago / Enemies: Pantera
Bruco (Caterpillar) – Allies: Istrice, Leocorno, Nicchio, Torre / Enemies: None
Chiocciola (Snail) – Allies: Istrice, Pantera, Selva / Enemies: Tartuca
Civetta (Owl) – Allies: Aquila, Istrice, Giraffa, Pantera / Enemies: Leocorno
Drago (Dragon) – Allies: Aquila / Enemies: None
Giraffa (Giraffe) – Allies: Civetta, Istrice, Pantera / Enemies: None
Istrice (Porcupine) – Allies: Bruco, Chiocciola, Civetta, Giraffa / Enemies: Lupa
Leocorno (Unicorn) – Allies: Bruco, Pantera, Tartuca / Enemies: Civetta
Lupa (She-Wolf) – Allies: None / Enemies: Istrice
Nicchio (Shell) – Allies: Bruco, Onda, Tartuca / Enemies: Valdimontone
Oca (Goose) – Allies: None / Enemies: Torre
Onda (Wave) – Allies: Nicchio, Tartuca, Valdimontone / Enemies: Torre
Pantera (Panther) – Allies: Chiocciola, Civetta, Giraffa, Leocorno / Enemies: Aquila
Selva (Forrest) – Allies: Chiocciola, Tartuca / Enemies: None
Tartuca (Tortoise) – Allies: Leocorno, Onda, Nicchio, Selva / Enemies: Chiocciola
Torre (Tower) – Allies: Bruco / Enemies: Oca
Valdimontone (Ram) – Allies: Onda / Enemies: Nicchio