17 neighborhoods in Siena, Italy live like its the middle ages

WHNT Interns

Siena is a touristic town in Italy known for its history, food and medieval architecture dating back to the 12th century. This town was labeled as a World Heritage Site by The United Nations. Siena has roughly 50,000 inhabitants, with most belonging to a specific contrade. Through the crowded streets of tourists and excitement, one may overlook the contrade influence on this bustling city.

The contrade are neighborhoods in Siena which operate like small republics. There are 17 different ones separated throughout the city. These tiny districts date back to the Middle Ages. Originally, they were created for military purposes. If the town was attacked, each corner of the city would have its own troops to protect Siena. Present day the contrade are now communities bound by their history and pride for their contrada. Members assemble for events such as baptisms and holidays to casual events like dinners together. Each neighborhood has its own fountain, flag, chapel, museum and a patron saint.

The different contrade in Siena are rather exclusive and there are rules to being part of one. The contrade you belong to is based on your birthplace within the city. If you move to a different part of Siena and want to join your new neighborhood contrada that is an exception.

Although not advertised, outsiders from different parts of the world could essentially join a contrada. Dario Castagno, a member of the Nobile Contrada of the Caterpillar said “We’ll give them a card they will pay their annual dues and even if they will never participate because they might still live on the other side of the world they can go out and say they are protectors of the contrada.”

Siena has been able to preserve much of its former glory. Hidden from the public eye lies each contrada headquarters. When entering, one will find old historic documents, artifacts and traditional clothing that have been passed down for centuries. For special events members will put on traditional wardrobe and head to Siena’s town square for the Palio di Siena.

The Palio event brings in people from all over the world. This is a medieval horse race dating back to the 17th century.  Ten horses and their riders representing each contrada will race three times around the track. “Winning the Palio is the biggest satisfaction that somebody from Siena can aspire. The winning contrada will take home and put in the museum, a painting, the banner, which they will keep forever.” Said Castagno. The winning contrada will celebrate with months of festivities within their neighborhood and even receive gifts from other friendly contrade. Most years the event takes place on July 2 and August 16. Due to the pandemic, the Palio di Siena may not take place this year. They hope to have more horse races in the future to continue celebrating the contrade and furthering their Sienese history.

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