Those weird contrade

The contrade are not the same as in the past: this is pretty known.

Before their names were fixed and their number was established (1730), there were almost two-three centuries during which other contrade existed- or better, tried to exist. The Zoccolo- from which the contrade of Bruco and Lupa, probably just Lupa, were born- is attested since the Caccia in Piazza del Campo in 1506 (even if there’s a trace in 1400 too).

But if this story is known, there are other anecdotes less notorious, reported in the research of Giovanni Mazzini and E nzo Mecacci. There were contrade called with the names of the streets where they originated- such as the contrade del Pignattello and del Giglio– or contrade named after animals like the contrada della Farfalla (butterfly) or the contrada del Topo (mouse). Others had very bizarre names like the contrada della Stringa, situated between the current territories of the contrada of Aquila and the contrada of Onda.

Do not try to find out what their colours are or which Palio they won. They didn’t. They didn’t run any race: nor the “long” Palio nor the “short” Palio. They were playful aggregations that joined the biggest contrade during the hunting activities, the processions and the other celebrations that characterized Siena events. The Contrada of Civetta, for example, was one of them and, with the Contrada of Giglio, was part of Giraffa. The Civetta, then, broke away and came back and broke away again to finally find its autonomy. However, others ended up being overcome by the super-contrade they were associated with. These “ghost contrade” had not the same important stories as the Spadaforte, a contrada that was “eaten” by Torre nor the story of the contrada of Quercia- one of the few attested contrade extra moenia (out of the city walls)- that tried to become independent after the Announcement of Violante but wasn’t allowed to do it and was obliged to enter the Piazza under the Contrada of the Chiocciola, as usually. The stories of the “ghost contrade” are “aborted” stories that, however, offer two very interesting points of reflection: the complexity of the origin of the contrade and the final refutation of the thesis according which contrade derive from military campaigns- which was already denied by XXth Century historians. These were just foolish legends about our festivity.

Are you curious? Would you like some details? That’s why I wrote a book called “Il Palio di Siena. Una festa italiana” (“The Palio of Siena. An Italian festivity”), published by Laterza. Go consulting the second chapter and your curiosity will be satisfied. Then, if you want to read the entire book, I won’t be offended!

Duccio Balestracci

Translated by Giulia Staggini