Tate Sellers February 28, 2013 Contrade Siena, Tuscany, Italy view in flickr

What is a Contrada?

The contradas are districts, or wards, within Siena that race in the Palio di Siena—an incredibly famous and important Sienese traditional horse race that occurs every summer. Each contrada is named after an animal or symbol and each has a unique history. Their origins start from the Middle Ages but since then, they have lost their administrative and military functions and have become very patriotic, strong-knit communities which celebrate every important event within one’s own contrada: baptisms, deaths, marriages, church holidays, and Palio victories. The contradas each have allies, adversaries, their own museum, fountain, flag, and motto. The contradas lie within the city center walls and only those born, married, or specially invited into a contrada belong to it. Most people who belong to a contrada consider it a significant part of their life; as important and strong as family.

The Palio di Siena

As stated before, the Palio is a legendary horse race in Siena. The Palio is most well know for this race, but it was not always a race. The palio first started out with the contradas fighting animals in the center, Del Campo. It was the ultimate battle against man and beast, and bulls were the most common animals used. Then, the Palio evolved to a horse race, but not like the one known today. Instead of running laps, the horses raced through the city from one point to another. The next xhange to the palio is the one we see today with three laps around Del Campo. There have been a few rule changes, like the rule that only ten contradas can compete at one time, but for the most part the Palio has been reletively unchanged for hundreds of years. The Palio is held every year on July 2nd and August 16. However, there are a few exception. There have been times when the Palio was canceled due to WWI and WWII, but an extra Palio can be added if there is a great celebration; the end of a world war.