Siena is divided into 17 contrade, or neighbourhoods, each one boasting its own unique sense of pride, which is on full display during the Palio, a horse race that takes place every July and August. To learn more about each contrada, head to their personal museums, where the history of each is highlighted.
In a sort of treasure hunt, history buffs are sure to enjoy seeking out each museum as they discover what makes every contrada unique. Many of these institutions display similar objects, but don’t let that stop you from exploring the differences between them and the pride each resident feels for their personal neighbourhood. It’s typical to find a “Hall of Victories” in every museum, where you can find the many drappelloni awarded to the Palio’s winning contrada. A drappellone is a silk, painted banner that is paraded around the streets following the race. Perhaps less famous but equally fascinating, the Hall of Victories also display the masgalani, which are a sort of “best in show” awarded to the contrada with the finest representation of their neighbourhood during the historic parades that take place before the Palio begins.
Another section often found in each museum is dedicated to the religious history of the contrada. It’s not hard to imagine the role religion plays in the everyday life of many of these citizens, so an area dedicated to sacred objects that are bestowed with a sense of importance in the local community is sure to be a focus. Along with these objects, you’ll likely also come across works of sacred art coming from the area’s churches and religious institutions. Finally, every museum has a history section, where contrada pride is on full display, with costumes worn throughout history, historical anecdotes and elements of the neighbourhood’s social life, and objects related to each contrada’s trade, which every district tended to be associated with.
The Eagle contrada conserves the oldest-verified drappellone, while the Giraffe contrada holds their own unique testament to the Palio’s history: the “stolen” drappellone and its preparatory sketch (the banner was stolen before the 1967 race, so the team was forced to take their victory lap with the sketch in hand, though it was later returned), both of which are now on display in the museum. Regarding religious history, the Crested Porcupine contrada is proudly home to Siena’s oldest-surviving version of Christ Blessing, a fresco originally housed in the neighbourhood’s church. And then there’s the Valley of the Ram contrada’s museum, designed by no less than Giovanni Michelucci, Italy’s most celebrated architect from the 20th century.
The prize object in the She-Wolf’s museum is a photograph of Giuseppe Garibaldi, which he donated to the contrada following its Palio victory in 1867. Similarly, the Wave and Panther contrade also showcase objects tied to their local history: the Wave’s museum displays works related to the neighbourhood’s carpentry tradition, as well as works by Giovanni Duprè, the famous sculptor that was born in the contrada, while the Panther’s museum dedicates an entire room to the illustrious opera singer and winning captain Ettore Bastianini, including keepsakes, photos, books, letters and some original costumes worn by Bastianini in productions of Pagliacci, the Barber of Seville and La Tosca, among others. Find out here the full list of the contrade in Siena.