Il Campo is the center of Sienese life, culture and politics. It is the famous shell shaped piazza and where the famous palio race is held twice a year. The piazza stonework is divided into nine pie shaped sections that symbolize the founding nine sections of government at the time it was built. All nine of these sections narrow down the shell shaped piazza and converge together at the base and center of the building that represents the seat of the Sienese government. This symbolizes the separate but united government of Siena. At the top of the shell is an ornate fountain, symbolizing the power of creating and providing water for the city of Siena. Siena is sitting on miles and miles of aqua ducts that are still in use today providing water for Siena. This is a significant role in placing Siena on the world power map. Medieval Siena was not located near water or on a trade route and the city was facing extinction. Florence was jockeying to take over Siena and claim it. Siena was not to accept that and one of the ways Siena gained power was providing water for the city. The fountain in Il Campo is a reminder that water flows in Siena and is part of the power of the city.
The palio is a horse race but not just a horse race. Symbolically it is a war between the different contrada’s in Siena. There are seventeen contrada’s. They all live in different sections of Siena and are very territorial. The individual coats of arms are placed on corner buildings indicating which contrada you are strolling through. The contrada’s are in continual competition for the power of being the best or the most powerful in Siena. This is a long held tradition representing the battles for power in Siena in medieval and renaissance time. Siena built Il Campo as a statement to the world that it was powerful and was a force to be taken seriously in world trade, banking and government.
The palio is for the Sienese people not for tourist’s entertainment, although tourists come to see the races from all over the world. There are two races, July 2nd and August 16th each dedicated to the Madonna. The city of Siena is dedicated to the Madonna. There are altars and images of her everywhere. People stop on the street to cross themselves to her. Ten horses from ten different contrada’s race around Il campo to be the victor and claim most powerful for their contrada. The race is over in 10 seconds but the festivities, rivalry, and battling for power never end.
In my travel journal class we are to find and document 10 of the 17 contrada…this is easier said than done. I have walked all over Siena but have only found about 6 contrada, Panther, Snail, Porcupine, Wave, Fish and Turtle. I love seeing how many ways the symbolism is used in each contrada. Chad and I live in the snail contrada or Chioccola contrada. Proudly displayed on one wall in our apartment are three framed prints of images and a written description of the contrada in Italian, I hope to be proficient enough in Italian to read it before we leave. Enjoy the contrada photos! Ciao
Pantera fountain…I pass this everyday on my way to and from school