Today we went on an excursion for which we had a private driver and a mini-van courtesy of our multi-talented travel agent Vittorio. Siena is one hour south of Firenze and the home of Il Palio, a semi-annual horse race in which ten of the contradas of the city compete.
The city is divided into seventeen sections or contradas, each with its own flag and emblems. The Palio is held in the middle of the city in a long circular enclosure surrounded by buildings and the watching crowd gathers in the middle section. The race is run in a circle around a crowd of approximately 7,000 according to our guide/driver Marc.
We missed the Palio by one day; they were cleaning up the day we went. It was the 750th anniversary of the event. The Selva (forest) Contrada had won. Siena is divided into seventeen Contradas which correspond to seventeen areas of the town. The names of the Contradas are: Aquila (Eagle), Bruco (Caterpillar), Chiocciola (Snail), Civetta (Owl), Drago (Dragon), Giraffa (Giraffe), Istrice (Porcupine), Leocorno (Unicorn), Lupa (She-Wolf), Nicchio (Shell), Oca (Goose), Onda (Wave), Pantera (Panther), Selva (Forest), Tartuca (Turtle), Torre (Tower), Valdimontone (Ram).
That day, we saw a small parade of the Selva Contrada’s inhabitants dressed in vaguely medieval costumes and leotards bearing the colours of their Contrada: brilliant green, white and orange with the emblem of a rhinoceros on its flag. The men played drums and pipes and were followed by a troop of women, children and men wearing scarves with the same colours.
Above is a photograph of a mail box once used by the fattoria many many years ago.
Were R and I the only geeks who wanted to have sense of what this place was about – who lived there, how this fortified village survived? By then, the 38 degree plus weather had worn us out and we decided to opt out of wine tasting in Chianti as nice as that would have been – I am sure that the kids could not have borne one more trip.
R said that he could see himself living here in Firenze. A small triumph for me. Two winters ago he refused to consider the idea of living anywhere else but Canada. Today he was looking for apartments to rent!
This a picture of R at San Gimignano ... a friend said that it looks like he is ascending to heaven. How appropriate!