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Siena On Parade

A man of Pantera

Look at that great face. Can’t you see him marching to war for the Republic of Siena at the Battle of Montaperti [1], in 1260? In fact, he is a man of the Pantera (Panther) contrada in Siena, one of the 17 medieval contrade in this city. This afternoon he was marching with his fellow contradioli from the church of their contrada, through the streets of the city, and down to the Campo for the ceremony leading up to the Palio tonight. (The Palio is the frenzied horse race they have twice a year each summer, and have had for many centuries.) Here are some other great faces of Siena I saw on the street today. I have listed their particular contrada under the photo:

Pantera (Panther)

Girafa (Giraffe)

(Sorry, that one was a little out of focus.)

Pantera (Panther)

Leocorno (Unicorn)

Not all the marchers in today’s parades were characterized by beautiful faces (though I assure you from personal observation that this Onda supporter marching in front of me had an even more beautiful face):

We, of course, marched with Onda, but we got to see other contrade marching because the parades passed in the crowded streets, the rat-a-tat-tats of their drums echoing off the stone buildings.

At the Church of San Giuseppe, the Onda parish, we met up with Brian and Jennifer Pletcher, readers of this blog who come from Indianapolis. They are traveling in Europe right now to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. By luck, we happened to be in Siena together today, and we arranged to meet outside the church. (I also had a lovely breakfast with another longtime American reader and his friend this morning; I would name them but I forgot to ask permission.) The Pletchers marched with Lucas and me through the streets behind Onda. We broke away at the Campo to go to Grom for gelato, courtesy of the Pletchers (grazie mille!):

Here’s another view from the street:


Tartuca (Tortoise)

If you find all this contrade stuff interesting, I invite you to read a 2015 post of mine called Contrade And The Common Good,” [2] which is a more considered reflection on the social meaning of these bonds.

Here’s a rear view of Lucas in the parade:

It has all been a lot for a boy to take in. I could see him fading even before we had gelato, and when he leaned into my shoulder after we finished our cones in the gelateria, I knew we had to go lie down in the hotel for a short nap before the big race. As I type this, he is sound asleep in his bed. It feels to him like we have lived an entire year in just these past six days in Italy. And if Onda wins tonight…

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "Siena On Parade"

#1 Comment By Nate On July 2, 2017 @ 1:09 pm

Glad you are enjoying yourself. I hope these people are still willing to fight to protect their beautiful culture. Or will they roll over and let Italy be colonized by Islam?

#2 Comment By Michelle On July 2, 2017 @ 2:57 pm

Loving all your Italy posts. Congrats to the couple celebrating their 20th anniversary there. My husband and I hope to do the same, G-d willing.

#3 Comment By Liam On July 2, 2017 @ 3:35 pm

Meanwhile, to demonstrate how he’s made America great again, the President of the USA wrestled a CNN logo.

The Palio has nothing on that….

#4 Comment By David Palmer On July 2, 2017 @ 4:30 pm

The thing I remember from a visit to Siena nearly 30 years ago was the promenading of people through the streets of old Siena in the early evening, in family groups, neighbours together, sure, young people –
boys and girls separately but interacting with one another.

A delightful memory. I wonder if this still happens?

#5 Comment By Hound of Ulster On July 2, 2017 @ 5:02 pm

Awesome photos…those period outfits look mostly handmade ?

#6 Comment By Tony D. On July 2, 2017 @ 5:02 pm

Seeing these photos (well, except one) made me think of nothing but [3]

#7 Comment By Jamie O’Neill On July 2, 2017 @ 6:12 pm

This is all very well, but which toilets do they use?

#8 Comment By DRK On July 2, 2017 @ 6:20 pm

Which contrade are running this time?

#9 Comment By Renée On July 2, 2017 @ 7:19 pm

These faces! This reminds me of our first visit to Venice. I suddenly saw that the Italian Renaissance painters weren’t just painting types, they were painting their neighbors. Over and over again we saw faces out of a Masaccio or Ghirlandaio. These artists were just painting what they saw!
What lovely stories you are telling. Thank you for sharing them.

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 2, 2017 @ 8:16 pm

And if Onda wins tonight…

I guess you have to go back again in two years…

#11 Comment By Wulfila On July 3, 2017 @ 3:41 am

“Can’t you see him marching to war for the Republic of Siena at the Battle of Montaperti, in 1260?”

No. There wasn´t plate armor at 1260.

[NFR: You’re being pedantic. I said to look at the face, not the clothing. — RD]

#12 Comment By DRK On July 3, 2017 @ 9:30 am

Interesting. A month or so ago, I was in the Tuscan town of Volterra. We knew what we’d find there – exquisitely preserved medieval buildings, an Etruscan wall, Roman structures, shops full of gorgeous alabaster pieces. What we didn’t expect was that they’d be having a cosplay/sf/fantasy festival that weekend. This wasn’t a tourist event, really, it was just for Tuscan geeks. The town was swarming with superheros, fairies, vampires, anime characters. And a lot of people in vaguely medieval clothing, looking completely inauthentic, exactly as they do at American Renaissance festivals. The actual medieval background just made it all the more surreal. (Oddly enough the girl dressed as Rey from Star Wars looked pretty good. It’s partly a matter of texture, and that character wears a lot of stuff that looks homespun).

It was pretty great. One of my all time favorite travel experiences in fact. Though we were a little disappointed that that we couldn’t find a D20 in any of the alabaster shops.

Anyway, this long story is just to say: that’s not what I see here, in these pictures from Siena. These people are part of a very old tradition, and the clothing they are wearing reflects it. They are not doing cosplay, they are just continuing a tradition that’s been going on since the Middle Ages. It’s amazing to see, so thank you! I’m glad your son got to see it all.

#13 Comment By Mia On July 4, 2017 @ 2:43 pm

“And a lot of people in vaguely medieval clothing, looking completely inauthentic, exactly as they do at American Renaissance festivals.”

If you want the authentic stuff outside of Europe, you need to look into the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Some of them are super serious about authenticity. I run in local arts circles where the whole community transplants itself for a time every summer to a campsite where they live whatever era they chose and run classes on living in that era for days on end. They stay in character. I often use their website resources for costuming, which I’m so so at but sometimes need. One SCA related event I heard of didn’t even allow paper plates because they were out of period. Sometimes it gets to be a little too impractical, but the idea is definitely there. Why not look at them as keeping the cultural heritage, or does it only count if it’s “real”?

#14 Comment By DRK On July 5, 2017 @ 9:35 am

I love American Renaissance festivals, there was no direspect intended. And you’re right, the original SCA vision was almost painfully realistic – my sister used to work one in Northern California which had a costume manual that was basically a treatise on medieval clothing. Just a tremendous amount of dedication and hard work goes into such costuming. However, I don’t see this as “keeping the cultural heritage” because what cultural heritage are we talking about, exactly? There was no generic European costume. England, Scotland, Wales, Germany, all the city-states of Italy, all the regions of France – they all wore different costumes, they did not regard themselves as a part of a common heritage, (except for being Christians), and many Americans are a mixture of all these diffent ethnic groups. Trying to live and dress as our forebears did is a good way to try to understand history, but no, I don’t see it as “authentic”. Renaissance festivals have only been around since 1963. On the other hand the Sienese have lierally been running that race and wearing similar costumes since 1631. I do regard their costumes as authentic.

By the way, in my neck of the woods, which is Texas, the renfests have cast authenticity to the winds in favor of following your own weird, and a wonderful weird it is. I usually go a couple of times a year, as much for the people watching as anything else. And that’s what was fun about the Volterra event. There was a guy there as Superman, for instance, which is to say that he was dressed from head to foot in a lovely tailored gent’s suiting made of with a very loud repeated Superman logo. There was also several really impressive cosplay anime characters and devils with full wings, makeup, and horns, which is a lot of commitment on a hot day. The first cosplayer we saw, we actually thought he might be in a ceremonial costume – he was dressed as a knight with crossed swords on his back. But the armor was foam and the swords were wooden, very well done though. Cosplaying was the order of the day, not surtouts probably handed down from your uncle, made by your nonna, taken out for the Palio like they’ve been, two times a year for the past three and a half centuries.

Tl: dr. Even the most carefully reseached Renaissance festival clothing is not “authentic”, because there’s just a big difference between “that was the way it was” and “this is the way it’s always been”. And that’s OK. Renaissance festivals, mediaeval history camps, and cosplaying are really fun and I’d recommend these activities to anyone.