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Palio di Siena Flags (Tuscany, Italy)

Last modified: 2016-08-18 by rob raeside
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Palio di Siena Flags

I got Siena Palio images from a postcard series copyright ca. 1955. The flags from the postcards are the main standards of the contrade (districts).  These are not the throwing versions, which appear to be much less elaborate.  There is also some evidence that there is no fixed pattern for these flags, and that they may evolve with the fashions of the times.
T.F. Mills 24 July 1999

This is the most complete site about Palio, Contrade....many images and flags at <www.ilpaliodisiena.com>.
Alex Baldi , Le Muse Multimediali , 28 March 2000

There are 17 family-districts (contrade) in Siena.  You can see their flags at http://www.comune.siena.it/La-Citta/Palio/Siena-e-il-Palio/Il-Drappellone.
T.F. Mills, 14 November 2000 and Ole Andersen, 23 March 2001

Having seen many images of the Palio over the decades, I think it is safe to say there is no "sealed pattern" for these flags, and they follow the ancient custom of "heraldic license" where details are not prescribed. There is also a big difference between these large flags carried by the standard bearer of each contrada, and the smaller throwing flags.  The latter tend to be of much simpler design, and they also seem to vary over the years.  The constants would appear to be the major colours and the principal motif.
T.F. Mills, 23 March 2001

I was asked by Jorge Candeias: is there an adequate translation in English of "contrada"?
I checked this out yesterday and my dictionary reports 'district', even though it suggests using 'contrada' when relating to those of Siena. To the best of my knowledge, Palio roughly translates as 'tournament'. I think the reason is that much of the fame of Siena is from those 'contrade', as much as Venice to canals, which are usually translated like that and not like 'channels' or 'rivers', even though they are actually such things.
Manuel Giorgini, 14 November 2001

The "contrade" are the quarters of the city that try to win a flag (il palio) on July 2nd for the first time and on 15 August 15th, for the second time. The race is an horse race on the main place of the city. Is a medieval race with the people dressed with medieval costumes. If you want it's possible to have more information in the site of the town <www.comune.siena.it>.
Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Mills says that "[...] There is also some evidence that there is no fixed pattern for these flags, and that they may evolve with the fashions of the times.[...]". Now this is not more true because the Consorzio per la Tutela del Palio di Siena has internationally registered the Marks and flags of each Contrada. So there is a difference between ORIGINAL Palio di Siena flags and IMITATIONS: for every information and images these two links are official: <www.ctps.it> (click on ENTRA, then on "AREA MACRCHIO" then on "I Marchi Registrati" you will have all the ORIGINAL and OFFICIAL 17 Contradas registered Marks of flags).
Contrada has not a real english translation, you can compare to a district (that in italian we say QUARTIERE), but it has not a translation, the Consorzio per la Tutela del Palio di Siena uses it also in English: singular: CONTRADA, plurial: CONTRADAS. Also in Italy the name Contrada is unique for those cities that have a Palio (there are hundreds of Palio in Italy, above all in the Centre, like Ascoli, etc.). The district in fact is a concept relating to the urbanization, normally you divide cities in different district with different services accesses; while if you take a look of Contrada division it has nothing relating to the city shape or services, it has an historical and familiar origin. Consider that in the 1200 there were about 50 different Contrada in Siena.
Actually biggest images of Palio di Siena are on our website <www.flagsonline.it> (Click on each contrada to enlarge the image).
Paolo. 11 May 2005

The "contrada" (plural "contrade") is one of the 17 (currently and since 18th century) inner city districts (just within the ancient walls). In (fairly old-fashioned) Italian it's the equivalent of "piece of land". Their origin is not absolutely certain but the most acknowledge interpretation is that they derive from medieval "confraternite", i.e. private associations of citizens dedicated mainly to social scopes like assisting orphans or widows or homeless, etc. Those associations "overlapped" with the military organization of the city, where each district had the responsibility to ward a section of the walls or provide a certain amount and type of armed men. By the way, do not look at a map of Siena trying to understand the relationship between the apparent shape of a contrada territory and other functions, as the city territory is so complicated by steep up and downs that a "flat" map will never correctly represent it.
The name "palio" (plural "palii") comes from the Latin "pallium" which means "broad piece of precious cloth" and refers to the prize (a long, broad piece of precious cloth) which was awarded to the contrada winning ancient contests. Those contests were not originally horse races, they were "shows" or "processions" made in honour of a saint or of an illustrious person visiting Siena. The contrada performing the best show was awarded the "pallium".
The Palio of Siena is NOT a medieval revocation, it's the REAL thing! In fact, the Palio in Siena NEVER went "out of fashion" during the centuries (differently from all other palii which have been resumed for touristic reasons).
Finally, about the flags. There's now fixed shape or design for the flags of the contrade. Only the colours and the symbol are fixed. Contrade periodically "refresh" their flags with a new design. The Consorzio di Tutela del Palio is an almost-commercial institution, barely recognized by true senese people. Any flag you could just buy in Siena is, by definition, NOT an original one, as flags are considered sacred by the people and they would NEVER sell the TRUE flags. In recent years, some tourists have stolen flags from the house fronts, maybe thinking they were just nicking an "advertising gadget". Please consider that this is, to Siena people, like stealing a sacred ornament in a church!
Carlo Duroni, 25 May 2006

Three older flags (photos 1, 2, 3) of Sienese contrade (approx. 1957) are for sale at the Italian Ebay.
M. Schmöger, 8 June 2006

Several historical postcards were on sale at Italian Ebay, all of them showing variants of the respective Siena contrade flags: Selva. Tartuca and Pantera. A more modern (1963?) postcard as well.
M. Schmöger, 1 November 2006

Currently at the Italian Ebay there several flags of the contrade of Siena such as here and here.
M. Schmöger, 12 July 2007

As I understand it, they have at least the following flags:

  • the actual palio, the prize for the race, each different
  • the banners of the contrade
  • the flags of the contrade, simplified versions of the banner, used for houses and for flag throwing
  • fan flags, also used for tourists

As an example:

Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 17 July 2016

I found the coat of arms evolution (from 1546 to 1888) here: http://www.ilpalio.org/veaqu.gif, source: http://www.ilpalio.org/veaqu.htm). And they have in fact a film archive of several contests of the different contrade: http://www.ilpalio.org/playlist.htm. Here also is another collection of flags (copyright Immagini ©Giuseppe Pirastru) through time (source: http://www.sienafree.it/palio-e-contrade/aquila/41569-le-contrade-di-siena-raccontate-dai-priori-aquila-fotogallery):
- http://www.sienafree.it/images/palio/contrade/aquila/priori-aquila-fotogallery/DSC_9645.JPG
- http://www.sienafree.it/images/palio/contrade/aquila/priori-aquila-fotogallery/DSC_9648.JPG
- http://www.sienafree.it/images/palio/contrade/aquila/priori-aquila-fotogallery/DSC_9649.JPG
- http://www.sienafree.it/images/palio/contrade/aquila/priori-aquila-fotogallery/DSC_9653.JPG
- http://www.sienafree.it/images/palio/contrade/aquila/priori-aquila-fotogallery/DSC_9657.JPG
- http://www.sienafree.it/images/palio/contrade/aquila/priori-aquila-fotogallery/DSC_9661.JPG

There is an entry on Aquila: http://www.sienafree.it/palio-e-contrade/aquila and also the main site with all of them: http://www.sienafree.it/palio-e-contrade. Also on their official website, an entry on the museum contains several flags as well: http://www.contradadellaquila.com/contrada/sede-e-museo.
Esteban Rivera, 18 July 2016


The Contrada

Aquila (Eagle)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

A detailed image can be seen at http://www.ilpalio.siena.it/5/Immagini/Contrade/Bestiario/AQ.png.
Esteban Rivera, 18 July 2016

That's what the flag looked like on 1 July 2011, according to http://www.panoramio.com/photo/55054084, and still does according to http://meerdanvijftig.nl/middeleeuws-siena-nog-springlevend. If my theory is correct, then the design of the tourist flags would probably have had the shields somewhere. The banner, in 2012 looked like this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/iltesorodisiena/8085930857, it seems, assuming that that's the right way to describe it.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 18 July 2016

Also, please see this other flag, source: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobile_Contrada_dell%27Aquila of the "Nobile Contrada dell'Aquila" (official name) (official website: http://www.contradadellaquila.com).
Esteban Rivera,, 18 July 2016

I think that's a slightly older style. With all of the Internet available the problem isn't as much to find different styles, but more to correctly determine dates and purposes. In my recollection this one used to be quite prominent, though, suggesting that it may have been the last previous style.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg
, 18 July 2016


Bruco (Caterpillar)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Chiocciola (Snail)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Civetta (Owl)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Drago (Dragon)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001
See photo of flag at www.italianfood.about.com.

Giraffa (Giraffe)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Istrice (Porcupine)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Leocorno (Unicorn)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Lupa (She-wolf)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

The flag of the Contrada della Lupa, winner of the first leg, because there are two events: one in July and one in August, of the Palio di Siena was posted by Gianluca Lentini‎ on FOTW-fb.
Esteban Rivera, 25 July 2016

According to legend, the city of Siena was named after Senio/Senius, son of Remus. Senio and his brother Aschio fled north after Romulus killed their father. They brought with them a carving of the one who raised their father and his brother: a she-wolf. Eventually they founded a city of their own, Siena, where the she-wolf became the city symbol. White and black eventually became the city's colours, flag and arms.

The Contrada della Lupa (ward of the she-wolf), stretches to the north from the Piazza del Campo where the Palio of Siena is held. The main charge of Lupa's arms is the symbol of the city: The she-wolf suckling two boys. Its colours are white and black, but they differ from the city's colours in that Lupa always has an orange lining. After 27 years, the Contrada della Lupa won the Palio of 2 July 2016. (And even then, in 1989 the race was won by a riderless horse; the last time Lupa saw their jockey win was in 1973.)
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 26 July 2016


Montone (Ram)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Nicchio (Shell)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Oca (Goose)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Onda (Wave)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Contrada della Pantera

image by M. Schmöger, 23 August 2001

detail
image by M. Schmöger, 23 August 2001

Recently a friend of mine brought me a flag he bought in Siena. It is obviously one of the flags of the Contrade in Siena, namely the Contrade della Pantera. It differs from the design shown on the website of Siena, though.
However, there were already reports, that there are always quite a lot of variations from the basic design.
M. Schmöger, 23 August 2001

The Contrada della Pantera flag is not correct: as you can verify on the official Contrada website: <www.contradadellapantera.it> the Coat of Arms is in the upper-left corner, the image Moreover the pantheress is not correct: crown is closer. Finally also the flag background is not correct. Also in the Comune di Siena <www.comune.siena.it> you have the real flag and not this one.
Paolo.


Selva (Forest)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Contrada della Tartuca

image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 27 March 2005

The Contrada della Tartuca (Turtle District) palio flag - As all the others, it is square, with diagonal ascending stripes (from bottom hoist to top fly) in blue and yellow. The middle stripe (a blue one) is about five times wider and shows the district Coat of Arms shield flanked by symmetrical flower branch ornaments; the other stripes are six to each side (the last ones, also blue, show as triangles, at top hoist and bottom fly).   The Coat of Arms is a turtle proper on a ground or semeé of daisies proper.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 27 March 2005

This image is not the original Tartuca flag but it is a flag sold as Tartuca contrada. The original Tartuca image is at <www.ctps.it>.
Differences are in colours and designs (shapes), for example Tartuca you sent has a completely different turtle: the original is a green turtle, quite spherical, with the head looking above. Turtle you sent was completely different. Also turtle background is quite different "Margherita" (white flowers name in Italian) in this image are enormous, original one shows flowers really different.
Paolo, 29 March and 4 April 2005


Torre (Tower)

image by Bruno Fracasso, 18 December 2001

Palio flags in Hearst Castle

images from Bishop Lamoureux, 15 April 2015

In Hearst Castle, a historical landmark and state park located on the Central Coast of California is a collection of flags hanging over the dining room. Bishop Lamoureux, 15 April 2015

These are Siena Ward flags. Or rather, they are replicas of the original banners that are part of Hearst's collection. I expect none of these medieval banners will match the current ones. The banners seem to change over time, plus through the years quite a number of wards have disappeared. (There would even be some logic in these specifically being banners of wards that no longer exist.)
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 15 April 2015

It seems commonplace for these Palio flags to be displayed indoors in several places around the world. For the full list of Contrade, please see Contrade of Siena and also note the pictures captioned "Flag of Onda contrada hanging in the cathedral of Siena" and "Flag of Onda contrada hanging in the cathedral of Siena" on the same page. It is interesting to point out is that "Palio" in Italian means "Standard" (as derived from the word "stick", thus, having a banner hanging from a stick or pole).
Sources: Palio di Siena and the Official Siena Website.
Esteban Rivera, 15 April 2015

I've already posted the short identification that these are Siena ward flags. (Well, they are replica's, but the originals are supposed to indeed be in Hearst's collection.) It took a while to gather recognisable images of most of the flags, though. Counter to my original understanding, these don't seem to be really ancient flags, possibly from no longer existing wards. Rather, most may have been flags from a few years prior to the time Hearst acquired them.

On the wall to the left of the camera in the first image are:
- Tartuca ward
- Bruco ward
- Lupa ward
- Nicchio ward
- Drago ward
- Giraffa ward
- Onda ward
- Torre ward
- Aquila ward
- Lupa ward
- Bruco ward
All of those are indeed visible in the first image. The second image is in the other direction, showing the flags from the last to the first, with Bruco ward not in view, above or behind the camera, and the far Lupa ward flag obscured by the Nicchio ward flag in front of it. On the wall to the right of the camera in this image are:
- Bruco ward
- The Lamb of God.
- Lupa ward
- Aquila ward
- Civetta ward
- Bruco ward
- Giraffa ward
- Selva ward
- Onda ward
- Tartuca ward
- Oca ward
- I-don't-know-which ward

In the first image, only the first two are plainly visible. Because of the shape of the banner showing the Lamb of God, a part of the Lupa ward flag is visible underneath it. Also, as it's also a rather fine material, a bit of the Aquila ward flag is just visible though the material. The second image is in the other direction, and shows the flags from the last to the first, except that the Tartuca ward flag is the first visible one, with the two before it being above or behind the camera, and the Bruco ward flag is obscured by the larger Lamb of God banner in front of it.

Several wards make more than one appearance in these two lists. This is correct, as they are indeed present with several flags. Each flag is of a different design, though. What remains the same are the colours and the arms, which are the features that identify the ward. Curiously, in approximately 2012 the order in the second list seems to have changed, in that the two Bruco ward flags switched places, as did the Selva ward and Oca ward flags. As the second image (and therefore the matching first image is apparently older than that, see web archive of dining room photo), the flags are no longer exactly in the order shown in the photographs and given in the list above.

I don't think the banner showing the Lamb of God is a ward flag. It appears to be different in shape, in material, in style and in imagery. If it really has to belong to a ward, it would fit somewhat with Valdimontone ward, but it would mean they have completely changed their style since then. I don't think that is it.

The I-don't-know-which ward flag took me the longest, as it's in the corner on the side away from the main entry and the balcony, thus it's almost always obscured or above or behind the camera. When I finally found a photograph showing it, I found it really looks like just another ward flag, but it has no central charge. It just has shields at the top and bottom corner. Well, maybe with an even better photograph, showing the obverse to be sure, I might recall where I saw those particular shields before. For now, if I would have to hazard a guess, I'd give it to Bruco ward, but please ask all relatives who mention Hearst Castle if they can take a good photograph of this one.

That's as far as I can bring it. Please, contact any connections you have with Hearst Castle or Siena, but for now these last two remain unidentified, with a very small amount of speculation.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 18 August 2015