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Siena, Eagles, and Caterpillars…

Last Friday, Umbra student Kyla Mathews and her Contemporary Italy: Culture and Society class left Perugia’s Piazza Italia bound for the historic center of Siena. They spent the day touring the ancient city’s cobblestone streets, and even had the truly rare chance to visit one of the famous “contrada” museums. Ms. Mathews had this to say about her experience…

“The Contemporary Italy: Society and Culture class took a short trip to Sienna for the afternoon last Friday. We arrived in Siena in time for a lunch break before our tour. After lunch, we met at “Il Campo”, simply meaning “the square”. If you ask a local, though, it’s not a square at all! This inclined shell-shaped area is where the Sienese annually hold the famous palio, a horse race between the city’s seventeen “contrade”, or districts.

“Our tour guide introduced herself as a Caterpillar (a less than intimidating mascot of one of the contrade), and she led us to the Museum of the Eagle (decidedly a more fearsome district representative!) Along the way, we saw the colorful titles on buildings indicating which contrada territory we were in. Out front, where the flag of the Eagle was waving, a small blue ribbon had been tied to announce its new member… a baby boy!

“Inside, we were able to see all of the hand-painted banners won by the Eagles over the years in the palio. We watched a short clip of last year’s race, which also included clips of the various preparations and ceremonies leading up to it, like the blessing of the horses inside the contrada’s church! We were also able to take a look at the different costumes worn by jockeys in the past. After that, we toured some recently discovered Etruscan tombs, recently found during an excavation carried out beneath the museum. Outside, our guide showed us an Eagle’s fountain used for baptizing new members into the contrada.

“It was a quick little trip but definitely incredible to hear about Siena’s phenomenal traditions!”

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