Monday, February 4, 2013

Siena, Italy - Find the 17 contrada

From left to right: Dragon (Drago), Forest (Selva), Tortoise (Tartuca), She-Wolf (Lupa)

TRAVEL QUEST - Photograph or draw the 17 animal mascots of Siena, Italy
By Sara McBride

A Travel Quest will enliven any trip and help a novelist to seek out the small details of a location. If you're an artist, this particular quest will give you plenty of fun images to draw.

The Tuscan town of Siena, Italy, found itself at the crossroads of several major 13th century trading routes. It grew so prominant that it had to form an organized militia in order to defend its independence from Florence. The city originally created 59 districts to organize military units. Those districts have since been consolidated into 17, and in the 15th century, each district adopted an animal related symbol for games and events. 

Today’s only surviving game is the Palio, a dramatic horse race in the central campo of the city held every July 2 and August 16. The winning rider escorts a hand-painted banner to their contrada home, where it is hung in the district museum. Then there’s an epic party! 

Your quest is to photograph or draw each of the 17 contrada symbols. Above are examples I’ve found. Below is a map of Siena with the 17 contrada districts. Each district has its own church, baptismal font and museum. HINT - These are often locations where you might find a contrada symbol. 

While strolling the narrow walkways of the city, keep your eyes peeled for the following symbols:

AQUILA (Eagle) a double-headed eagle holding an orb, sword and/or sceptre.
CHIOCCIOLA (Snail) a snail.
ONDA (Wave) A swimming dolphin wearing a crown.
PANTERA (Panther) A rampant panther.
SELVA (Forest) A rhinoceros bearing a huge tree hung with hunting implements.
TARTUCA (Tortoise) A tortoise. 
CIVETTA (Little Owl) An owl.
LEOCORNO (Unicorn) A unicorn.
NICCHIO (Shell) A crowned scallop shell, often flanked by two branches of coral.
TORRE (Tower) An elephant with a tower on its back. 
VALDIMONTONE (Ram) A crowned ram.
BRUCO (Caterpillar) A caterpillar, often crawling on a rose.
DRAGO (Dragon) A flying dragon, often carrying a banner with the letter ‘U’.
GIRAFFA (Giraffe) A giraffe, often led by a Moor.
ISTRICE (Porcupine) A Porcupine.
LUPA (She-Wolf) The Roman She-Wolf suckling twins.
OCA (Goose) A crowned goose with the cross of Savoia round its neck.

Bonus symbols - In 1729, 23 contrada were consolidated into today’s 17. Can you find symbols for the forgotten 6 contrada?
GALLO (Rooster) Near the Little Owl, Goose and Forest districts.
LEONE (Lion) Near the Porcupine district.
ORSO (Bear) Near the Little Owl district.
QUERCIA (Oak) Near the Snail district.
SPADAFORTE (Strong Sword) Near the Unicorn & Tower district.
VIPERA (Viper) Near the Tower district.

Here’s a great site with an interactive Contrada google map so you can locate your hotel and learn what district you’ll be staying in.

Writing Prompt: 
Several of the districts have long time rivalries. Write a story involving a district rivalry. 


  1. This is a fun quest! But you didn't give us any clues as to where you found the animals you photographed. Drop a few cryptic hints to make the quest more adventurous :)

  2. Look at the facade of any church you pass and you'll typically find the districts symbol, sometimes with the Virgin Mary intertwined, or emerging from a clam shell in the Shell district, which is humorous. Then look at all the church's nearby buildings with corners that might host a candle holder (like the dragon I photographed) or a baptismal font (like the tortoise). Keep your eyes peeled for any decorative iron work, that's where I found the Forest symbol with the Rhino.