Siena takes great pride in its division into neighbourhoods, or contrade, ancient self-governing wards that formed a patchwork of tribal identity within the fabric of the city and that still flourish today, helping to foster tight bonds of community and contributing to Siena’s surprisingly low crime rate. Each of the seventeen contrade has its own church, social club and museum. Each, too, has a heraldic animal motif, from caterpillar to unicorn, displayed in a fountain-sculpture in its neighbourhood piazza. Allegiance to one’s contrada – conferred by birth – remains a strong element of civic life, and identification with the contrade is integral to the competition of the Palio. You’ll often see groups of comparse practising flag-waving and drum-playing around town.

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