Paris has its arrondissements, New York its blocks, and Siena has its Contrade.
In 1937, the Franciscan Friars of Holy Name Province chose to put their new entity - a men's college just outside of Albany - under the patronage of St. Bernardine of Siena (Italy). The College's namesake city, where the Siena College patron saint so often preached, is an ancient town in the hills of Tuscany. To this day, it retains a neighborhood-centric culture reminiscent of medieval times. Siena is divided into 17 Contrade, unique wards named after an animal or a symbol of nature - all with their own colors and identity. The symbols of those 17 Italian Contrade now frame the Nigro Family plaza.
Each Contrade is like a guild or neighborhood with a community center for the members to gather. Each has a museum, fountain, baptismal font, and chapel. In the past, each specialized in a particular trade. St. Bernardine, for example, was associated with the Bruco (caterpillar). They were silk weavers. The flags of each Contrade have their own colors, name, and heritage. Siena College created its own flag and borrowed its colors, green and gold, from the Bruco. Siena's symbol is the dove.
There are always friendly competitions among the Contrade, the biggest of which is a horse race called the Palio, run twice a year in honor of Mary, the blessed virgin. The races are held on July 2 (celebrating the visitation of Mary) and August 16 (honoring the assumption of Mary). The race takes place in the campo - a "neutral zone" in the city - and several days of pageantry and festivals precede the event. The Palio was canceled this year due to the pandemic - it's the first time the races were called off since World War II.
“Last summer, several of us friars were fortunate to have been invited to witness the July 2 (2019) Palio. It was a thrilling experience to watch ancestral rivalries and alliances firsthand. It's not a show, it's a real competition between the Contrade, full of breaking moments and twists - a bit like a mini "Game of Thrones." It doesn't have the same cruelties and violence, of course, but you do see the same shrewdness for strategies and tactics - and naturally, lots of terrific Italian food and wine."
Fr. Mark Reamer, O.F.M., D.Min., vice president for mission and guardian of the friary
The Palio flags of each Contrade now hang on the Siena campus.
Caterpillar (Bruco) – The Bruco Contrade symbol has a caterpillar wearing a crown and sitting on a rose. The colors are green, gold, and blue.
Crested Porcupine (Istrice) – The Istrice Contrade has a porcupine as its symbol The colors are red, white, blue, and black.
Dragon (Drago) – The Drago Contrade symbol is a dragon in flight holding a banner. The colors are red, green, and yellow.
Eagle (Aquila) – The Aquila Contrade contains the Duomo, and the symbol is a two-headed black eagle. The colors are yellow, blue, and black. Aquila has had the fewest victories over the centuries.
Forest (Selva) – The Selva Contrade has a rhino and an oak tree, which is decorated with hunting weaponry. The colors are green and orange with a bit of white.
Giraffe (Giraffa) – The Giraffa Contrade has a giraffe on its symbol. The colors are red and white.
Goose (Oca) – The Oca Contrade goose symbol is wearing a crown and a blue ribbon. The colors are green, white, and a bit of red. Oca has had the most victories over the centuries.
Little Owl (Civetta) – The Civetta Contrade symbol has a small owl wearing a crown. The colors are red, black, and white.
Panther (Pantera) – The Pantera Contrade is a rearing panther. The colors are red, blue, and white.
Seashell (Nicchio) – The Nicchio Contrade symbol is a scallop shell with a crown. The colors are blue, yellow, and red.
She-Wolf (Lupa) – The Lupa Contrade symbol is the familiar she-wolf nursing twins (it’s also the symbol of Rome). The colors are black and white with a bit of orange.
Snail (Chiocciola) – The Chiocciola Contrade symbol is a snail. The colors are red, yellow, and blue.
Tortoise (Tartuca) – The Tartuca Contrade has a tortoise with Savoy insignia as its symbol. The colors are yellow and dark blue.
Tower (Torre) – The Torre Contrade symbol is an elephant bearing a tower on its back. The colors are dark red, white, and blue.
Unicorn (Leocorno) – The Leocorno Contrade unicorn on its symbol is rearing. The colors are orange and white with a bit of blue.
Valley of the Ram (Valdimontone) – The Valdimontone Contrade symbol is a rearing ram with a blue shield. The colors are red and yellow with a bit of white.
Wave (Onda) – The Onda Contrade has a dolphin as its symbol. The colors are blue and white.