When traveling I love being introduced to something totally unexpected, and that’s what always happens when we spend time with Dario. We first met Dario Castagno 18 years ago during our first visit to Tuscany. He is a bright, articulate man who can be depended upon to give you that something extra. This time around he suggested we come to Siena for an inside look at his contrada.
As he explained, Siena is made up of contradas or districts that date back to the late XII and early XIII centuries. Today there are 17 in existence each of which has about 2000 members who are committed to maintaining old traditions and support the effort with their dues. Dario is a Bruco or Caterpillar, and he gave us a fascinating inside look at the Caterpillar headquarters.
Also here are all things having to do with the Palio, the twice yearly fierce competition between contradas. What a treat to get a closeup look at the costumes old and new done in the Caterpillar yellow and green with a sassy touch of royal blue.
Roughly every 20 years the costumes have to be replaced. The elaborate reproductions are done by hand at great expense, and considering the workmanship it’s easy to see why they are so costly.
During the Palio, some unlucky souls even have to wear armor that is so heavy I don’t know how anyone can bear it, especially in the heat of July and August when the event is held. Me, I’d like to have a pair of the tights!
As we viewed each of the exhibits, Dario entertained us with tales of the Palio’s intrigue, something I’m thinking you won’t find in guidebooks! I’d love to tell you more about the ins and outs, the expense, the competitiveness, the gamesmanship between riders, but I’d have to write a book to include everything we heard and even then probably wouldn’t get it right!
According to Dario, winning is everything and can come at great price that just might bankrupt a contrada. What do you get for success? A piece of cloth such as these awarded to the victorious Caterpillar contrada over the years. Checking the dates, there are some real gaps between wins, but the Caterpillars have been quite successful in the 21st century.
Our inside look made me thrill to the idea of witnessing a Palio. Such excitement. Such tears of joy. Such emotion. Such absolute craziness. Dario’s presentation, however, may be as close as I get!
i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind