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Culture

Siena and the Palio: the origins of Contrada del Drago

Home > News > Siena and the Palio: the origins of Contrada del Drago
Postata il: 30 June 2016

Every Sienese contrada has its own history and it is interesting to tell it especially if you’ve been in town as tourists and therefore don’t belong to any Contrada.

To get prepared to the most important event for the people of Siena (that will take place on July 2nd and August 16th) we will talk about the origins of the Dragon Contrada, who will run on the Palio dell’Assunta, held in honour of the Assumption of Mary  and has won 37 Palios.
The last victory dates back to July 2nd 2014, discover the history of contrada del Drago and the features that identify it.

What to know about Dragon Contrada

Credits: Foto Studio Gielle

The fist historical mention of the Contrada del Drago was in 1494 in a Chronicle of Allegretto Allegretti, as one of the first Contrade to be present during public celebrations. It participated in a “Gioco delle Pugna” (an ancient type of boxing match) organised on the 1 March 1494 in honour of Cardinal St. Malò.

The author did not use the term “Contrada” but “schiere”, meaning gathering or group. Recently, administrative documents have been discovered which talk of the “Compagnia del Drago in Camporeggi”. There are various interpretations regarding the origin of the name and coat of arms: according to some, the coat of arms is derived from the Compagnia Militare di San Donato da Montanini; for others, from the coat of arms of the Borghesi noble family; for others still, it is derived from the coat of arms of the family of St. Catherine of Siena, patron saint of the Contrada.

The inhabitants of the Contrada took part in the first “Cacce ai tori” (a type of bull-baiting contest) with a machine in the shape of a dragon and since then have been called “gli uomini del Drago” or the “Dragon men”.
In 1650 the Contrada was allowed to meet in the church of the Compagnia Laicale di San Domenico in Camporegio and since 1679 it also contributed to the costs of the Palio up until 1787. In that period, the Contrada won 9 Palios but the only Drappellone which has reached our times is that of the 16 August 1786 which is conserved in the Sala delle Vittorie. The other Drappellone were not lost as initially, sums of money were given as prizes (60 Tallers for July and 40 for August) to the winning Contrada when the Baccile d’argento which was placed on top of the painted Drappellone was given back to the organisers of the competition.

Despite the Contrada del Drago having such ancient origins, it was given its own premises in October 1787, when the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Pietro Leopoldo donated the Church of St. Catherine, built in 1620 and part of the Convento delle Monache also known as “del Paradiso”. Both the Church and the Museum are situated in the area once known as Poggio Malavolti.

This area takes its name from the Malavolti family (already present in Siena from the XII century) who possessed their own castle in the area still known today as “Camporegio”. It is traditionally believed that Henry VI camped here during the siege of 1186 and this area is still linked to the Contrada del Drago who is also known as the “Popolo di Camporegio”.
The Drago is custodian to the oldest montura (the typical costume of the Contrada) which is still surviving today: a “Spanish” inspired costume dating from 1839.

Credits: Il Tesoro di Siena https://flic.kr/p/qeZmW6

The colours of the Drago are antique red and green with yellow stripes and the symbol represents ardour. The coat of arms features a mythical winged dragon in a silver field with a blue feather with the letter “U” in gold surmounted by a royal crest dedicated to King Umberto I. The motto is: Il cor che m’arde divien fiamma in bocca (My burning heart becomes flames in my mouth). The Contrada del Drago is the only not to have an official enemy, despite the conniving of the Lupa, Selva and Bruco.

Among the famous victories of the Drago is the so-called Palio della Pace or Peace Palio, held to celebrate the end of the Second World War and the Palio of the 16 August 1989, and retained to be one of the most spectacular of the last decades.

Many singular events of the Contrada del Drago are associated with Lorenzo Fabbri, known as “Pappio”, a legendary and historical figure of the Contrada and perhaps one of the most famous personages of Siena of the 1900’s: Pappio was such a part of his Contrada that this was more important in his life than anything else.

For further info, check the official website: www.contradadeldrago.it.

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