Palio di Siena behind the scenes: my visit to the Tartuca contrada


Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Laura Teso

The highlight of my recent visit to Siena was without any doubt the visit to the Tartuca contrada museumTartuca is one of the 17 contrade, districts, of Siena, located in the south-west part of the city. I chose this particular contrada just because its Saint patron is the same of my city. And I’m not even religious. But it seemed to me a sufficient bond.

Siena’s contrade

Strictly in alphabetical order, the contrade are:

Aquila (eagle)
Bruco (caterpillar)
Chiocciola (snail)
Civetta (owl)
Drago (dragon)
Giraffa (giraffe)
Istrice (porcupine)
Leocorno (unicorn)
Lupa (female wolf)
Nicchio (shell)
Oca (goose)
Onda (wave)
Pantera (panther)
Selva (wood)
Tartuca (turtle)
Torre (tower)
Valdimontone (ram)

Every year they dispute the famous Siena Palio on two dates: July 2 (Madonna di Provenzano) and August 16 (Madonna Assunta). Since 1600s.

But you have to know that in Siena, people from the different contrade, work and sort of live for the Palio the whole year. The contrada is like a sort of small village inside the city, where everybody knows each other. And where people gets help if they need it.

Tartuca contrada visit

Tartuca’s museum location should be via Tommaso Pendola 21, according to the info I had. But the entrance is actually at number 19. 🙂 I was walking along the street looking for number 21. At the roadside, at number 19, a man was sitting on a chair. I stopped, already noticing that 21 was closed, and I exclaimed: Oh, no, 21 is closed. What can we do? And the man: I am here if you want. And welcomed us to the Tartuca Contrada Museum.

His name is Franco and he reminded me a bit of an actor quite famous in Italy as a comedy partner of Paolo Villaggio. His name was Gigi Reder and, to be honest, to me his character was very dear and I found him more hilarious than the main comedian.

Franco guided us to see the whole museum, which is an astonishing example of architecture, merging the ancient parts of the building with modern raw materials. The areas are:

  • Ground floor: Palio museum
  • Lower floor: Costumes museum
  • Saint Anthony oratory
  • Section of religious objects
  • Contrada halls

Tartuca contrada Palio Museum

The palii in Tartuca Contrada
The palii in Tartuca Contrada

The Palio museum displays some objects of the ancient races: victorious jockeys helmets (one with an unmistakable sign of a hard whip), handmade ancient posters, the jockeys’ jackets from different years, paintings dedicated to the contrada and above all them: the won drappelloni, ie the palii. The one I already knew was that by artist Fernando Botero. Franco’s favourite is the one by Igor Mitoraj. The drapes are arranged in vertical panels that can be moved to make space in the centre of the hall. I found this staging very beautiful and effective.

Some works were moved the day before because of a flooding on the apartment on the upper floor. But Franco cared very much to show them to us. He also told us the story of a contradaiolo, who had just passed away. This man was not religious, so the contrada organized his funeral in the palii hall. Franco was so moved that I got emotional myself as I saw his eyes with the shade of tears.

He proudly showed us the dates of the cappotti (double victory in the same year): first cappotto in 1886, second in 1933. And also stated that Tartuca claims 53 victories and a half. The half victory refers to Palio of 1713, when apparently the inexpert jockey of Onda stopped at the old finish point and the Tartuca took advantage to win. A big quarrel followed this palio until the judges decided to assign a half victory to each of the two contrade.

Costumes museum

The Costumes museum is amazing. Franco demanded me to close my eyes and step ahead. Then open them to face all the beautiful ancient costumes displayed on the room. This part of the museum is really stunning. I had the opportunity to touch (with extreme tact) some of the costumes and I can tell they’re true masterpieces. These are the dresses used during the historical parade and they are called monture. In the adjacent rooms you can see the area for the maintenance of costumes, flags, drums, the saddle and other accessories. All the flags are hand-painted and hand-sewn.

Oratory and Religious Objects Museum

Tartuca Oratory
Tartuca Oratory

The little oratory was full of Tartuca flags and Saint Anthony images. Here the horse blessing takes place before the palio. He told me that in the Saint Anthony Basilica in Padua there’s something related to the Tartuca. I have to go and see.

The adjacent sacred objects museum preserves pallets, chalices, reliquaries and all objects for religious offices connected to the palio.

Franco was very kind. He guided us and explained us a lot of things. With his giant set of keys. I also gave him a suggestion how to fix a problem with a particular key and that’s when he let me down. He said it was a joke, but I didn’t like it in any case. He told: the only flaw is that it was a woman who gave me such a brilliant suggestion. And that’s why I left with a bitter taste in my mouth. And I gave him no offer for the visit. Sorry.

Anyway, let’s forgive him and move on. All the same, I suggest you to visit this special place not to miss the chance to see all those palio related collections. It’s something that really makes you better understand this city and its centuries long tradition.

Me taking advantage of the Tartuca Fountain :D
Me taking advantage of the Tartuca Fountain 😀

Tartuca contrada

via Tommaso Pendola, 21 – Siena

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