Currently there are 17 Contrade in Siena, considerably reduced from the original 54. Each Contrada is like a small state within the city and manages its own recreational activities, administration, its archives, a museum containing works of art and the costumes for the processions, and a Sala delle Vittorie containing all the Palio banners won through the centuries. Some of these banners date back to the 17th century. Each Contrada also has its own church as well as a stable for keeping the horse before the Palio.
Each Contrada is governed by a Council, which is democratically elected every two, three and sometimes four years. The Council is called Seggio or Sedia. The most senior member of the Council is called the Priore Capo della Contrada and he is assisted by a secretary known as the Vicario Generale. All matters concerning the Palio are managed by an elected Capitano, who is assisted by two Tenenti, or Mangini.
It is generally agreed that the Contrade are a derivation of the Compagnie Militari in which the city was divided for the organisation of its militia. Each Contrada took part in the public events held in Piazza del Campo with a procession and allegorical carts representing exotic animals such as the panther, the giraffe, the eagle, the leocorn etc.
The existing boundaries between the Contrade were laid down in an edict issued in 1730 by the then governor of Siena, Beatrice Violante of Baviera. This was an important step in that within its boundaries each Contrada is empowered to conduct the so-called questua to gather funds for the public feasts in Piazza del Campo.
It is important to understand that every Senese is first of all a member of his Contrada, which becomes a second family and the place where he conducts all his everyday activities. The members of each Contrada are named as follows:
- Contrada dell’Aquila: aquilini
- Contrada del Bruco: brucaioli
- Contrada della Chiocciola: chiocciolini
- Contrada del Drago: dragaioli
- Contrada della Giraffa: giraffini
- Contrada dell’Istrice: istriciaioli
- Contrada del Leocorno: leocaioli
- Contrada della Lupa: lupaioli
- Contrada del Nicchio: nicchiaioli
- Contrada dell’Oca: ocaioli
- Contrada dell’Onda: ondaioli
- Contrada della Pantera: panterini
- Contrada della Selva: selvaioli
- Contrada della Tartuca: tartuchini
- Contrada della Torre: torraioli
- Contrada del Valdimontone: montanaioli