An Inside Look

Dario Castagno
Dario Castagno

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.

The caterpillar just happens to be a silk weaver…I like that!

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.

SienaEntering a modest doorway, it was surprising to find the interior opening to a lovely garden where many of the contrada’s social events take place.

SienaThe headquarters is home to sacred objects such as the alter piece depicting the Madonna that dates back to 1370.  The chapel is used more for ceremonial than religious purposes.

SienaAlso 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.

SienaDuring 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!

SienaAccording 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.

SienaIt’s very interesting to see how the banner designs have changed over the  years.  The madonna is always depicted, but she is now part of creations with a more contemporary flair.

SienaThe caterpillar also has a new look design.

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


The Scoop


6 thoughts on “An Inside Look

  1. very interesting!!!

  2. If I recall….and I think I remember it clearly, Siena was quite the night spot. I remember being in a very old and congested area and there were lot’s of “Euro-youth” hanging out and partying. It was a vibrant nightlife. It was fourteen years ago and some of the memories have faded, but it was the most incredible trip of my life.

  3. How so very interesting…and how great is it to have Dario part of your tour/journey.

  4. What a real treat…a peak into Dario’s world had to be so interesting.

    1. A very unique opportunity which was fascinating.

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