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Discover Siena contrades: the Noble Contrada of Nicchio

Home > News > Discover Siena contrades: the Noble Contrada of Nicchio
Postata il: 26 July 2016

One of the 10 participating contrades to the next edition of the Palio, on August 16th, is the Noble Contrada of Nicchio (Seashell), which also celebrates its patron saint, St. Gaetano da Thiene, on 7th August.

About the victories of Nicchio at the Palio, we have to say that the official victories are 42, but the members of this contrada count 47 victories, including four victories in the XVII century and one in the XIX century which are not considered by the comune di Siena.

The origins of the Noble Contrada of Seashell


Credits :

The contrada, more than any other, has left a mark in the history of the city of Siena. The Military Companies of Nicchio attacked for first in the battle of Montaperti; the contrada has also brought the water in the territory in which jurisdiction, realizing the source Pispini in 1534; not only, had he maintained at its own expense for six months the army of the Republic.

Finally, in 1527, the Nicchio rejected the attack of “Noveschi”, which helped by the Florentines, tried to re-enter the city through the Porta Pispini.
Thanks to these great deeds has received the title of “Noble” contrada. The name “Nicchio” and his coat of arms have really curious origins. The first hypothesis says that, during the Pliocene period, the contrada’s territory was covered by the sea. The word nicchio thus derives from the numerous marine seashells found in this place.

Credits Nicchio flag: By Palio_-_Nicchio.JPG: William Domenichini derivative work: Pierpao.lo (listening) (Palio_-_Nicchio.JPG) [CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

More precisely, in the past were found many seashells in a way out the door of S. Giovanni a Busseto. The latter refers to the shape of the valley that extends from San Francesco to the opposite side to the Santo Spirito e Santa Chiara, taking the shape of a shell. The last hypothesis is linked to the shape of a machine which depicted a large seashell in the background of the statue of Neptune.

In the middle of the XX century in this contrada inhabited mainly artisans and farmers. Upper class people were in the minority; fortunately we have a few testimony of their presence. Manzoni’s daughter, Matilde, spent some time in the villa Sant’Eugenia; the girl complained of having to travel, to go home, the road of the village Pispini she called in his diary “gloomy”, that is depressing. The Nicchio gave a turning point in the history of the Palio, since it was the first contrada to allow a woman to become a captain; the woman’s name was Sobilia Palmieri Ruti Carafa.

She remained in office from July 1947 to July 1951, for a total of eight careers enhanced by the success of his debut. The contrada has also led by the captain Lucia Cioni, winner of the Palio in 1981. Nowadays the other face of Nicchio is its own company, called Pania, born on the initiative of some contradaioli in 1947. The name Pania was imposed not by men but by women because of contradaioli they noticed with regret that when their husbands came in the contrada there remained “impaniati” (ie glued) as the birds in the mistletoe, to the point of forgetting the way home.
The current headquarters for the Seashell is in via Pispini and in 1682 the contradaioli built their church, at his own expense, and dedicated it to St. Gaetano di Thiene, their patron.

The contrada took part in an alliance, called Tono, with the Goose, The Tortoise and the Wave, created between the late twenties and early thirties in XX century. In 1928 the Tono alliance had taken precedence over other contrades, but in 1934 during the Palio, the Nicchio jockey competed with the Goose and the jockey Pietrino of the Seashell failed to win. After this fact the alliance with the Goose was broken and Tono ceased to exist.

The Nicchio doesn’t win a Palio since 1998, so is the second longest without a victory (the first, called “grandmother” is the Eagle). Follow the next competition to see who will win the Drappellone and discover why this is more than a simple horse race.

Contrada official website:


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