Video Before Palio Announcement

This whole “Contrada” neighborhood system in Siena is fascinating, though a bit hard to explain through short blog posts.

They have flags, colors to represent their neighborhood and even marching units – all steeped in old, old traditions.

Our Wabash alumni group really enjoyed a small taste of the atmosphere when the drawing for this year’s race occured Sunday night. Only 10 horses run the Palio and there are 17 Contradas. There are all sorts of rules governing the Palio but it’s incredible how very serious these folks are about their horse race and neighbors.

Here is a short hand-held video of the Campo moments before the ceremony began. There are more photos in the blog post below.

Sunday: Art, Cathedral, & Tradition

Drummers and flag bearers from Contrada Drago march into the Piazza for a Baptism ceremony.

Howard W. Hewitt, Siena, Italy – Our Sunday in Siena with Wabash alumni, retired faculty, and staff revolves around one of the world’s great cathedrals and this charming city’s unique traditions.

Dudley and Judy Burgess listen to Cook talk about an altar painting in the Siena Museum.

We spent the morning in the the Pinacoteca art museum looking at how art was used in the church to teach lessons. We moved on to the recently discovered crypt of the Cathedral and will be back there Sunday afternoon and Monday.

See photos from Sunday here. Album No. 2

The Contrada flag bearer came in all ages. When the large group arrived in the Piazza they did a full routine with their drummers.

Before breaking for three hours at mid-day, we witnessed Contrada del Drago’s baptism ceremony. A contrada is one of 17 Siena neighborhoods and they take this all quite seriously. Drago is celebrating its festival with colorful parade through town and a non-secular baptism

Sunday afternoon was spent in Siena’s spectacular cathedral. We toured the Baptistry afterwards and then headed to the Campo..

We joined with probably 15,000-20,000 locals in the Campo for final drawings to see which Contrada’s horses will be allowed to race in this summer’s famous Palio horse race. It really was qutie an experience with pomp and ceremony.

The drawing takes place in the famed City Hall. Trumpeters announce each dramatic decision. then a flag is unfurled out a window to determine a neighborhoods fate and participation in the race.

Thousands cheer for their neighborhood’s good fortune or for their “enemy” neighborhood’s exclusion. And, it’s all quite passionate.

Monday will be a something different. Most of the group will start its day at an Italian cooking school.

Video of the Piazza del Campo

Howard Hewitt, Siena, Italy – In many of these posts I’ve mentioned the Piazza del Campo. It really one of those things you have to experience if you ever get to Italy.

It’s where the famous twice-a-year horse-race, Palio di Siena, is held around the edges of the piazza. I pulled out the small video camera around 8:30 p.m. Saturday night and shot there 360-degree look.

Our small group returned to the Campo about 11:30 and it was really hopping.

New Insight to Religious Art in Italy

Howard Hewitt, Siena, Italy – One of the things that happens on an alumni travel trip is gaining insights no causal traveler will ever get from a tour guide.

Our Saturday began with a trip to the church of Santa Maria dei Servi. The church not only provides a spectacular view of Siena but is Professor Bill Cook’s favorite starting spot to teach visitors how to understand the incredible Renaissance art they will see for the remainder of the trip. (See photos from day two here.)

Having done one previous trip with Bill Cook and Wabash students, it’s fascinating to listen to the alums marvel at Bill’s detailed knowledge and perspective. Or as one put it,, “He gives these marvelous detailed explanations and it never gets boring. It’s fascinating.”

Saturday dinner was on our own. The travel "staff" dined together. It's common at these small restaurants for pasta to be on display at the entrance.

The first half of our day wrapped up at Siena’s city hall – one of the best preserved in the world, Cook would argue. The city hall is best known for it’s large tower than can be seen from miles around in the Tuscan countryside. But to historians and art lovers it’s best known for its preserved art work inside. The many murals tell the story of the church and civic growth in Siena. The expamples of good versus bad government frescos and paintings are unmatched anywhere in the world.

Our two afternoon stops were at another church and the city’s historic hospital. Neither sites allow photography – a request we honor while many tourists clearly do not.

But I have posted additional photos from the day in the photo album linked above.

First Day Ends With Italian Feast

Cook talks about the Baptistry in the Siena Cathedral during an early evening walk around the city

Howard W. Hewitt, Siena, Italy – The Wabash alumni travel group arrived here late Friday afternoon after an extended trip from Crawfordsville. Alums joined the group at Chicago’s O’Hare and New York’s JFK Airport.

Unfortunately, the JFK departure was the biggest setback of an otherwise great day. After boarded an prepared for departure, the plane remained on the tarmac for two-hours and 45-minutes before take off.

Otherwise, the day couldn’t have been better. We arrived in Siena after a two-hour drive from Pisa and settled into Hotel Excelsior located just outside the old city center.

We started our feast with antipasta

Professor Bill Cook led the 20-plus group on a walking tour of Siena pointing out major sites, shopping areas, and restaurants for our time here which ends Wednesday morning.

The only formal activitiy for the day was an incredible welcome dinner at one of Cook’s favorite local restaurants. (See photos from day one).

A walk back through the city capped the day.

And They’re Off!


A handful of alumni and friends met at the Chapel this morning before heading for Italy. The alumni tour will spend the next two weeks in Siena, Assisi, and Florence with Renaissance Art expert and Wabash alum Professor Bill Cook. The group pictured above will meet up with a few more in Chicago and New York City. They will arrive in Pisa in the morning.

Wabash Alumni Travel Returns to Italy

Howard Hewitt, Communications & Marketing – More than 20 Wabash alums, family, retired faculty, staff, and a few others will head to Italy Thursday for the second Wabash Alumni Travel trip. Professor Bill Cook ’66 will lead the group through visits in Siena, Assisi, and Florence.

Cook sharing Siena's history on the Campo.

Two years ago marked the start of Wabash alumni travel giving alums and others the chance to experience Europe in a fashion similar to student immersion learning. The group will have optional full-day agendas to see the art, history, and absorb the culture of the three famous Italian regions. Cook led the first trip to Italy and will take the reigns again for this visit.

Alumni travel is a new, and somewhat experimental, offering from the College’s Alumni Affairs Office. A symposium is planned for 3 p.m., Saturday, June 2 during Big Bash to talk about alumni travel. The session is titled, “Where We’ve Been and Where We Going?” Discussion will center on the types of trips alumni would like to have the College organize and how those trips should be put together. Plans will be shared during Big Bash for a tentative 2013 trip to Paris and Southern France wine country.

The Alumni travel group taking in Florence's great art.

The group traveling this summer will arrive in Pisa and immediately bus to Siena for a five-day stay. The group will then spend four days in Assisi before five days in Florence.

In Siena the group will visit the city’s historic churches, musuems, and famed Piazza del Campo. There will be dinners in classic Italian restaurants and a day trip to a 12th century monastery and visit to hill town of Montalcino.

In Assisi the group will visit a weekly market, the churches and museums. Florence offers the city’s many famous museums, public plazas, fabulous art, Michaelangelo’s David, and the towering cathedral.

I’ll be along the first week to document in words, photos, and perhaps a few videos the trip.