Coat of Arms
Coat of arms above the door of a Sienese bank.
Coats of arms can be found all over the buildings of Siena. They are markers of the noble families that owned those buildings and remain to this day a reminder of the history and wealth of the family. Below are some examples of coats of arms.
This is the official coat of arms of Siena, found all over the city, it is typically painted white and black with white in the top half of the crest and black on the bottom half. The inscription below this one reads "Uffici Comunali", which means "Public Offices".
There are a number of theories as to why the coat of arms has the black and white colours. Some of these origin stories come from the legend of the founders of Siena - Senio and Ascanio, the sons of Remo (Remus). The first legend states that the colours black and white symbolise the black and white colours of the smoke from the pyre that they lit as a way of thanking the gods after the foundation of Siena. The second legend states that the colours represent the horses (one white and the other black) that the two brothers used to flee to Siena from their uncle Romolo (Romulus), who was trying to kill them. One of the more rational explanation for the colours is that they represent the final peace between the black and white Guelphs in Siena that had been constantly at odds with each other. The other explanation proposes that the colours had been adapted from the silver and azure colours of the Carolingian dynasty, the descendants of which were nobles in Siena. The silver became white and the azure became black.
This is the coat of arms of the L’Opera della Metropolitana di Siena, one of the oldest institutions in Italy and in Europe. Its first activities were recorded in the late 1100s. This is the institution that governs the Divina Bellezza - the Sienese Duomo and its adjoining structures. In the crest, the letters “OPA” are visible. The “P” is in fact a latin abbreviation for “per”, so that together “OPA” stands for “opera”, which means “work”.
This is the Piccolomini family coat of arms, which can be found on many buildings in Siena. The Piccolomini family was one of the oldest and most powerful noble families in Siena. To this day there are descendants of the family that still live in Siena. The coat of arms on this buildings states that it belonged to the family. Other family coats of arms are found all over the city, demonstrating their ownership of certain buildings. The Piccolomini family crest has the five half moons, the origins of which are unclear. Some Sienese historians hypothesise that the half moons came from Arab influence. The pope hat that is found on the top of the crest reminds of the fact that two popes had come from that family, which only highlights its porminance and power.
This coat of arms is interesting because it does not pertain to any family or contrada, but rather to a whole third of the city. It is a direct reminder of the history of the city to its citizens, although many Sienese probably are not even aware of the background to this coat of arms. This is located on Via dei Termini, where two other coats of arms are located, with the similar arrangement of a larger coat of arms and a row of the coats of arms of the contrade. This location marks the meeting point of the three original parts of the city (the three different hills that make up Siena). The larger coat of arms is the symbol of one of the parts, and the smaller contrade coats of arms were likely to have been added later, since the division of the city into three parts predated the formation of the contrade.
Finally, another example of a coat of arms that is prevalent throughout the city is the coat of arms of each of the various contrada. This is the coat of arms for the Contrada del Drago, the dragon contrada. These small plaques on the walls denote the territory and buildings which pertain to the contrade. This one, for instance, can be found on the main street of Siena, which is called Banchi di Sopra. These plaques are typically not very large, however they are always clearly visible. Each Sienese knows the territory of their contrada, and this simply helps to make those territories clear.