In Siena every citizen is baptized twice: in the church and then in the contrada to which they belong… with water from small fountains called ‘fontanine’.
The fontane di Contrada are seventeen fountains scattered throughout the neighbourhoods that reflect the historic subdivision of Siena when the city was entirely within the walls.
Although they have not been part of the fabric of the city since remote and glorious times, but rather since the post-war period, these fountains are now an integral and fundamental part of the institutions sacred to the life of each neighbourhood. Some are like small monuments, valuable sculptures by artists or craftsmen.
They are part of the heritage of the Contrada because it’s with their water that the status of a ‘contradaiolo’ (one belonging to a contrada) is consecrated through the ‘baptism’.
The idea of creating these fountains came from Silvio Gigli, a historical chronicler of the Palio, who proposed their construction in the 1930s. He immediately gained the enthusiastic support of the Contrade, who built their own fountains from scratch or, in some cases, using pre-existing structures. Gigli wrote that “… it was in 1932 that I had the idea of making a fontanina in each Contrada in order to start this most original Contradaiolo Baptism that consecrated the newborn’s belonging to the Contrada of birth for life.”
There are various types of fountains ranging from ‘modern’ works of art to revived historical or monumental fountains present in the contrada (the Pispini fountain for the Nicchio, the Ponte di Romana fountain for the Valdimontone, Fontebranda for the Oca). Regardless, all of them are fed by the water of the underground aqueduct.
Most of them feature the symbol of the Contrada: a giraffe, an owl, an elephant… and their most famous use is as a ‘baptismal font’ for the Contrada baptism rite, a tradition that also became widespread in the twentieth century. Every year, during the Titolare festival, new people born in the contrada are baptized in these fountains, as well as those who aren’t Sienese but are passionate about the Palio, the city and that particular Contrada, demonstrating a special attachment to it.
This form of membership was introduced because of the shift in population from the historic centre to the suburbs, and the construction of the hospital outside the city walls and thus outside the territory of any contrada.
In ancient times, the title was given based on which territory one was born in since everyone at that time was born at home and the houses were located in the city centre. The problem arose when someone belonging to one contrada, for various reasons, lived in a different contrada. In this case, the woman was often taken to give birth at the home of friends or relatives living in the neighbourhood they wanted the child to belong to. If the woman for some reason could not move, they would even gather soil from the contrada and spread it under the bed where the birth was to take place, to allow the unborn child to come into the world on the very soil of their Contrada.
Today, children are almost always born outside the walls, but they can belong to their parents’ contrada through a contrada baptism.
The Prior of the contrada is in charge of the baptisms. He lightly wets the child’s forehead with water from the baptismal font of the contrada in question and hands them a special handkerchief.
Where: the fountains can be visited in the territory of each Contrada
When: always visible wonder