My principal aim in writing this book is to provide an introduction to Siena’s fascinating community and its twice-annual Palio horse race. The book is informed by a variety of existing research that provides the context necessary to understand the importance of the Palio within the Sienese community. This is the type of information not readily available to students or travelers of both the trekking and armchair variety. For example, Siena’s seventeen contrade (neighborhoods) serve as veritable extended families and find their roots in the city’s medieval glory days. They can be interpreted as miniature city-states, and they provide important lessons about community cohesiveness, urban livability, and civic life—not to mention an incomparable sense of local place identity that many Americans might feel is lacking at home.
I further bring to light some of the more obscure research and writing that already exists about Siena, hopefully making this knowledge a bit more accessible for a broader public. Much of what is written in academic journals, books, and dissertations is not always easily discovered, even if one makes a concerted effort to find it. Universities like NAU must subscribe to various academic journals to allow their researchers to partake in these rather time-consuming searches.
An ongoing theme of this book is that of walkability and the design of effective public spaces that promote active, engaged communities. This might resonate with many Americans who find the idea of living without a car for eight weeks to be somewhat novel and perhaps even refreshing. The Sienese urban lifestyle provided one of the central learning experiences for our students and faculty alike, interested as we are in finding clues to improved community livability back home. The lessons to be learned here are potentially endless, which is perhaps the primary reason I have been compelled to produce this book. Beyond that, it was simply a fun thing to do. I hope that comes across.
– Tom Paradis