The palio

Violence and beauty combine in Siena

Siena, the jewel of Tuscan cities, was the mercantile and banking centre of medieval Europe. Bankers in Pre-Renaissance Siena preened themselves on their wealth and material possession. Banking (from the Italian banco, ‘counter’) is an Italian invention. Yet Dante consigned money-lenders to the seventh circle of Hell, where they are made to stare for eternity at their sacks of lucre. (Emblazoned with fancy coats of arms, the sacks would have held the equivalent of today’s venture capitalist bonus payments.) Usury was a dangerous professional game in Siena, one which invited church censure as well as personal spiritual dereliction. But without its money-making eminenti, Siena would have remained a provincial backwater,