High up on the facade of the church of Santa Caterina da Siena, in Via Giulia, are two circular reliefs, which depict a she-wolf and the twins Romulus and Remus. Nothing unusual here, except the four letters S. P. Q. S.!
The letters S.P.Q.R. (which stand for Senatus Populusque Romanus), can be seen all over Rome, but this is the only place in the Eternal City where you will see S. P. Q. S.. The second 'S' is, of course, a reference to Siena.
The good citizens of Siena were fond of peddling the myth that their city was founded by Senius and Ascius, the sons of Remus, twin brother of Romulus (the legendary founder of Rome). The story goes that after Romulus had murdered their father Senius and Acsius were forced to flee. One brother rode a white horse, the other a black horse, which gave rise to the Balzana, the symbol of Siena, the city that Senius is said to have founded.
The Balzana always takes the form of a band of white above a band of black, an allegorical depiction of the triumph of good over evil. Needless to say, Siena's enemies gave the Balzana a rather different interpretation. The white band signifies how the Sienese talk and the black how they think.
The church of Santa Caterina da Siena a Via Giulia was built in 1766 by Paolo Posi (1708-76), an architect from Siena. The entrance is surmounted by the Balzana and, on display in the nave, are the flags of all seventeen of Siena's contrade (city districts).
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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