Monday, July 05, 2010

Muslims, Siena and the Palio

Once again the xenophobic Northern League is ignoring the history of the northern Italians it claims to represent. In this case, it is helping to drum up controversy about the "rag" or banner claimed by the winner of the Palio at Siena this year. It was designed by a Lebanese-Italian Muslim artist, Alì Hassoun, showing a turban-wearing medieval knight beneath an image of the Virgin and includes a reference to "Maryam," the 19th Surah of the Qur'an.

Alas, the New York Times version of the story does not add much to the historical background.

So, just to set the record straight, the occasion of the Palio marked the 750th anniversary of the1260 Battle of Montaperti, which the Ghibellines of Siena won against the Guelphs of Florence because Manfred of Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily, sent German mercenary heavy cavalry to Siena's aid.

In the wonderfully contorted politics of the era, Manfred was opposed to the Pope and was supported by the Saracens -- that is, by  Muslim Arabs. Manfred's father, Frederick II, had waged the Sixth Crusade without the support of the papacy and had won back Jerusalem through diplomacy, only to be reviled for failing to shed enough blood.

Without the Arabs' critical support for Manfred, he would never have been in a position to send Siena the troops it desperately needed. The city would have been sacked by Florence. The Palio would never have been celebrated at all.