The word campanilismo, which doesn’t have a specific English translation, derives from campanile (bell tower). The campanile, traditionally the tallest and most prominent building in any town or village, has become, in the concept of campanilismo, an enduring symbol of devotion to, and love of ones region, city, town, village or even quartiere (quarter, small district of a town).
Campanilismo is a very important aspect of life in Italy symbolizing a sense of identity, of pride, and of belonging to the place of your birth, a feeling which is usually much stronger to an Italian than any sense of national identity. An Italian will say “sono romagnolo” (I’m from the region of Romagna), “sono veneziana”(I’m from Venice), or “sono napoletano” (I’m from Naples), before saying “sono italiano/a” (I’m Italian).
In order to explain campanilismo you have to remember that Italy is a very young nation having been created between 1860 and 1870. Before that time there existed only a multitude of small separate states, often fighting amongst themselves, each one with it’s own language, dialect or traditions. These days, despite Italy’s political unification and the effects of mass media which has to a certain extent homogenized Italian life, campanilismo continues to exist. There are still deeply rooted rivalries between different regions, provinces, towns, and quartieri, and one only has to witness the famous Palio di Siena, an intense ‘battle’ of a horse race between the different contrade (district factions) of Siena to understand the depth of feeling evoked by campanilismo, these sentiments are so strong in fact that it is almost considered a sacrilege in Siena to marry someone from one of the rival contrade.
In Lucca, a mere 20 minutes drive from Pisa, a common saying is “E’ meglio avere un morto in casa che un pisano alla porta” (It’s better to have a dead body in your house than a person from Pisa at your door). Driving between Lucca and Pisa you will notice that most of the road signs with the word PISA on them have been ‘adorned’ with the grafitti “PISA M***A” (unprintable word, but you can use your imagination). The same goes for the return journey during which you will find all the signs to Lucca have been converted to “LUCCA M***A”!
Campanilismo also symbolizes an adherence to the traditions, customs and dialects of ones own region. Apart from the usual religious or national festivals that are celebrated throughout Italy each region or town will have it’s own particular celebrations, often religious in nature, but also relating to historical events or culinary traditions such as the sagre (local food festivals) which are held throughout the summer.
Of course to a campanilista (someone who follows the philosophy of campanilismo) anyone who isn’t originally from their little part of the world is a forestiero/a (outsider, related to the word fuori = outside), and someone like myself, who although originally Italian has lived for many years all’estero (abroad) in England, will always be referred to as l’inglese (the English)!