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Bella Ciao – Goodbye beautiful Posted by on Nov 22, 2019 in Culture, History

Ciao, belli!

Given last weeks blog post and the cultural discussion surrounding la seconda guerra mondiale and partigiani, I decided to write about a famous Italian song, Bella Ciao.

A lot of you have heard the song, sono quasi certa. But for those of you who have not, this song is an old folk song that was actually adopted to represent the Anti-Fascist tides that you see so pointedly in the movie I wrote about last week, Le Quattro Giornate di Napoli. To Italians, it represents freedom and resistance and the struggle against the Nazi forces during WWII.

Its origins lie not in Anti-Fascism, however; it was inspired by the struggles of the working class women in paddy fields during the late 19th century and adapted and modified by partisans. These women were known as mondine, which is derived from the word monda, or paddy weeding. The mondine were expected to weed to allow for the healthy rice plants to grow during months typical for flooding – April through June. As you can imagine, these women were bent over for hours, knee-deep in water, exposed to the elements during peak sunlight. It was tedious and the pay was low, yet the padroni, or supervisors, were able to readily find women who needed the job, and therefore the poor conditions and poor pay continued. Here are the original lyrics, in both Italian and English:

Alla mattina appena alzata
o bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao, ciao, ciao
alla mattina appena alzata
in risaia mi tocca andar.

E fra gli insetti e le zanzare
o bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
e fra gli insetti e le zanzare
un dur lavoro mi tocca far.

Il capo in piedi col suo bastone
o bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
il capo in piedi col suo bastone
e noi curve a lavorar.

O mamma mia o che tormento
o bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
o mamma mia o che tormento
io t’invoco ogni doman.

Ed ogni ora che qui passiamo
o bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
ed ogni ora che qui passiamo
noi perdiam la gioventù.

Ma verrà un giorno che tutte quante
o bella ciao bella ciao bella ciao ciao ciao
ma verrà un giorno che tutte quante
lavoreremo in libertà.

In the morning I got up
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
In the morning I got up
To the paddy rice fields, I have to go.

And between insects and mosquitoes
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
and between insects and mosquitoes
a hard work I have to work.

The boss is standing with his cane
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
the boss is standing with his cane
and we work with our backs curved.

Oh my god, what a torment
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
oh my god, what a torment
as I call you every morning.

And every hour that we pass here
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
and every hour that we pass here
we lose our youth.

But the day will come when us all
oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao
but the day will come when us all
will work in freedom.

Whether representing Anti-Fascism or the grueling conditions of the working class, this song speaks deeply to the Italian struggle for survival throughout the years. Here are the lyrics below of the adapted and well known version, as well as an English translation and a link to listen to the song on Youtube.

Una mattina mi sono alzato
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
Una mattina mi sono alzato
E ho trovato l’invasor

O partigiano portami via
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
O partigiano portami via
Ché mi sento di morir

E se io muoio da partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E se io muoio da partigiano
Tu mi devi seppellir

E seppellire lassù in montagna
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E seppellire lassù in montagna
Sotto l’ombra di un bel fior

Tutte le genti che passeranno
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
E le genti che passeranno
Mi diranno: “Che bel fior!”

“È questo il fiore del partigiano
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao
È questo il fiore del partigiano
Morto per la libertà”

One morning I got up
Oh hi beautiful, hi beautiful, hi beautiful, hi, hi, hi
One morning I got up
And I found the invader

Oh, partisan, take me along
Oh hi beautiful, hi beautiful, hi beautiful, hi, hi, hi
Oh, partisan, take me along
Because I feel ready to die

And if I die as a partisan
Oh bye beautiful, bye beautiful, bye beautiful, bye, bye, bye
And if I die as a partisan
You have to bury me

Bury me up there on the mountain
Oh bye beautiful, bye beautiful, bye beautiful, bye, bye, bye
Bury me up there on the mountain
Under the shadow of a beautiful flower

And the people who will pass by
Oh hi beautiful, hi beautiful, hi beautiful, hi, hi, hi
And the people who will pass by
Will tell me “Oh, what a beautiful flower!”

“This is the flower of the partisan
Oh bye beautiful, bye beautiful, bye beautiful, bye, bye, bye
This is the flower of the partisan
Who died for liberty”

Tocca a voi! Avete mai sentito Bella Ciao? Have you ever heard Bella Ciao? What does it represent to you?

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Comments:

  1. Elizabeth Fletcher:

    Ciao Bridgette e tutti lettori,
    I recognized this song as the theme song from the wonderful Netflix series “The Money Heist”, a Spanish production, quite intriguing and very popular. I was curious about the song and so I researched it. The second version is the one heard throughout the series and it is wonderful. Thank you very much for your posts, Bridgette!
    Elizabeth

  2. Francesca:

    Always enjoy your posts. You might be interested in this exploration of Bella Ciao which I wrote some years ago now. https://almostitalian.blog/2017/04/25/april-25-resistance-and-bella-ciao-a-musical-journey/

  3. Rob:

    Thank you for the post. I knew Bella Ciao was originally a ‘traditional’ song but didn’t know the original lyrics.
    The song has continued to develop. It’s still hugely popular with left wing audiences. Nearly 20 years ago I saw Leeds based band Chumbawamba perform their own updated, very urban version – not a direct translation – in Italy. It went down a storm with the anti-fascist audience in an outdoor venue in Emilia-Romagna
    https://youtu.be/Yn7jTg-6KGU

  4. Joseph Fenech:

    When I used to teach boys at Seconsary School level (way back in ’80s) I used to give them a tape with Italian partisan songs . Although Bella ciao is not exactly one of these songs it always worked magic on my students. And the way it has been adopted by various groups today is really a wonder.

    Thank you for your post.

  5. Ann Katzen:

    Ancora prima di imparare parlare italiano con qualsiasi competenza, circa 1965, ho imparato questa canzone a Firenze mentre partecipavo a una grande manifestazione in Piazza della Signoria. Più tardi la mia cugina, che parlava l’italiano fluentemente, mi spiegava il significato comunista del canzone…… e essendo americane, come ridemmo! Il mondo era cosi` diverso in 1965.


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