Italian Language Blog

Campanilismo Posted by on Feb 2, 2009 in Culture

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)!

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  1. Axel:

    It is an interesting fenomenon, particularly since it has its own name.
    The same tradition exists in Denmark as well, but thanks to a thousand year old subjugation by the monarchs(and internal movement), it is quite toned down now.
    The implications of such a tradition could also be quite catastrophical for a smaller nation.
    Like North Sentinel.

  2. Serena:

    Ciao Axel, thanks for your comment, I’m sure that campanilismo exists to some degree just about everywhere, It still amazes me however, especially having lived abroad for many years, how prevelant and, unfortunately, how counterproductive it is here in Italy.

  3. C L Welborne:

    Traveling in Italy, I got the impression that “campanilismo” equated more with a negative sort of parochialism, disdaining learning more about other cultures, a sort of know-nothing provincialism.

  4. Serena:

    Salve CL Welbourne,

    Campanilismo can of course also have a very negative ‘clan’ aspect, in fact we use the English word ‘clan’ for the small groups within villages, or even entire villages, who have long standing ‘disagreements’, or rivalries with other clans, and things can get pretty unpleasant, but this is certainly not peculiar to Italy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is a disdain for learning about other cultures, more that there is a complete lack of interest about what ‘forestieri’ do in their own paese (country) beyond the usual stereotypes propogated by the media, or word of mouth via Italian emmigrants for example.


  5. Maria:

    What a great explanation! thank you!

  6. Serena:

    Grazie Maria, Understanding campanilismo is an important part of getting to grips with Italian culture, but you really need to live here to fully understand the impact it has on our lives.

    Salve, Serena

  7. Charlie:

    Thanks, Serena, for a very comprehensive description of the nature and extent of “campanilismo”.
    My initial interest in “severely restricted local loyalty” as exemplified by this word led me as an aspiring student of the French language to the web, where I found your post. However, I doubt that some French-speaking persons would welcome the presence of such an idea in their carefully protected lingua ! Perhaps a Francophone out there can provide me with a good (useful !) Gallic translation.
    Petty pride of this sort is universal. For example, a true “Cockney” from London must be someone born “within the sound of Bow Bells” in the “East End”.
    This is difficult for some aspiring adherents to this exclusive club, I understand, as the particular set of bells was put out of action for some time in the last 70 or so years ! (unfriendly “foreign” action ?). This would probably be England’s most easily identifiable example of Campanilismo; no doubt there are plenty more, as must surely be the case world-wide.

    P.S. I simply loved your Pisa-Lucca slice; both beautiful places, separated by narrow thinking and only 20 minutes.

  8. Carlo Volta:

    I will tell what we say in Milano and in her region of Lombardy.

    Dal Po in giù
    l’Italia non c’é più. più = pee-oo

    which means

    From (the river) Po going down(giù)[south]
    Italy, there is no more(più).


    PS – the pronounciation of:
    giù = jew
    più = pee-oo

  9. Susil Gupta:

    Rough English translation:parish patriotism

  10. Dee:

    When you consider that over the centuries, Italy was invaded by and ruled by the Romans, Visigoths, Lombards, French, Germans, Bourbons, Spanish, Arabs, Greeks, papacy, Normans, Austria,…and that the geographic (and political) boundaries of cities and regions were endlessly drawn and redrawn, it is not surprising that ordinary Italians (pragmatists to the core!) learned that their only security lay in trusting only the tiny world around them. First allegiance was (and still is) to la famiglia, then to their town. Only in more recent times did it expand to embrace provinces and regions (and then only tepidly). So yes, it is rare to hear an Italian say”Sono Italiano”. My grandparents said “Siamo di Avellino” and they meant the comune not the province!
    I have always believed that over the centuries, the great unspoken mantra of ordinary Italians when referring to their “rulers” was one of blithe contempt: We’ve seen your ilk before. You come and go. But we remain.

    • Geoff:

      @Dee Great analysis Dee, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. A presto, Geoff 🙂

  11. Pasquino:

    I’m looking for some clarification on the actual origins of the word campanilismo. I read somewhere that the phrase dates to the Risorgimento. Is this true, or is there a much earlier precedence?

    • Geoff:

      @Pasquino Salve Pasquino, mi spiace, I’m sorry, but we really don’t know the answer to that one.

      Saluti da Geoff e Serena

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