Italian flag on left side of a street in Sicily.

ITALIAN NATIONAL ANTHEM – Lyrics & Translation

The Italian national anthem is a rousing crowd-pleaser, especially when sung by a passionate throng at soccer games. But do you know the history behind it? And that despite being sung everywhere it only become official in 2017?

Let’s take a look at this popular anthem.

History of the Italian National Anthem

What is the Italian National Anthem Called?

There are many names for Italy’s national anthem. The original title is Il Canto degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians) but it is often known by its opening words “Fratelli d’Italia” or (“Brothers of Italy”). Its most common name is “L’inno di Mameli” or “Mameli’s Anthem.”

Who Wrote the Italy’s National Anthem? 

It’s called L’inno di Mameli because it was written by Goffredo Mameli. He was born in 1827 and came from one of the most aristocratic families in Genoa.

He was a poet and student and his politics were liberal and republican. At the time, Italy was under Austrian domination. Mameli joined the cause of a united Italy as a soldier because he wanted freedom from the Austrian empire.  He was just 20 years old when he wrote the stirring poem that would be set to music. He was inspired by the “Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité” of the French Revolution and by its anthem, the Marseillaise.

Mameli saw the Italian Republic proclaimed in 1849, but he was not fortunate enough to enjoy it for long. He fought on the frontline defending Rome and was wounded.  His leg had to be amputated due to gangrene and he died shortly afterward: he was just 22 years old.

Mameli’s words were set to music by Michele Novaro, another patriot from Genoa who had studied composition and singing. He offered his work to the cause of Italian freedom and composed the music for dozens of patriotic songs. As soon as he read Mameli’s words he was inspired to write. He received the text while at a friend’s house and, in his own words “I took my leave and ran home. There, without even taking off my hat, I threw myself at the piano…this is how Fratelli d’Italia came about.”

When did L’inno di Mameli Officially Become the National Anthem of Italy?

Although Mameli’s anthem was extremely popular at the time of the unification of Italy in the mid-19th century, Italy had a king, and the republican spirit of the hymn was a bit too much for his liking! The official hymn of the House of Savoy, the rulers at the time, called the Marcia Reale (or Royal March) was chosen as Italy’s national anthem.

After the Second World War, Italy voted to abolish the monarchy and become a republic. Mameli’s hymn, which had always been extremely popular, became a kind of ‘unofficial’ anthem. Despite being sung everywhere it did not become official until December 2017 – 170 years after it was first composed!

Italian National Anthem Lyrics and Translation       

Fratelli d’Italia  
L’Italia s’è desta,
Dell’elmo di Scipio
S’è cinta la testa.
Dov’è la Vittoria?
Le porga la chioma,
Ché schiava di Roma
Iddio la creò.
Stringiamci a coorte
Siam pronti alla morte
L’Italia chiamò.

Noi siamo da secoli
Calpesti, derisi,
Perché non siam popolo,
Perché siam divisi.
Raccolgaci un’unica
Bandiera, una speme:
Di fonderci insieme
Già l’ora suonò.
Stringiamci a coorte
Siam pronti alla morte
L’Italia chiamò.

Uniamoci, amiamoci,
l’Unione, e l’amore
Rivelano ai Popoli
Le vie del Signore;
Giuriamo far libero
Il suolo natìo:
Uniti per Dio
Chi vincer ci può?
Stringiamci a coorte
Siam pronti alla morte
L’Italia chiamò.

Dall’Alpi a Sicilia
Dovunque è Legnano,
Ogn’uom di Ferruccio
Ha il core, ha la mano,
I bimbi d’Italia
Si chiaman Balilla,
Il suon d’ogni squilla
I Vespri suonò.
Stringiamci a coorte
Siam pronti alla morte           
L’Italia chiamò.

Son giunchi che piegano
Le spade vendute:
Già l’Aquila d’Austria
Le penne ha perdute.
Il sangue d’Italia,
Il sangue Polacco,
Bevé, col cosacco,
Ma il cor le bruciò.
Stringiamci a coorte
Siam pronti alla morte
L’Italia chiamò.

Brothers of Italy
Our Country has awoken
Bound Scipio’s helmet
Upon her head.
Where is Victory?
Let her bow down
For God created her
A slave of Rome.
Let us join together
We are ready to die
Italy has called us.

For centuries
We were downtrodden and derided
Because we are not one people,
Because we are divided.
Let one flag, one hope
Gather us all together.
The hour has come
For us to unite.
Let us join together
We are ready to die
Italy has called us.

Let us unite, let us love one another
For unity and love
Show the people
God’s ways.
Let us swear to set free
The land of our birth.
United in God,
Who can overcome us?
Let us join together
We are ready to die
Italy has called us.

From the Alps to Sicily,
Everywhere is Legnano,
Each of Ferrucio’s men
Has a heart and a hand
The children of Italy
Are called Balilla,
Each trumpet blast
Sounds the Vespers.
Let us join together
We are ready to die
Italy has called us.

Mercenery swords bend
Like feeble reeds.
The Austrian eagle
Has lost its feathers.
It drank the blood of Italy
And of the Poles
With the Cossack,
But it burned its heart.
Let us join together
We are ready to die
Italy has called us.

When is Italy’s National Anthem Played?

You’ll hear the Italian National Athem at the following events:

  • the president of the Republic is on an official visit
  • the prime minister is on an official visit
  • during the national holidays – November 4th (National Unity & Armed Forces Day), April 25th (Liberation Day), May 1st (Labor Day), June 2nd (Republic Day)
  • during military ceremonies
  • at major sporting events

Fun Facts About Italy’s National Anthem

Goffredo Mameli, who wrote the national anthem, was a highly educated man with a background in the Classics. Some of the references that are difficult for us to understand today would have been very clear in the past:

  • Scipio’s helmet (“l’elmo di Scipio”) –  Scipio Africanus was a famous Roman general who defeated Hannibal in battle at Zama (modern-day Tunisia). His victories in Africa earned him the name ‘Africanus’.
  • Let’s join together (“Stringiamoci a corte”) – literally translated it means ‘let’s join in a cohort’.  In the Roman army, the legions of soldiers were divided into cohorts (fighting groups). The hymn urges Italians to join together like fighters ready to die for their ideals.
  • Everywhere is Legnano (“Dovunque è Legnano”) – every Italian city is Legnano (a town in Lombardy close to Milan), the place where the Lombard League defeated the German Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1176. It’s the only town apart from Rome mentioned in the anthem.
  • The children of Italy are called Balilla (I bimbi d’Italia si chiaman Balilla) – Balilla was the nickname of a little boy who started a revolt against the occupying Austrians in Genoa in 1746 by throwing a stone at an Austrian official!
  • The Vespers (“I Vespri”): In 1282, the Sicilians rebelled against the French-born King of Sicily, Charles I, one evening at the hour of vespers (sunset prayers). The revolt came to be known as the night of the Sicilian Vespers. It began a war that lasted 20 years!