How Italy’s ‘Bella Ciao’ has become a global revolutionary anthem

The historic Italian anthem 'Bella Ciao' is being used by demonstrators from all across the world to to oppose injustices and abuse.

Protest in New York in solidarity with Iranian women.
Italian anthem ‘Bella Ciao’ is currently being sung by demonstrators worldwide protesting over the death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini. Photo by Spencer PLATT / AFP

From Ukraine to Chile, protesters worldwide have long rallied to the stirring Italian anthem Bella Ciao, which is now being sung by demonstrators in solidarity with women in Iran.

The song, which talks of dying for freedom, was sung in Italy during World War II and became a symbol of resistance against fascism.

READ ALSO: Seven faces of the Italian resistance whose stories you should know

It has since become a global rallying call, with the song currently being used by those protesting the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the feared Iranian morality police.

Early in the protests, a video of a singer – her head uncovered in defiance of the compulsory hijab – performing a version in Persian went viral.

Since then, Bella Ciao – meaning ‘Goodbye Beautiful’ in Italian – has been sung by supporters of the protests from all corners of the world, including Kurdish women in Turkey and expatriate Iranians in Paris.

Although the song has long been associated with Italian partisan fighters (the so-called ‘partigiani‘), there is no evidence it was actually ever sung by them, according to Carlo Pestelli, author of the book Bella Ciao: The Song of Freedom.

READ ALSO: The ‘forgotten’ resistance: The Italian partisans neglected by history books

The song certainly became popular during the war, he said, but its history traces back to 19th-century traditional folk songs from northern Italy characterised by passionate themes, especially unfulfilled love.

“It is difficult to say exactly what its origins are,” Pestelli told AFP, adding that its ambiguous lyrics have allowed for its adoption in many different causes.

“It wasn’t a communist song but a manifesto for freedom… it represents apolitical values that everyone can understand and share,” Pestelli said.

It is also “an easy song to sing”, with a catchy chorus that even non-Italian speakers can pick up.

Over time, the global reach of the song has been fuelled by popular interpretations, including by French star Yves Montand and, more recently, its inclusion in the Netflix hit Money Heist.

Bella Ciao can now be heard wherever there are crowds rallying, from the streets of New York to Hong Kong and Athens.

A cry against oppression

Earlier this year, Ukrainians sang Bella Ciao in defiance of the invading Russian forces.

But the song has also been the soundtrack to dancing demonstrators in Tripoli, a chant by English football fans and a call for action by climate activists from Sydney to Brussels.

In Rome and Paris, it was sung with emotion from windows and balconies during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown.

For many, the history of the song is now less important than its global impact.

“This song is very famous in Iran and all over the world because it is a symbol against oppression,” said Masah, a 29-year-old Iranian expatriate who attended a solidarity rally for the Mahsa Amini protests in Rome this week.

Italian residents singing 'Bella Ciao' in Rome.

During Italy’s Covid lockdown, residents sang ‘Bella Ciao’ from windows and balconies. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

While the lyrics are often translated, the chorus is normally sung in Italian, although that too has been adapted on some occasions.

Last year in Jerusalem, protesters against then prime minister Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu sang ‘Bibi Ciao’ ahead of his departure from office.

In 2019, anti-regime protesters in Iraq rallied to their own version, ‘Blaya Chara’, meaning ‘no way out’ in Iraqi dialect.

“When we sing it, we feel more united with the whole world,” added Masah’s sister, Shiva, 33, at the Iran protest in Rome.

“Music is a form of expression that allows you to communicate even without knowing other languages,” she added.

Member comments

  1. I notice your article ref ‘Bella Ciao’ states that English football fans sing the song. I would be interested to know the name of the team these fans support as I am only aware of the song being adopted by the fans of Celtic, certainly not an English team.

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Falling Christmas decorations cause ‘irreversible damage’ to Italy’s Verona Arena

The Verona Arena, one of Italy’s most iconic landmarks, was closed to the public after a giant steel Christmas decoration collapsed while being taken down on Monday.

Falling Christmas decorations cause 'irreversible damage' to Italy's Verona Arena

The accident happened in the late morning of Monday, January 24th but was only revealed to national media late in the evening. 

Verona’s Archaeology and Fine Arts Superintendent, Vincenzo Tinè, told Ansa that the steel comet fell to the ground as it was being lifted out of the amphitheatre.

The structure – 82 metres in length and weighing around 78 tons – reportedly defaced a section of the arena’s stands, with Tinè describing the damage to the venue as “irreversible” earlier on Tuesday. 

Local police sealed off the area immediately after the accident, and prosecutor Alberto Sergi was reportedly set to launch an official inquiry into the collapse.

Repair works were expected to take weeks, and it wasn’t known how long the arena would remain closed to the public.

Well-known figures from Italy’s art world commented on the accident, with controversial art critic Vittorio Sgarbi saying the steel comet, which has been used as part of the building’s Christmas decorations since 1984, should “never be let into the arena again”.

A Roman amphitheatre dating back to around 30 AD, the Verona Arena is widely regarded as one of the best-preserved ancient buildings of its kind.

To this day, the building is used as a venue for some of the most important large-scale opera performances in the world.