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~~ Gallery 10 ~~
Regional Cards


page 1

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page 2
regional patterns - part II
page 3
regional patterns - part III
page 4
regional patterns - part IV
page 5
fancy patterns

Italy is one of the two countries where western playing cards first appeared, by the second half of the 14th century.
This ancient tradition probably accounts for the many regional patterns still in use today from the north to the south of the country, and for the variety of suit systems, according to a specific geographic distribution.
Most patterns have traditional Italian suits, as found in classic tarots (Coins, Cups, Swords and Batons), although two distinct varieties exist: northern Italian style, more faithful to the tarot cards, and Spanish-Italian, typical of central and southern areas.
A few patterns use French suits (Diamonds, Hearts, Clubs and Spades), and one pattern even has German suits (Hearts, Acorns Leaves and Bells).
The total number of Italian regional patterns is "officially" 16; a few others became extinct, or are made for areas outside the country.

From a historical point of view, these varieties reflect the different cultural influences each area received during the past 500-600 years:

Bergamasche pattern, from the city of Bergamo (by
Dal Negro, Italy): ace, 2 and king of Coins, ace of Cups
ace and cavalier of Swords, 7 and king of Batons
  • northern Italian suits are the older ones, having sprung directly from the 14th-15th century tarots, particularly in north-eastern regions;

  • central and southern Italian suits are very similar to the ones used in Spain, having been imported from the latter country during the 18th and 19th centuries, when southern Italy was under a Spanish rule, and the lands ruled by papacy (central Italy) had close cultural and religious relations with the same country;

  • the north-western regions were influenced by the French, with whom they had commercial relations, and by whom they were at times ruled;

  • the north-eastern boundary lands, once belonging to Austria, retained the traditional Tirolian deck of cards, which in fact is a German-suited pattern.
Each group of patterns has its own courts:
  • Italian-suited patterns (both the northern and the central-southern ones) have a knave, a cavalier or horseman (which is locally known as "horse"), and a king;

  • French suits, instead, have a knave, a queen and a king, as in poker decks;

  • the German one has an under knave, an ober knave and a king (see also page 4 and the German gallery).

    The number of cards in each deck is more often 40 (each suit has 1 to 7, and the three courts); this is a standard for central-southern patterns, but most nort-eastern patterns exist in two versions: 40 and 52 (in the latter case, each suit 1 to 10 plus the courts). Some French-suited ones even have a third 36-card version (each suit has 1, then from 6 to 10 and three courts).

Trevigiane pattern (by Modiano, Italy);
ace and 3 of Coins, ace and king of Cups,
ace, 6 and knave of Swords, 10 of Batons

The only German-suited pattern used to have 36 cards (values: 2, from 6 to 10 and three courts), but since a decade or so, a 5 has been added to each suit of the pack, for a total of 40 cards.

the Lombarde, Franch-suited pattern,
only existing in 40-card version (by Modiano, Italy)
According to the apparently complicated geographic distribution of the many styles, it can be said that there is no "Italian national pattern", as most other European countries have. Nevertheless, the two patterns most likely to be found throughout Italy, especially in areas which do not have (or no longer have) their own specific style, are the Piacentine (central and northern Italy) and the Napoletane (southern Italy).

The table below shows the names of all "official" Italian patterns currently used, arranged by suits and by alphabetical order, also stating the number of cards in each pack, and a reference to the geographic area they come from.
Notice how all their names refer to a region or a city.

click on the map's numbers
to see a sample of each pattern
map ref.no. of cards
1Bergamasche 40
2Bresciane 52
3Primiera Bolognese 40
4Trentine 40 or 52
5Trevigiane 40 or 52
6Triestine 40
map ref.no. of cards
1Napoletane 40
2Piacentine 40
3Romagnole 40
4Sarde 40
5Siciliane 40
map ref.no. of cards
1Genovesi 36 or 40 or 52
2Lombarde 40
3Piemontesi 36 or 40 or 52
4Toscane (or Fiorentine) 40
map ref.no. of cards
1Salzburger or Salisburghesi 40
The differences in graphic style between the two groups of Italian suits (northern and central-southern) are rather evident:
  • northern Coins bear geometric patterns in blue, red, yellow, while central-southern ones are mainly yellow (for gold), sometimes with heads or other decorations which make them look more like coins or medals;

  • northern Cups usually appear as hexagonal goblets, often with sharp-edged details, while the central-southern ones have a round shape and bear handles;

Primiera Bolognese from Bologna (by Modiano, Italy):
this northern pattern is the same one used by the local tarot;
the first card of the top row is the ace of Coins

the Bresciane pattern, the only Italian-suited
pack which always has 52 cards (by Dal Negro, Italy)
  • northern Swords are curved like sabres, though probably the real origin of this shape is the Arabic scimitar (single-sided sword with a wide curved blade), since these patterns are very likely to be a development of the original cards brought into Italy and Spain by the Arabs, see also historical notes; central and southern Swords, instead, are straight, except in aces (where they may have a different shape), and are usually pale blue, with a double blade;

  • northern Batons look like cerimonial staffs: straight, often decorated with coloured ribbons or patterns along the shaft, and with knobbed ends; the central-southern ones are rough cudgels, often with leaves or short branches still attached.
    In Italian, this suit is called Bastoni, which translates either "batons" or "cudgels", so the different shape does not cause a change of name.

shapes of suit signs from some Italian patterns:
(left) Trevigiane, Primiera, Bergamasche (northern group);
(top) Piacentine, Napoletane and Romagnole (southern group);

Although the geographic boundaries for each group of suits can be easily drawn, there are cases in which they partially overlap: in Bologna and its surroundings, a northern pattern (Primiera Bolognese) is used, while in Romagna, the region which Bologna belongs to, is more likely to use a central-southern pattern (Romagnole).
Another case is that of Lombardy region, which uses a French-suited deck as a standard, but in two of its cities (Bergamo and Brescia) two different northern Italian-suited patterns are used.

Within each group of suit systems, instead, the graphic differences are slighter, though evident enough to tell each pattern from the other almost by the illustration and size of each single card.

the Romagnole pattern, from Romagna region:
despite being the same area of the city of Bologna, the
pattern features Spanish suits, rather different from
the ones shown in the previous picture (by Modiano, Italy)

the Genovesi pattern, French-suited deck from Genoa, holds
either 36, 40 or 52 cards (by Dal Negro, Italy); indices are missing,
though the diagonal courts relate to the French-Belgian style

the Piemontesi pattern (by Modiano, Italy), from
Piedmont region: courts are not very different from the
Genovesi, but a decorative girdle encircles the aces

Most Italian regional patterns lack indices.
Letters never appear on aces and courts (except in a particular variety of the Lombarde cards, for export only, see page 3); some patterns do have small numerals indicating the card's value. They are not meant to be read from the corners, as the indices in Poker or Bridge decks: they only provide a visual help in understanding the card's value at a glance, because the pip arrangement is sometimes complicated; in fact, in some patterns not all of the cards feature these additional numbers.
Only the Sarde, very similar to the Castilian pattern of Spain (see Spanish gallery, page 1), these tiny numbers are real indices, located in the corners of each card.

Piacentine pattern, from the city of Piacenza;
they are often used also in most other areas of central Italy

For players familiar with these patterns, also the card's additional details, such as the arabesques and small figurines featured in many subjects to fill the empty spaces, may act as visual indicators.
For this reason each card player is quite attached to his own local pattern, thus explaining the great number of regional decks found around the country. The differences in graphics and size are sometimes so considerable that it would be rather difficult for a player to use a different pattern from the one he is accustomed to handle.
However, the affection that players usually show for their local cards did not prevent a few patterns from becoming extinct, especially in recent times; among the no longer extant designs are the Viterbesi (after the city of Viterbo, 80 km or 50 mi north of Rome), halfway between the Piacentine and the Romagnole, curiously more popular in the south of Italy than in the centre, having been manufactured up to the early 1900s mainly by a firm in Bari, Munari. But also more recent examples exist, as will be said in the paragraph about the historical notes, in the following page.

page 2
regional patterns - part II
page 3
regional patterns - part III
page 4
regional patterns - part IV
page 5
fancy patterns


actual translation


non-standard patterns advertisement decks sizes, shapes and colours standard pattern variants tarots non-suited cards Mercante in Fiera Uta Karuta, Iroha Karuta, Dôsai Karuta Âs Nas
regional patterns: Spain regional patterns: Germany regional patterns: Austria regional patterns: Switzerland regional patterns: France regional patterns: Sweden regional patterns: Portugal regional patterns: China regional patterns: South-Eastern Asia regional patterns: Japan regional patterns: India uncut sheets mottos and proverbs

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