The bell tower is the focal point of any Italian town and the loyalty to one’s bell tower – that is, one’s town – supplants nationalism in Italy. Campanilismo (literally, “belltower-ism”) is directly linked to how the Italians define themselves. Having only been a unified nation since 1861 and a democratic republic only since 1946, most Italians feel a stronger connection their township or local area than to their nation.
A bell was first installed in the torre campanaria (bell tower) of Palazzo dei Consoli in 1380. And for the people of Gubbio, the Campanone (“Great Bell”) is like a never-to-be-forgotten first love.
As Pier Luigi Menichetti wrote in his Storia di Gubbio Dalle Origini all’Unita d’Italia, “The voice of this giant bell is, for non-Eugubians, harmonious, beautiful, limpid, interesting. But for the people of Gubbio, it is much more. It is the voice of their native land: it stirs the heart, excites emotion and makes eyes glisten.”
And the website, Eugubini nel mondo – a non-profit association of “eugubini (throughout) the world” – transmits that incomparable feeling, too, in this note on the Great Bell:
“What does the sound of the Campanone represent for us Eugubini? We don’t need to tell ourselves! When its sound spreads over the city and the countryside, it brings with it a sene of great joy; we are all led to interrupt work for a moment; walk out; prick up our ears or look toward the ‘turret’of the Palazzo dei Consoli. Yes, is is the real voice of Gubbio, the voice that does not need translation! The Voice is immediately understood by all the Eugubini, near or far.”
The City of Gubbio underscored its importance in a recent note: “It is something inextricably tied to this city, giving voice to the life and thoughts of each of us. Sometimes, one might entrust to that Campanone a dream or a secret desire.”
And this year, too, the Great Bell tolled on September 20th as every year, commemorating the taking of Rome and the end of the Papal States thus almost completing the Unity of Italy, September 20, 1870 (though Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli were not yet included).
The celebration which became law in 1930 is officially commemorated every year in Gubbio…and as far as I know, this is the only town in Italy still celebrating the event.
Eugubina Stefano Menichetti, niece of one of the 12 campanari, thanked her uncle and fellow bell-ringers on September 20th with these words: “Heartfelt thanks to you campanari, for each time I hear the voice of our Campanone the emotion is overwhelming. Ciao, Zio Enzo, grande campanaro.”
A day of great celebration – and the tolling of the bell – is always October 30th, “birthday” of Il Campanone which was fused in L’Aquila on October 30, 1879. In 2019, Gubbio’s medieval banner-wavers, gli sbandieratori, joined the bell-ringers to celebrate the 250th-birthday of the Great Bell:
The sbandieratori lined up behind the merlons of the Palazzo dei Consoli battlements, their flags – with the Etruscan alphabet used by the ancient Umbri – dangling over those Gubbio terracotta rooftops below:
The “Great Bell” is joined in the bell-tower turret with 3 other bells, centuries-older but of smaller sizes.
Here’s the one called “la Mezzana” (“the Medium-sized one”), being gently silenced by a campanaro.
The twelve campanari climb to the Palazzo dei Consoli bell tower to ring the Campanone i61 times a year – on about 20 different days (for many times, the bell is rung 2 or three times in a day). The ringing involves a meticulous, well-coordinated ritual by the campanari, united together to diffuse “the real voice of Gubbio.”
See the video of the bell-ringing!
Read here about the Palazzo dei Consoli
Read here about la Corsa dei Ceri
Read more here about the glorious Corsa dei Ceri
Read about Gubbio’s Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo
Read about Gubbio’s astounding archaeological treasure