1860 - 1900

Ancient crafts and costumes in  Italy

Alinari Archives

Crafts and popular characters in Italy in the nineteenth century photographic culture
Fratelli Alinari/2015

Imagine being a tourist in the nineteenth century.

Italy was the dream of many travelers in the past.

And the reality that they discovered when they visited Italy was often different from what they had imagined.

 The scribe

Few people could write, so the SCRIBE got to work sheltering from the sun.

Imagine how many secrets and confidences he learned ...

In the street you could meet a band of GUYS AND CHILDREN IN CONCERT with their “manager”. A hit show yesterday and today!

Naples. Children with musical instruments in a street of Piedigrotta.
Naples. The shoemaker.
Naples. Pottery vender.

Daily life in the villages was hard, but to travelers it seemed sweet and charming ...

Taormina. Genre scene in street.
Palermo. Tuna market.

The work on the street had its picturesque and folkloristic character, but the looks, however, showed dignity and pride.


A “Poor but proud Nature ”, said Goethe in his Grand Tour.

He had observed a greatness of spirit, a lot of creativity and industriousness joined to the ability to indulge  in “SWEET IDLENESS”.

"Dolce far niente", sweet idleness.

“Naples is a paradise! We live in a kind of ecstasy and oblivion of ourselves! ”. J.W. von Goethe.

Naples. Fishermen pulling in their nets.
Fishermen pulling the nets, on a pier in Naples.

Work was hard for everyone, women, men  and children. Always faced, however, with creativity. 

Even today, a philosophy of life.

Naples. Mineral water seller and bearer.

There were no supermarkets, but there were open-air markets and street shops. The water was transported with carts and was sold in WATER VENDOR'S KIOSK.

On stalls were corn, chestnuts, roots, watermelons ...

Napoli. Corn hawkers.
Naples. Street vendor of chestnuts.
Naples. Water vender's kiosk.

The road was like a home and as a workshop that housed everyone from the SELLER OF PASTA to the hairdresser, from the COBBLER to the scribe. There was even who was selling fresh milk.

Napoli. Water melon sellers.
Naples.Toilette in the street.
Neapolitan pasta vender.
Naples. Hair dresser of Saint Lucia.
Naples.  "Vaccara" or milk-seller.

Let’s have a look at the ancient crafts in “color”. These original images were retouched by hand by the photographers or their collaborators. At the time there was no color photography and, with a little of artistic inspiration, photographers, such as miniaturists of ancient manuscripts, painted their pictures to make them more beautiful and to bring out details, such as red watermelons or SELLERS OF FRUIT.

Naples. Watermelon sellers.
Pasta making establishment.

The territory of Southern Italy was ideal for the production of pasta due to the microclimate composed of wind, sun and right humidity.

The fortunes of this product was developed in the seventeenth century when it became a basic food because of its nutritional value and low cost of production.

Hence the widespread iconography linked to the pasta, SPAGHETTI and MACARONI.

Naples. Fruit vendors.
Naples. Roots seller.
Naples. Pasta vendor.

The children were playing on the street, working, enjoying themselves, living ...

Even kids were contributing to household economy,  acting either as SHOESHINE or MUSICIANS of improvised musical instruments.

Other times, they were playing games now almost forgotten.

Rome. Delouser.
Naples. Child with drum and top hat.
Naples. Shoe-shiner.
Naples. The game of morra.
Taormina. Sicilian girl.

The GAME OF MORRA consisted in guessing the sum of the numbers shown with the fingers by all players.

They tended his arm, showing fingers and shouting the winning number!

Very popular among boys and adults, it often became a gamble.

Naples. Spaghetti eaters.
Naples. The game of the "cappelletto".
Little girl in folk dress

The unique creativity of the Made in Italy originates in the imagination and strong and proud spirit of these people.

Local traditions which often identify Italy, are the same that gave rise to the craftsmanship widespread all over Italy.

The ability to imagine, weave and sew dresses and costumes, for example, has become today's talent and excellence in the field of fashion .

As well as the production of pasta still characterizes one of the excellence Italian food.

Randazzo. Water bearer.
Taormina. Old lady who spins.
Traditional costumes of Osilo, Sassari.
Sardinia. Player of the Launéddas
Palermo. Sicilian cart.

The LAUNEDDAS is a musical instrument of ancient origins, still used today in Sardinia during the traditional dances; it consists of three rods of different extent.

Its sound is continuous, a feature common to the bagpipes, and other wind instruments in the Mediterranean area.

Family of pipers.
 Peasant girls from the Lazio region.

Playing and dancing, making music and entertainment with simplicity, were popular pastimes. They knew how to construct their own musical instruments: bagpipes, launeddas, guitars and tambourines.

Men carrying a freshly-caught tuna. 
Naples. Tarantella from Sorrento.
Naples. "Lazzarone", Neapolitan homeless beggar.

And then, sometimes, they allowed themselves a well earned rest.

There were even those who had made it a “job”.

The LAZZARONE, a homeless beggar, thanks to the favorable climate, could survive without having to worry excessively about issues of food and clothing. Typically he was an idler, he did occasional work, sometimes even some petty theft or trick and often begging. For this reason the term “lazzarone” in Italian is synonymous of lazy person or crook.

Pipers of Naples.
Taormina. Sicilian girls.
Portrait of a young shepherd.
Member of the Congregation of San Francesco. Naples.

Moving for work, or traveling around was not easy. The lucky ones could use the horse-drawn carts, also pulled by donkeys or even buffalos.

Two men on horseback near a fountain, Naples.
Sicilian cart.

The SICILIAN CART today has become an object of art and craft symbol of Sicily. Decorated with bright paintings and finely carved, in the nineteenth century it was the only means of transport available in Sicily. A traveling artwork.

Palermo. Sicilian cart.
Randazzo. Commoners.
Naples. Carriage pulled by buffaloes.
Palermo. Sicilian cart.

We finished this short journey through pictures in everyday life, traditions and customs of Italy's past.

A path which today perhaps surprises us and makes us smile but that is a witness of the cultural roots and  rich in hints for the present and the future.

Credits: Story

Curatore scientifico — Monica Maffioli 
Curatore contenuti web — Federica  Rabaglietti - Web Specialist
Direzione esecutiva — Paola de Polo -  F.lli Alinari I.D.E.A.

Credits: All media
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