Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview



Italian Playing Cards - Tarot - Tarocchi




Cow Game


Goose Game


The Golden Tarot of Botticelli, Alida's most beautiful offering.



Alida is an on-line store based in The Republic of San Marino.  They ship Italian playing cards (Tarot, Regional, Historical) all over the world.  The cards are reasonably priced, and shipping is fast (airmail) and very reasonably priced! 

I think the cards are too beautiful to play with and should all be framed.  I feature many of them here on this page.  Click through to their store (in Italian and English) to view their full, beautiful selection.

I've purchased cards from them without any problems whatsoever, and am very happy with the GORGEOUS cards!



Tarot Deck of Venice



Tarot decks are often themed, and sometime have very unique themes.  Alida even offers one based on the movies of Italian director Dario Fo!



The Monna Lisa Tarot Deck



Tarot Deck of the Angels



African-American Tarot Deck



Leonardo's Inventions Tarot Deck



The Circle of Life Tarot Deck



The highly symbolic, and classic, Tarot of Marseille


Playing cards began where paper began:  in China.  They started with representations of the domino symbols.  Cards moved roughly via India, Persia, Egypt, and then on to Europe.

The earliest decks where commissioned from artists, who hand painted the suits onto card stock.  That meant they decks were expensive and generally exclusive to the wealthy.  Along with board games, they were popular gifts for princes to offer allies.

Playing cards take off in Europe in the 1400s.  That coincides with primitive paper and a printing process that transferred an image to paper using ink on a wooden stamp (woodcut).  The ink image was then painted by hand to create a colored deck.

Early decks only survive in fragments, mainly because they were made of paper, and well used by players.  Even today's decks, coated in plastic, don't last forever.  Just think how many decks your own family has gone through.   


Regional Cards and Games

Regional variations exist in most places, but none so much as in Italy (nearly one official deck per region).  This is likely due to Italy's late unification, and the popularity of card playing.  Certain games are even linked to certain regional decks.

Generally speaking, the Italian card deck has 40 cards (1-7 and 3 face cards).  But in the North of Italy, the standard 52 card French deck is common.

The Neapolitan and Sicilian are probably the best known Italian regional cards outside of Italy, because of the large number of emigrants from those areas.

I explain the most common Italian card games on separate pages on this site:





Tarot Cards - Tarocchi

Tarot cards were even more popular in Europe in the earliest card days (the late 1400s) than the other types of card deck, and they were specifically used for trick-taking card games

In Italy, they were called Triomfi (Triumphs), which was later used for the Trump cards in trick-taking games.  The early decks were custom made for princes, and varied much in design.

The earliest recorded commission of a custom Triomfi deck was for the Visconti of Milan.  This deck is based on the original.

Almost as soon as they were used for game-playing, Tarot cards, Tarocchi, were used for fortune-telling.  But today, the card-playing Tarot cards often differ from the fortune-telling Tarot cards.

Game cards clearly detail a card's suit and value.  Fortune-telling cards often feature elaborate images related to the fortune-telling meaning of a card.

The Tarot game deck is a 78 card deck:

  • 1-10 and Jack, Knight, Queen, King of four suits
  • the 21 Trump cards that are used as permanent trump cards
  • one card with no number that trumps even a trump card, called a Fool (Matto), Joker, Excuse card (it excuses you from having to follow suit)


Tarot Card Games

Tarocchi, or Tarot or Tarock, is a card game that is still played in Europe. 

It is a standard trick-taking game:

  • played counter-clockwise,
  • the player to the right of the dealer begins by putting the first card in play
  • the other players put one card each, following suit, or if they can't follow the suit, they play a trump card
  • points are counted at the end of play, from all the cards the players have taken in tricks, the highest score wins or you play to a total number over several hands
  • points are awarded only for the face cards of the 4 suits (K-5, Q-4, K-3, J-2), Arcana cards 1 and 21 (5 points each), and for the Fool card (5 points) For more detailed scoring options see Pagat's page.

But in Italy, it is mainly the Tarocco Bolognese Ottocento that is still played, and Pagat has a wonderful page dedicated to that complex game.

Tarocco Bolognese (or Tarocchino, because it has only 62 cards, instead of the full 78 cards)


Tarot Cards for Predicting the Future

The fortune-telling deck is the same as for Tarot card games, but is often more elaborate in it's decoration.

The fortune-telling deck is a 78 card deck:

  • 1-10 and Jack, Knight, Queen, King of four suits:  the 56 Lesser Arcana cards, which reveal lesser secrets
  • the 22 Major Arcana cards, which reveal the greater secrets, including one card with no value called a Fool (Matto) (Shown Below)

For those of you interested in the names and meanings of the Major and Lesser Arcana cards, I suggest a visit to Wikipedia:  Tarot Reading

Tarot cards are often valued solely for their artistic qualities.  Some decks are sold as works of art, and include only the 22 Major Arcana cards, suitable for framing.


The Golden Tarot of Botticelli






Some of Alida's Special Decks

Mestieri dell'Uomo
Bologna 1680, The Professions of Man (Historical Cards Section)


Musici e Strumenti Musicali
Roma 1716, Musicians and Musical Instruments
(Historical Cards Section)


Jeu de Drapeaux
1814 - Paris, Game of the Flag, where the card value and suit are shown with flag scenes
(Historical Cards Section)


And Alida carries the double deck boxed sets by Piatnik that shape the face card figures in historical guise, like this one, called Glorious America (from their Bridge Collection).