Italian Playing Cards: Modiano Siciliane

The “standard” Anglo-French-suited playing cards have eclipsed many of the regional playing cards common throughout the world, along with the games played with those cards. Yet in certain places, regional decks are still very popular, and provide a fascinating (and largely unexplored) new wellspring of cards, games, and lore. I plan on diving deep into this wellspring, beginning today with a look at an Italian Siciliane deck produced by Modiano.

First off, you need to understand that there is no monolithic “Italian” deck. There are about 16 different regional decks, some with 40 cards, some with 52. Southern Italy favors the Spanish style which I’m about to describe, while the North has its own style. French and German suits are also used in certain regions of Italy. Even this is kind of fluid, and each regional deck has its own peculiarities.

The pictures below are from a deck common in Sicily. The most striking element of these cards are their unique suits. In the picture below (beginning at the upper left and going clockwise) we have the 3 of : Clubs (Bastoni), Coins (Denari), Swords (Spade), and Cups (Coppe). These replace Clubs, Hearts, Spades, and Diamonds of the Anglo-French deck.

There are no numbers on the cards, but there are 7 number cards in each suit, ranked 1 to 7, plus 3 court cards per suit. In many games, the 3 is of particular value, with cards ranking (high to low) Ace, 3, Courts, then numbers. (Numbers often have no value at all.) Here are what the aces look like. (Left to right: Swords, Cups, Coins, Clubs.)
Click to embiggen
Finally, there are the court cards, which are ranked Fante/Donna (a footsoldier, knave, or young woman), Cavallo (cavalier, or knight), and Re (King), the equivalent of our Jack, Queen, King.
The cards are small and slightly stiff, but the art is extremely appealing, with bold colors favoring yellow, blue, red, and green. The backs are ornate, featuring a Sicilian Triskelion (three legs around a head, usually Medusa). I bought mine from TaroBear’s Lair, which provides prompt service and reasonable prices. I’m going to be talking about different games which are played with these decks, and even point you at some apps to help get you started. 

One thought on “Italian Playing Cards: Modiano Siciliane

  1. Wonderful article! I have a pack of Sicliane that I bought in Sicily. My Sicilian cousin taught me how to play “solitario” but unfortunately I can't remember the rules. I would love to play again and use my beautiful cards. By chance have you written, or could you write, an article about Siciliane solitario? Grazie tante!

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