National anthems rose to prominence in Europe during the 19th century, but some originated much earlier. For better or for worse, national anthems accompanied European countries during the most enligthened moments of their history, as well as the most nationalistic periods of the European history. But national Anthems are full of surprises and learnings. Did you know for example that the oldest national anthem in the world is the Wilhelmus, the Dutch anthem, written between 1568 and 1572 during the Dutch Revolt ? Did you also know that both the Spanish and the Bosnian anthem were two of the four national anthems in the world without lyrics ? Have you noticed that God Save the Queen/God Save the King, the national anthem of the United Kingdom adapt its title whenever the gender of its monarch changes ? Did you know that Denmark has two different anthems, Der er et yndigt land and Kong Christian stod ved højen mast ? You will find below the compilation of all European national anthems. You can listen to European anthems and read their lyrics by clicking on the corresponding pictures.
At the end of the 19th century, A Portuguesa was written by the Portuguese republicans, upset over the British ultimatum to Portugal regarding Africa. There were protests everywhere against the monarchy, and, as a result, “A Portuguesa” could be heard anywhere and became extremely popular. The song still echoes the original intent. In 1956, the emergence of melodic variants of the anthem forced the government to create a committee whose aim was to define an official version. On 16 July 1957, the current version was adopted.
The Marcha Real is one of only four national anthems (along with those of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and San Marino) in the world to have no official lyrics. The anthem first appeared in a book of military bugle calls dating from 1761, known as the Marcha Granadera. In 1770 King Carlos III declared it as the official “honour march” becoming the Marcha Real. The origin of the melody is in dispute. Researchers have claimed that it originated in parts of Europe outside Spain (such as France and Germany), and indeed the music is not typical of Spanish music.
La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, was composed in one night during the French Revolution (April 24, 1792) by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a captain of the engineers and amateur musician stationed in Strasbourg in 1792. It was played at a patriotic banquet at Marseilles, and printed copies were given to the revolutionary forces then marching on Paris. They entered Paris singing this song, and to it they marched to the Tuileries on August 10th. Ironically, Rouget de Lisle was himself a royalist and refused to take the oath of allegiance to the new constitution.
Iceland’s national anthem Lofsöngur means “Hymn” in English and is also known as “Ó Guð vors lands” (“O, God of Our Land”). The lyrics are by Matthías Jochumsson and the music by Sveinbjörn Sveinbjörnsson. The anthem contains three stanzas, but only the first one is commonly sung. The lyrics are more like a hymn than a patriotic ode, and due to the wide range of notes, it is difficult for many people to sing. Nevertheless, Icelanders do not regard this as an obstacle, even though there were other patriotic odes which were easier to sing. Icelanders revere Matthías Jochumsson’s work, and the solemn, moving song is dear to their hearts.
When the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) was established in 1922 there was no national anthem, and it was not until 1924 that the lack of a national anthem was highlighted. There was concern that the lack of an official anthem was giving Unionists an opportunity to persist with God Save the King. The chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann or in English, A Soldier’s Song was widely if unofficially sung by nationalists, and on 12 July 1926, the Executive Council decided to adopt it as the National Anthem. The first draft, handwritten on copybook paper, was sold at auction in Dublin in 2006 for €760,000.
The British National Anthem dates back to the eighteenth century. God Save The King (alternatively God Save The Queen during the reign of a female sovereign) was a patriotic song first publicly performed in London in 1745, which came to be known as the National Anthem at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In September 1745 the ‘Young Pretender’ to the British Throne, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, defeated the army of King George II at Prestonpans, near Edinburgh. In a fit of patriotic fervour after news of Prestonpans had reached London, the leader of the band at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, arranged ‘God Save The King’ for performance after a play.
Norway does not have an official national anthem, but over the last 200 years, a number of anthems have been commonly regarded as de facto national anthems. At times, multiple anthems have enjoyed this status simultaneously. Today, the anthem Ja, vi elsker dette landet is the most recognised national anthem, but until the early 20th century, Sønner av Norge occupied this position. Ja, vi elsker dette landet was first performed publicly on 17 May 1864 in connection with the 50th anniversary of the constitution. In 2011, the song Mitt lille land featured prominently in all the memorial ceremonies following the 2011 Norway attacks.
Du gamla, Du fria (“Thou ancient, Thou free”) is the national anthem of Sweden. It was originally named Sång till Norden (“Song to the North”). Despite a widespread belief that it was adopted as the national anthem in 1866, no such recognition has ever been officially accorded. A kind of official recognition was when the King Oscar II rose in honour when the song was played, the first time in 1893. Patriotic sentiment is notably absent from the text of the original two verses, due to them being written in the spirit of Scandinavism popular at the time. Later, various people wrote additional verses to increase the “Swedishness” of the song.
There is no law regarding an official national anthem in Finland, but Maamme is firmly established by convention. The music was composed by the German immigrant Fredrik Pacius, with (original Swedish) words by Johan Ludvig Runeberg, and was performed for the first time on 13 May 1848. Over the years “Maamme” has been criticized for various reasons. The critics of the song have noted that the Finnish national anthem was originally written in Swedish and that a German composer set it to music. Purists have suggested that the musical quality of the song is actually quite poor and have pointed out that it is in fact a rearrangement of a German drinking song, Papst und Sultan.
Denmark is unique in that it and New Zealand are the only two nations in the world with two official national anthems. Der er et yndigt land (translated into English as “There is a lovely land”) is the civil national anthem of Denmark. When first published in 1819, the anthem had 12 verses but today has been significantly shortened. The lyrics were written in 1819 by Adam Oehlenschläger and bore the motto in Latin: Ille terrarum mihi praeter omnes angulus ridet (Horace: “This corner of the earth smiles for me more than any other”). Officially, Kong Christian stod ved højen mast is both a national and royal anthem; it has equal status with Der er et yndigt land.
The Dutch national anthem is one of the oldest anthems in existence, the melody was known from before 1572 as a French Huguenot melody titled “Charles”, and the song first appeared in 1626 in a collection of songs. Based on older songs, the Wilhelmus takes the form of an acrostic on the name of William of Orange, the leader of the Dutch revolt against Philip II of Spain. The anthem is written in the first person, as if quoting William himself. It has been claimed that during the gruesome torture of Balthasar Gérard (the assassin of William of Orange) in 1584, the song was sung by the guards who sought to overpower Gérard’s screams when boiling pigs’ fat was poured over him.
In the originally French language, the term normally refers to Brabant. The untranslated initial name is maintained for the French, Dutch and the German lyrics, that at a later stage ensured reflecting all three official languages of the country. According to legend, the Belgian national anthem was written in September 1830, during the Belgian Revolution, by a young revolutionary called “Jenneval”, who read the lyrics during a meeting at the Aigle d’Or café. The ending, pledging loyalty to “Le Roi, la Loi, la Liberté!” (“The King, and Law, and Liberty!”) is an obvious parallel to the French “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité”…
Ons Heemecht which means “Our Homeland” is the national anthem of Luxembourg. The text is in Luxembourgish and was written by Michel Lentz in 1859. The first and the last stanza of Ons Heemecht were adopted as Luxembourg’s national anthem in 1895. Whilst Ons Hemeecht is the national anthem, the royal anthem, or more accurately the anthem of the Grand Ducal House of Luxembourg is De Wilhelmus, which is not the same as Het Wilhelmus, the national anthem of the Netherlands. The anthem was recently officially named Ons Heemecht over the old spelling Ons Hémécht.
The Deutschlandlied (“Song of Germany”) has been the national anthem of Germany since 1922, except in East Germany, whose anthem was Auferstanden aus Ruinen (“Risen from Ruins”) from 1949 to 1990. Since World War II and the fall of Nazi Germany, only the third stanza has been used as the anthem. The stanza’s incipit, Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit (“Unity and Justice and Freedom”) are considered the unofficial national motto of Germany. The melody of the Deutschlandlied comes from the old Austrian imperial anthem Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser (“God Save Franz the Emperor”) by Franz Joseph Haydn, which was first played on February 12, 1797.
The national anthem (Bundeshymne) of the Republik Österreich (Republic of Austria) was officially adopted on February 25, 1947, following a contest to find a replacement for the former imperial anthem by Haydn that had been appropriated by Germany in 1922 and now also had Nazi associations. The composer of the melody is not certain, but its origin goes back to 1791, when it was created for the freemason lodge to which both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Holzer (1753-1818) belonged. Current theory says that either Mozart or Holzer could have composed the melody.
On Wednesday 1st August, the Swiss national anthem is sung throughout the land, from the mountain tops of the Grisons to the shores of Lake Geneva and in any of the country’s four official languages. The Swiss national anthem, known as the Schweizerpsalm, calls on the “free Swiss to gather together to pray for God’s protection and blessing on its people and the country”. Its origins go back to before the founding of the current Federation of Switzerland in 1848 and arose from the joint work of two men the Catholic priest Alberik Zwyssig and Leonhard Widmer, a member of the Reformed Church of Zurich, who, on the face of it, were very different.
Il Canto degli Italiani (“The Song of the Italians”) is best known among Italians as Inno di Mameli, after the author of the lyrics, or Fratelli d’Italia, from its opening line. The words were written by a young Genoese student called Goffredo Mameli in 1847 and set to music a few months later by a fellow Genoese, Michele Novaro. The other story goes that one evening in 1847, in the house of the American consul, the center of discussion was the uprisings of the day. Urged by many of the consul’s guests, Mameli improvised a few lines on the spot and later wrote the rest. The hymn became popular during the turbulent period of the Risorgimento, leading to Unification in 1861.
“The Maltese Hymn“ is written in the form of a prayer to God. From the mid nineteenth century up to the early 1930s, Malta was passing through a national awakening. It was felt by many thinkers that Malta should have its own National Anthem. In 1850 Ġan Anton Vassallo composed Innu Lil Malta, which used to be played during many Maltese political manifestations. In 1922, Professor Mro. Robert Samut composed a short melody. The Anthem is played every day on the media, and also during all the official duties of the President of Malta, of the Prime Minister of Malta, and those of other important governmental personalities. It is played during all important National activities.
“Where is my home?” is the czech national anthem. The music to the anthem was composed by F. Škroup, a main Revivalist composer of Czech music and especially Czech opera. The lyrics were taken from the first stanza of the opera “Fidlovačka”, which was written by Tyl and performed in 1834. The song originally had two verses but when it became the first part of the Czechoslovak state anthem after the country’s liberation in 1918, only one verse was used. Upon dissolution of Czechoslovakia on 1 January 1993, the song became the anthem of the new Czech Republic, but only the first verse remains the official anthem.
Nad Tatrou sa blýska would be translated in English as “Lightning Over the Tatras”. It is the national anthem of Slovakia and originates from the Central European activism of the 19th century. Its main themes are a storm over the Tatra mountains that symbolized danger to the Slovaks, and a desire for a resolution of the threat. Lightning over the Tatras was written in 1844 during the weeks when the students were agitated about the repeated denials of their and others’ appeals to the school board to reverse Štúr’s dismissal. It used to be particularly popular during the 1848-1849 insurgencies.
The text of the Song of the Polish Legions in Italy, later known as Dąbrowski’s Mazurka or “Poland has not perished yet”, was written between July 16 and July 19, 1797, in Reggio nell’Emilia, in Lombardy. Its author was Józef Rufin Wybicki, scion of the Rogala noble clan, which settled in Pomerania in the 16th century and wrote the song to celebrate the departure of the legionaries from Reggio, and indeed this is where it was sung for the first time. Several weeks later, when Wybicki stayed in Milan and Dąbrowski with his legionaries was in Bologna, the general wrote: “The soldiers have taken to your song and we are often singing it together, with due respect to the author.”
The Lithuanian national hymn simply means “The National Hymn”. It has been created in 1898 by Vincas Kudirka, one of the heroes of Lithuanian National Revival (adopted in 1920). It is notable for having each verse to follow a different melody and therefore should never be shortened (trimming the anthem in some sports events triggers discontent). This is also to be noticed that a peculiar tradition calls every Lithuanian to sing the anthem on July 6th, the State Day of Lithuania (the Coronation Day of the King Mindaugas).
The Latvian national Anthem means “God, Bless Latvia!”. The music and lyrics were written in 1873 by Kārlis Baumanis, a teacher, who was part of the Young Latvian nationalist movement. It has been speculated that Baumanis may have borrowed part of the lyrics from a popular song which was sung to tune of God Save the Queen, modified them and set them to music of his own. Baumanis’s lyrics were different from the modern ones: he used the term “Baltics” synonymously and interchangeably with “Latvia” and “Latvians”, so “Latvia” was actually mentioned only at the beginning of the first verse.
Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm means “My Fatherland, My Happiness and Joy” and was adopted as the national anthem of the Republic of Estonia in 1920, and again in 1990. The lyrics were written by Johann Voldemar Jannsen and are set to a melody composed in 1848 by Fredrik which is also used for the national anthem of Finland: Maamme. Between 1956 and 1990 the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, a part of the Soviet Union, had a different anthem. Although Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm was banned under Soviet rule, Estonians could often hear the melody, as Finland’s state broadcaster YLE played the Finnish national anthem at closedown every night.
Мы, беларусы meaning “We Belarusians” is the unofficial title of the national anthem of Belarus and the first line of its lyrics. Officially, “My Belarusy” is titled “the State Anthem of the Republic of Belarus”. The anthem was originally written in 1955 for use in the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the music composed by Sakałoŭski was kept and the lyrics were discarded. New lyrics, which were written by Klimkovich and Uladzimir Karyzny, were adopted by a presidential decree in 2002. The lyrics of the anthem now sing of a friendly Belarus, honoring past military battles and looking forward to the future.
Ще не вмерла Українa or Shche ne vmerla Ukraina means in English “Ukraine Has Not Yet Died”. The anthem’s music was officially adopted by Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on January 15, 1992. The lyrics constitute a slightly modified original first stanza of the patriotic poem written in 1862 by Pavlo Chubynsky, a prominent ethnographer from the region of Ukraine’s capital, Kiev. The popularity of the Ukrainian anthem has become particularly high in the wake of the Orange Revolution protests of 2004 and Euromaidan of 2013.
Deşteaptă-te, române! (“Wake Up, Romanian!”) is the national anthem of Romania. The text was written by Andrei Mureşanu and the music by Anton Pann in 1848 under the name Un răsunet (“An Echo”). It was first sung on in 1848 in Râmnicu Vâlcea, and was immediately accepted as a revolutionary anthem and renamed Deşteaptă-te, române! As the song contains a message of liberty and patriotism, it was sung during all major Romanian conflicts, including the 1989 anti-Communist revolution. In 1990, it became the national anthem. July 29, the day when the anthem was sung for the first time, is now “National Anthem Day” (Ziua Imnului naţional), a national holiday in Romania.
Limba noastră meaning “Our Language” has been since 1994 the national anthem of the Republic of Moldova. For a short period before that, the official anthem of the country was Deşteaptă-te, române!, the national anthem of Romania. The lyrics were written by Alexei Mateevici (1888-1917), who contributed significantly to the national emancipation of Bessarabia. The music for the anthem was composed by Alexandru Cristea (1890-1942). The focus of Limba noastră, written in a romantic style, is the national language. It calls for the people to revive the usage of their native language
Himnusz simply means in English “Anthem“ and is a musical poetic prayer beginning with the words Isten, áldd meg a magyart (“God, bless the Hungarians”) that serves as the official national anthem of Hungary. It was adopted in 1844 and the first stanza is sung at official ceremonies. The words of the Hungarian anthem are unusual in expressing a direct plea to God rather than proclaiming national pride, the norm for the genre. This reference to God meant that during the period of strongest communist rule in Hungary (1949–1956), the anthem was played but the words were never sung. The public radio station Kossuth Rádió plays Himnusz at ten minutes past midnight each day.
The current national anthem of Slovenia consists of a part of Zdravljica poem (which mean “A Toast”), written by the 19th century Slovene poet France Prešeren, and the music written by the Slovene composer Stanko Premrl in 1905. Emphasising internationalism, it was defined in 1994 as the anthem with the Act on the national symbols of Slovenia. However, even before the breakup of Yugoslavia, the lyrics and music were together adopted as the anthem by the Socialist Republic on 27 September 1989. Therefore, it was the anthem of the Republic of Slovenia as a constituent of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from March 1990 to June 1991.
The Croatian national anthem was written by Antun Mihanovic, in 1835 it was first printed in the “Danica” newspaper under the name “Horvatska domovina”. Subsequently in 1891 it was first sung as the Croatian national anthem under the name of “Lijepa nasa” by the Croatian-Slavonian Economic Association in Zagreb. Between 1918 and 1941, segments of the Croatian national anthem were part of the national anthem of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and it was unofficial hymn of Croats. The anthem was confirmed by constitutions of 1974 and 1990, when its lyrics were slightly modified, and by the Coat of Arms, the Flag and the National Anthem of the Republic of Croatia Act
The national anthem of Serbia is a 19th century ceremonial song “Boze Pravde” (God of Justice), composed by Davorin Jenko and with lyrics by Jovan Djordjevic. While being the anthem of the Kingdom of Serbia, it occasionally was referred to as ‘Serbian National Prayer’ and the original lyrics contained a petition for the Serbian king. Various rulers of Serbia changed the words of the anthem to suit them. During the rule of Prince Milan I of Serbia, the words were “God, save Prince Milan” (knez Milana Bože spasi), which changed to King Milan when Serbia became a kingdom. The current anthem uses slightly modified original lyrics, asserting that Serbia is no longer a monarchy.
The official National anthem of Montenegro is “Oj, svijetla majska zoro” (or „Ој, свијетла мајска зоро”) which means in English “Oh, Bright Dawn of May”. It is adopted in 2004. Before becoming the anthem, it was a popular folk song of the Montenegrins, with many variations of its text. The oldest one is dated to the 2nd half of the 19th century, known as “Oh, Bright Dawn of Heroism, oh!”, a popular Montenegrin folk song. The lyrics start with “Oh, bright dawn of May, Our mother Montenegro, We are sons of your rocks, and keepers of your honesty”
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Државна химна Босне и Херцеговине, “the National Anthem of Bosnia and Herzegovina” is one of the four national anthems along with that of Spain, San Marino, and Kosovo in the world to have no official lyrics. The anthem was adopted on 25 June 1999, by the promulgation of the Law on the National Anthem of Bosnia and Herzegovina, replacing the previous anthem, “Jedna si jedina“, which excluded the country’s Serb and Croat communities. Lyrics written by Dušan Šestić, the original composer, and Benjamin Isović were accepted by a parliamentary commission in February 2009. The decision still requires approval of the Bosnian authorities.
Back when Albania first gained independence as a monarchy in 1912 from Italy, Hymni i Flamurit was adopted, and has been kept as the anthem through its period as a Communist/Marxist state and now as a democratic nation. The original title of the hymn was Betimi mi flamur, or “Pledge to the Flag.” The hymn was first published as a poem in Liri e Shqipërisë (Freedom of Albania), an Albanian newspaper in Sofia, Bulgaria, in its issue of 21 April 1912. Later that year it appeared in a volume of collected poems by Drenova, under the title Ëndra e lot (Dreams and Tears), which was published in Bucharest. The official anthem uses only the first two stanzas of the original poem
Мила Родино (Mila Rodino) or in English “Dear Motherland” was formally adopted by Bulgaria only in 1964, although the origins go back way before then. This first sentence says : “Proud Balkan Mountains, next to it the Danube sparkles, the sun shines over Thrace, and blazes over Pirin”. The anthem is based on Tsvetan Radoslavov’s Gorda Stara Planina, the music he wrote shortly before going to fight in the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885. Bulgaria has had three previous national anthems and the lyrics to Mila Rodino have been changed around quite a bit too. Now it seems the Bulgarians are finally satisfied.
Denes and Makedonija is the national anthem of the Republic of Macedonia and stands for “Today Over Macedonia” It was composed by Todor Skalovski and the lyrics were written by Vlado Maleski in 1941. It was performed as a popular song of the Macedonians during the time of Socialist Republic of Macedonia, a part of Yugoslavia. Later the song was officially adopted to be the anthem of the independent Macedonia. The anthem has four stanzas, but the fourth stanza is mainly omitted from the national anthem.
Ὕμνος εἰς τὴν Ἐλευθερίαν is the longest national anthem in the world by length of text and is used as the national anthem of Greece and Cyprus. It means the Hymn to Liberty and is originally a poem written by Dionýsios Solomós in 1823 consisting of 158 stanzas. In 1865, the first three stanzas and later the first two officially became the national anthem of Greece and later also that of the Republic of Cyprus. Inspired by the Greek War of Independence, Solomos wrote the hymn to honour the struggle of Greeks for independence after centuries of Ottoman rule.
The İstiklâl Marşı translated as “Independence March” in English is the national anthem of Turkey, officially adopted on 12 March 1921 – two and a half years before the 29 October 1923 establishment of the Republic of Turkey, both as a motivational musical saga for the troops fighting in the Turkish War of Independence, and as an anthem for a Republic that was yet to be established. Penned by Mehmet Âkif Ersoy, ultimately composed by Osman Zeki Üngör, the theme is one of affection for the Turkish homeland, freedom, and faith, of sacrifice for liberty, and of hope and devotionIt is also the anthem of Northern Cyprus.
The melody used to symbolize the EU comes from the Ninth Symphony composed in 1823 by Ludwig Van Beethoven, when he set music to the “Ode to Joy”, Friedrich von Schiller’s lyrical verse from 1785. The anthem symbolises not only the European Union but also Europe in a wider sense. The poem “Ode to Joy” expresses Schiller’s idealistic vision of the human race becoming brothers – a vision Beethoven shared. Due to the large number of languages used in the European Union, the adopted anthem is only the instrumental version without words, in the universal language of music. This actually did not prevent a group of enthusiastic Europeans to translate the lyrics of the hymn into latin, encompassing all main elements of the European unification process (“united in diversity”, justice, freedom…)! Discover it here.
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