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Boston's Little Italy: The North End

  National Geographic Today
For a full report on Boston's North End neighborhood, watch National Geographic Today on March 23, 24, and 25 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.


North End

The North End, Boston's Italian neighborhood, is known for its churches and
restaurants.

Photograph by Dave G. Houser/Corbis


Wheels of golden cheese, salted anchovies, and slices of salami tempt visitors to Boston, Massachusetts' Italian-flavored neighborhood, the North End.

"It's a little village in a big city...It's Italy every day here," says Michelle Topor, who gives walking food tours of the neighborhood. National Geographic Today visited the North End as part of its Great Neighborhoods series.

Just one square mile (2.5 square kilometers), Boston's North End is the "original" Boston—where a century before Italian immigrants flocked to the neighborhood, Paul Revere met with the Sons of Liberty in local taverns to plot the American Revolution.

From his North End home, which was built in 1667 (Boston's only 17th-century dwelling still on its original site today) Revere rowed across the bay to Charlestown to await the signal to begin his famous midnight ride to warn the colonists of advancing British troops.

Lanterns hung in the steeple of the Old North Church (another North End landmark) alerted Revere and two other riders as to how the British were approaching: "one if by land, and two if by sea," according to the Longfellow poem. The hanging of the lanterns is reenacted every year for Patriot's Day, celebrated on the third Monday in April.

Many of the North End's streets have maintained their originial 17th-century layouts. Today the narrow, winding streets add to the neighborhood's old-world feel.

Shortly after the American Revolution the North End fell out of favor with Boston's elite, and waves of immigrants began arriving; first Irish and Eastern Europeans in the early and mid-19th century, then in the 1870s, hoards of Italians, fleeing crushing poverty in their homeland.

Today the Italian influence on the neighborhood is unmistakable. The scent of garlic wafts through the air, and Italian restaurants, groceries, and bakeries line the streets.

The North End is in the midst of another metamorphosis: young professionals are drawn to the area for its selection of restaurants and proximity to the nearby financial district. But for now the Italian flavor of the North End remains strong, tempting visitiors with the echoing Italian command: mangia! mangia!

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  Great Neighborhoods
Great Neighborhoods is an ongoing series on National Geographic Today that spotlights America's colorful districts. Watch the broadcast on the National Geographic Channel for more great neighborhoods.

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