The actual origin of the tarot is unclear to say the least. It has been lost in the fog and legends of distant past. As in all issues where solid facts are scarce there are many views and much debate.
Originally it was a card game for the elite and eccentric. Lavishly hand painted cards were designed to be used in the courts of kings and nobles. Carte Da Trionfi or the Cards of Triumphs as they were known was the deck of choice. The introduction of the game seems to date back to the second half of the thirteenth century. It is still debated as to what the actual origin of the game was yet most believe it to be Arab.
The first complete deck (at least believed by some) is the Italian Vis-Contideck dating back to the 1400s. It is thought that the deck was created after the wedding of Philip and Mary Maria of Savoy, daughter of Amadeus VIII. The intricacy of each card is exquisite and hard to believe that they retained themselves after so many years. This deck has been reproduced somewhat and can still be obtained in replication.
After some time, thought to be in the early 1500, the cards began to be known as tarochhi or tarock and later tarot. The standard deck numbers seventy eight. There are four standard suits with 14 representations in each suit. Much like the standard card deck of club, spades, hearts, and diamonds, the tarot deck is made up of wands/staves, cups, swords, and pentacles/coins. This is known as the minor arcana. Twenty two trump cards make up the major arcana. Examples of these cards are the fool, the world, strength, the sun, the lovers, and so on. The card game of triumphs is still played in Europe to this day yet it seems that we Americans tend to lean more to the use of the tarot for divination.
The deck which I prefer most is neither of the ones mentioned above. I will be honest and say that I have a few decks in my possession. I have always been one who enjoys the different interpretation that each new deck seems to offer. There are those decks that honestly do nothing for me yet there are those who swear by their use and gift which they give. Likewise I am sure that some of the decks I enjoy are equally viewed the same.