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Interesting Facts about Italy

(Last Updated On: 20/02/2020)
facts about italy

Just for fun, here are some interesting facts about Italy that we find most intriguing. It’s difficult for a single article to make more than a scratch on the surface of the deep layers of a vibrant culture that spring from this nation. Apart from being interesting in their own right, this stuff might even come in handy as inspiration for your exploration of Italy. 

Facts about Italy 

Introduction

As the hub of the Roman Empire and the site of even earlier Mediterranean cultures, Italy’s early history is known throughout the world as the primary source of western civilisation today. Much of the English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and of course Italian languages spring from the ancient Italian language of Latin. Much of today’s western and international laws also spring from those of the Romans.  

The roots of western Architecture and Design have their origins in Italy, whether from the Italian Renaissance of the fourteenth-seventeenth centuries or from the super-cool stylishness of Milan in the twentieth century. The Italian Renaissance also led the emergence of western civilisation from Europe’s three centuries of barbarism known as the Dark Ages. Apart from its artistic influence, this Italian initiative set the foundations for modern banking, capitalism, international diplomacy and hence even globalisation. And the modern worldwide love of fast food is partly rooted in Italian Pizza and Pasta.  

The shape of this country with its vast peninsula projecting halfway across the Mediterranean is immediately reminiscent of a boot kicking the triangular football of Sicily. But what we call Italy today was unified from independent states and principalities only in the late nineteenth century.   

Facts about Italy’s history

Amphitheatres

Very different from the semicircular theatres of the Ancient Greeks which were designed for cultural performances, Roman Amphitetres were circular or elliptical and designed for staged fights to the death between slaves for the entertainment of the free population of the empire. Not only enslaved men were made to fight each other, but wild animals were also imported from Africa for these brutal spectacles. These amphitheatres were common across the majority of the Roman empire, the most famous being the Colosseum in Rome, but they also existed as far away as Chester in the UK.

Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius.

The city of Pompeii was destroyed and buried meters deep in hot ash during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD. It was not until 1748 that the town was discovered as the ash and lava was excavated. 

Much of the city was preserved by the debris from the volcano. This included 2,600 bodies of the city residents overtaken by the ash and preserved not frozen in time but cremated. The city is listed by UNESCO, and visitors are allowed to dig there in some zones to discover new buried relics. 

Italian Unification

1861 is generally regarded as the date of the unification of Italy from its constituent independent states, although Rome and Venice were not yet incorporated until decades later. Italian South Tyrol in the Alps was part of Austro-Hungary and later Austria until as late as 1919 with the last minor border change in 1947.  

Nations within Nations

You could argue that Italy is not completely unified even now since it is the only country in the world to surround not one but two other independent nation states. The Vatican City in Rome and San Marino count as two of the world’s three enclaved nations, The only other being Lesotho, which is entirely surrounded by South Africa.

Fascism 

Benito Mussolini was supported by the Italian monarchy in 1922 after the Great War, to assist with restoring government in difficult times – but once in power he soon established himself as a despotic totalitarian leader supported by the ruthless secret police. By the end of the Second World War, he was so unpopular that he was not only executed by firing squad, but his body was hung upside down in Milan to be spit at and stoned by the Italian public.

Italian Facts

Official name and official language and population

The official name of Italy is the Italian Republic. And the official language is Italian, but other languages. The population of Italy is 60 million.

Italian Regions

Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni, singular regione), of which five – Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige, Aosta Valley and Friuli-Venezia Giulia have special autonomous status and a greater degree of independence 

Italian Flag

Also known as l Tricolore in Italian, the national flag is composed of three vertical stripes of equal width, red near the pole, white in the middle and green at the end. The three colours are symbolic: Green symbolises hope, White – faith, and Red – love or charity.

italy flag

The current form of the flag dates back to 18th June 1946, and its adoption as the national flag was on 1st January 1948. From then on, the flag has been celebrated annually on 7th January. 

The Italian and Mexican flags are broadly similar, however, apart from the coat of arms in the middle of the white stripe of the Mexican flag, there are also differences in the shade of green and the proportions of the flags’ rectangular shapes.  

Facts about Italian Geography 

The Boot

Italy is easy to recognise on any world map, as the country is shaped like a high-heeled boot, as you can see on the map above. It looks like the boot is kicking a ball, which is the island of Sicily, don’t you think?

Italian Islands

Italy has over 450 islands, large and small. The biggest is Sicily, which is also the biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea.

The World’s Smallest Nation 

Rome’s Vatican City is the smallest among the countries in the world. The Pope is the leader of the Vatican City. 

Hilly or Mountainous

About four-fifths of the Italian landmass is either hilly or mountainous. The highest mountain peak is Mont Blanc (4807 m). Italian Alps have perfect ski slopes which you can enjoy in winter. We love San Martino

Rivers 

The longest river is Po River at 652 km

Volcanoes

All of Europe’s active volcanoes except those in Iceland are found in Italy. Italy has three active volcanoes: Vesuvius, Stromboli, and Etna. Etna, which is located on Sicily, is the most active volcano in Europe.

Lakes

Italy has more than 1,500 lakes with the largest ones in the north. The biggest lake is lake Garda, followed by Maggiore and Como.

Italian cities

The biggest city in the country is Rome – the capital city with 2.9 million people. The second biggest city is Milan, followed by Naples and Turin. We loved Venice

Greek flag

Do you want to learn more about Greece – Read Interesting facts about Greece

Fact about Tourism in Italy and Famous Sites

One of the Most Visited Countries

Italy receives between 40-50 million visitors from foreign countries annually, making it the world fifth most popular tourist destination

Italy has the highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Italy has 55 UNESCO world heritage sites ranking it at the head of the world, beating both China and India.

Fountain of Luck

According to legends, when one tosses a coin into the Trevi Fountain, you are bound to return to Rome sooner or later. Nowadays, tossing the coins is common among tourists, but the main people who started it are the Italians. All the collections made at the end of the day are distributed to charity. 

Home to the world’s most popular Pieces of art

Some of the world’s best pieces of art created by the Italian artists are found in Italy and available for viewing by visitors. For example, the marvelous Sistine Chapel ceiling art is a masterpiece of Michelangelo. The incredible David statue in Florence City. However, don’t look for Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in Italy, for that you will have to go to Paris.

Home to Great art Museums  

If you are an art expert, Italy is the place to be. There are great art museums with fascinating pieces of art that will intrigue you. Some of these museums include Turin’s Museo Egizio, Rome’s Borghese Gallery & Museum, Vatican Museums, and Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia. 

Famous Italians 

Galileo Galilei

Galileo was an Italian astronomer and physicist from Pisa who got into trouble with the church for agreeing with the Polish astronomer Copernicus that the earth revolves around the sun and not vice versa. This heresy accounted for him spending most of his last decade in house arrest. At Museo Galileo in Florence, you can view his preserved middle finger.

Santorio Santorio

Have you ever wondered who invented the thermometer? Not me – I always took it for granted. But it was an Italian Santorio who in 1612 created an instrument which could show temperature against a scale

Alessandro Volta

Italian scientist Alessandro Volta invented the first battery in 1800. The volt – the unit of electrical potential – is named after him.

Christopher Columbus

Even though we know that Columbus discovered America while travelling on a Spanish ship, he was an Italian born in Genoa in 1451

Guglielmo Marconi

Marconi invented the Radio in 1895, or maybe he didn’t – as we learnt from the movie “The Bucket List” it was also invented pretty much the same time and maybe a little earlier by Nikola Tesla.

Italy is a source of world-renowned artists

Italy has been the source of world-renowned artists throughout history, and especially during the Renaissance. Some names include Botticelli, Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo Da Vinci, among others. 

Italy is a source of great film stars

Many famous stars that are very popular and influential come from Italy. They include both from modern as well as classic cinema. Some of the common names you may recognise include, Monica Bellucci, Robert Benigni, Isabella Rossellini, and Sophia Loren. 

Facts about Italian Culture

Mammismo

Family is so important to Italians that most men in Italy falling in the range of 24 to 35 years are found to be living with their mothers. But think about it: If you could wake every day to an Italian mother’s home cooking, who wouldn’t stay?

This trend is very common in Italy, and the effect is to raise the average marriage age of men. It is associated with men marrying at an older age. The Catholic Church in Italy believes this “mammismo” is a major risk to men marrying in the country.  

Respect for Elders

Italians respect their elders; they always stand when an older person enters the room.

Fashion

Fashion is important in Italy. Italy is home to the most famous fashion designers like Valentino, Gucci, Armani, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, and Versace.

Leather

Italy ranks among the famous countries in the world in terms of leather crafts and production. The leather produced in Italy and especially Florence ranks as superior in quality due to the tradition of leather treatment that has been developed over many centuries

The Oldest University in Europe

Bologna has the oldest University in Europe – founded in the early second century. Since then, it has been operating continuously, making it the world’s oldest University. 

Among the world’s ten oldest universities, Italy houses four of them. The others are Siena (1240), Naples (1224), and Padua (1222) universities. 

Ballet

Popular ballet has its origin in Italy in the fifteenth century before its introduction to France by Catherine de Medici of the infamous Florentine family. 

Danger! Hunters.

Poveglia Island in Italy is claimed to be hunted to such an extent that access by the public is banned. 

Facts about Animals in Italy 

Cats’ Rights in Italy

Cats are so adored by the Romans that they are categorised as bio-cultural heritage. For this reason, if you kill a cat whether a stray or owned, you attract a fine of €10,000 or even a maximum of 3 years imprisonment. As per the estimate, Rome houses about 300, 000 cats. They are the only residents who are allowed to tour the ruins at their pleasure freely. 

For instance, an Italian Cat in 2011 inherited above 10 million Euros after the owner who was 94 years old passed away. This inheritance made the cat the world’s third richest animal. However, even in Italy, cats cannot inherit properties or money directly. There is a Trustee who is left in charge of taking care of the animal. We’ve seen the Aristocats, and we know that trustees are not always trustworthy, but that was in Paris, right?

Gold Fish rights in Italy 

Goldfish also have rights – at least in Rome where they have the right not to live in round bowls following the ‘Fish Empathy Project.’

Truffle dogs

As we have always heard truffles are hunted by female pigs because the truffles remind them of some piggy male sex hormone. The trouble is that the truffle sows don’t stop there, having found them they like to eat them too. Truffles can bring thousands of euro per kg but only if not pre-eaten by a pig. So truffle hunting humans are turning to the sniffing-out skills of the Italian truffling dog : ‘Lagotto Romagnolo’.

Are Italians Superstitious? – yes they are 

The Italians are said to be one of the world’s most superstitious peoples. Here are some of their quirks.

  • 17th Floor: Don’t freak out when you find out the hotel you’re staying in Italy lacks the 17th floor. According to Italians, seventeen is an unlucky number that no one wants to be associated with it including businesses. This is because the rearrangement of seventeen in roman numbers 17 (XVII) looks like (VIXI), meaning “I have lived”. According to Italians, this use of the past tense to refer to life implies death
  • Broomsticks: According to Italians, when someone brushes your feet with a broom, they believe you will never get married. This affects both genders.
  • Lucky number – you may feel terrified by the number 17 in Italy by now, but don’t worry, 13 is here to make things better. There were 13 at the Last Supper of Christ and so 13 is unlucky everywhere else in Christendom, but in this most religious and superstitious Christian nation, 13 here is a lucky number!
  • Cat’s Sneezes When you hear the cat sneezing, you will get good fortune.
  • Top of the Loaf – Unless you want to affront Christ Jesus, always place the loaf of bread facing up. 
  • Malocchio If you want to check for an evil eye take a bowl with water then drop in olive oil. You can also carry a chilli pepper.
  • Touch Metal Alongside your chilli pepper you may like to carry a nail. Many Italians do. While the rest of us touch wood for good luck, in Italy you should touch metal, and even keep a bit with you for those urgent moments.

Facts about Italian Food

Apart from Tomatoes – Cheese is central in Italian dishes

For many Italian dishes, cheese is a central ingredient. Some Italian cheeses include Pecorino, Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Bocconcini and Ricotta

Italian Gelato

Gelato is the treasured ice cream in Italy. And do you know why? It’s because gelato comes from fresh, natural ingredients. Surprisingly gelato is not made from cream but from milk and contains less fat, fewer calories and less sugar than other ice creams.

Free wine fountain

In the Abruzzo region, there is an actual free wine fountain that operates 24hours. The fountain is a local winery creation. It’s definitely a must-visit place if you are in the area. 

No European Country beats Italians in Pasta Consumption

Do you like pasta? This is the last question you should think of asking an Italian resident. Italians eat more pasta than in Europe. The average Italian takes up to 25kg of pasta annually. More than the 20kg you can take on an average economy flight. 

Italians did not invent pasta

As much as the Italians are leading Europe when it comes to pasta consumption, they didn’t invent it. There are stories that Marco Polo developed a taste for noodles on his trips to China, but pasta actually came into the country in the 13th century through Arab merchants. Traditionally, pasta was prepared using sugar and honey. But currently, there are countless recipes for preparing pasta. 

The pizza was invented in Naples, Italy

Pizza invention was in 1889 by Raffael Esposito in Naples. He is the founder of the mouth-watering “Pizza Margherita” the pizza portrayed the colours of the Italian flag in honour of the queen consort Margherita of Savoy. The colours red, green and white are from tomato, basil, and cheese. 

Love of Herbs

It used to be said in Britain that working people should not have baths in their houses for they would only use them to keep coal. The equivalent urban myth for Italy was that the working classes would grow basil in theirs. Whether this story is true or not Marjoram, Oregano and Basil are all redolent of the flavour of Italy.

Festival of “Eat Italian Food Day”

13th February is a nationally recognised day where Italians celebrate the various kinds of native foods. So remember to mark your calendar in case you want to experience this exciting Italian holiday. 

Coffee

Whilst the Italians developed the espresso process, which is the basis of every coffee drunk in the world’s famous chains from Starbucks to Costa and back again. They aren’t the world’s top coffee drinkers. In fact, they don’t come close!

Even though the Italians consume Fourteen billion espressos and the average household consumes 37kg of coffee per annum, they are only 13th place in the world in per capita consumption.  

The Finns consume more than twice as much, and the other Scandinavian countries are not far behind. Check how much coffee other countries are drinking.

But we think Italian coffee is about the tastiest and cheapest in Europe, in Puglia on average we paid 1 euro for an espresso.

Espresso Coffee

Perhaps the most famous Italian invention is connected with a whole line of Italian names. In 1884, the first espresso machine patent was taken by Angelo Moriondo from Turin. This was a bulk brewer and used compressed steam, not water. The process was refined successively by his compatriots. In 1901, Luigi Bezzera, from Milan, patented the “Tipo Gigante”. Then Desiderio Pavoni bought Bezzera’s patent and with “La Pavoni” company brought the commercial brewing of espresso coffee, to the United States, but it was not until 1938 that two other Italians, Achille Gaggia and Antonio Cremonesi forced hot water rather than steam through roasted ground coffee to make today’s espresso. The first commercial sale of this second generation espresso was at Achille Gaggia’s coffee bar in Milan. 

Italian wine

Italy is the world’s largest wine producer! Italy makes over 19% of world production and is the largest wine exporter. In Italian supermarkets, you can buy wine in 1litre cartons like milk, or in – 200 ml cartons (as in other places you buy juice for kids) and in 5 litre plastic bottles – and we were delighted to discover this is a great wine. Italians love wine, and we love Italian wine too!

Interesting Facts about Italy – Conclusion

Whatever you have read here, we think that Italy has endless depth and interest. It’s a great place to visit in winter for skiing, in summer to enjoy the beach and off-season to see all the interesting sites. 

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Ania James

photographer, traveller, mother of twin girls, wife, worldschooler, rulebreaker

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