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About Italy and our history

Italian History ~ Brief Overview

1. Italy is one of Western Europe's youngest countries

Italy's only been a country since 1861. Yet it has one of Europe's longest histories.

In Roman times Italy was a single entity. Then it divided. And stayed a collection of sovereign states until 1861.

Hence today's countrywide cultural variations.

2. Rome is over 2,000 years old

Rome was founded in 753 BC.

The Roman Empire was born in 27 BC. And it ruled Europe and parts of North Africa up to 395 AD. Then Italy divided into separate states until 1861.

Italy's national day is 2 June. It's called Festa della Repubblica.

3. The country was under a dictatorship for 20 years

Benito Mussolini ruled Italy from 1925 to 1945. Making the country a dictatorship.

Mussolini was known as Il Duce. But he wasn't always a fascist. He began as a radical socialist. And served as Italian PM until 1922.

He aligned Italy with Germany in WWII. In 1945 he was executed by partisan troops.

4. Italy's last king ruled for just 36 days

Italy was a dictatorship until 1945. Yet it had a royal family until 1946.

After WWII the country voted to become a republic. So King Umberto II ruled from 9 May to 12 June 1946.

He's known as "the May King". And ended his days exiled in Portugal.

5. Italy's flag is green, white and red

Italy's flag represents hope, faith and charity. Green is hope. White denotes faith. And red is the colour of charity.

It was inspired by the French flag. And is often called Il Tricolore.

Tricolour Day is 7 January. And it's celebrated on Reggio Emilia. The 1797 spot where the flag was first adopted.

Interesting facts about Italy and culture

6. Tourists throw €1,000,000 into the Trevi Fountain each year

Toss a coin into the Trevi and you'll return to Rome. That's the legend.

And tourists toss €1,000,000 in every year. That's about €3,000 a day.

Happily, the money's donated to charity.

7. 13 of Shakespeare's 38 plays are set in Italy

Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona. You can even visit "Juliet's balcony".

Julius Caesar takes place in Rome. Othello and The Merchant of Venice are set in Venice.

And Much Ado About Nothing is based in Messina.

Shakespeare is surprisingly accurate on Italy. Since there's no proof he ever visited.

8. Pinocchio was first published in an Italian newspaper

Carlo Collodi wrote Pinocchio in 1880. It was then serialized in Gioniale per i Bambini.

9. Italy has more World Heritage sites than any other country

Italy has 55 world heritage sites. They cover the entire country. And range from Mount Etna to the Colosseum. 

Want to visit Italy's World Heritage sites? But prefer to leave planning and booking to experts? Have a look at some sample itineraries. Both Complete Italy or Italy Itineraries offer inspiration. All Tailor Made Trips can be modified together with your local expert, then booked for a stress-free holiday. Click 'Modify this itinerary' to contact a local Italy expert.

10. The Sistine Chapel welcomes over 20,000 visitors every day

Michelangelo completed the Sistine ceiling in 1512. Today the Sistine Chapel is one of the world's most visited monuments.

It's also the official residence of the pope. And it's the site of the Papal Conclave: the process for selecting new popes.

Facts about Italy and geography

11. Italy is home to Europe’s only three active volcanoes

Mount Etna on Sicily last erupted in 2021. This is the 50th eruption recorded.

But plumes of steam regularly flow out of Etna. You see them best from Catania. You can also trek to the volcano's summit.

Mount Stromboli also active. It's on a small island near Sicily. Plan to visit? Check current activity first. And always go with experienced guides.

Vesuvius in Naples has been dormant since 1944. Visit nearby Pompei to see the effects of its 76AD eruption. 

12. The Vatican City is the world's smallest country

The Vatican City in Rome covers just 1000 acres. It became a sovereign nation in 1929. And the Pope is head of state.

It is an 1/8 of the size of Central Park. Yet Vatican City is packed with monuments. St Peter's Basilica is here. And it's home to the Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican's economy is mainly fueled by donations.

13. Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world

Almost 65 million people visit Italy each year. Most head to Rome, Florence, and Venice.

So you can still find uncrowded places like Castelmezzano in Basilicata, or to Camogli in Liguria.

14. Italy has over 1500 lakes

Italy is covered in lakes. Not just icons like Lake Garda or Lake Como. But lesser known beauties too.

There are lakes to hike round. You'll find ones for boat trips. And a few are wild swimming legends.

15. Italy's highest mountain is Mont Blanc

Italy shares Mont Blanc with France. It's called Monte Bianco in Italian. Rises 4,808 meters above sea level. And it's the country's highest mountain. It's also the highest mountain in the Alps.

Interesting facts about Italy on the science front

16. Italy has the oldest population in Europe

The average age in Italy is 45.7 years. This is Europe's oldest population. In world terms only Japan's population is older.

Estimates show Italy's average age will be 54 years by 2050. And low birth rate plus longevity are given as main reasons.

Sardinia is one of the world's five Blue Zones. Places where residents live the longest.

17. Santorio Santorio designed the world's first thermometer

Italian Santorio Santorio invented the thermometer in 1612. It was first to show an exact temperature against a scale.

Galileo had previously worked on a thermoscope. This showed changes in temperature. But it didn't measure degrees of change.

18. Batteries were invented in Italy

Alessandro Volta created the first battery in 1799. Volts are named after him.

19. Christopher Columbus was Italian

Columbus sailed under the Spanish flag. But he was actually Italian. And born in Genoa in 1451.

Genoa is Europe's largest medieval town.

20. The first ever bank started in Italy

The Bank of San Giorgio was a world first. It opened in Genoa in 1149.

21. Italians invented eyeglasses

Italians invented corrective glasses. They were first made in the 13th century. And used mainly by monks.

Ancient Romans had used magnifying glass. But medieval Italian glasses were first to be worn.

Fun facts about Italy and eating

22. Pizza was invented in Naples

Pizza gets a mention as early as 10AD. But modern pizza was born in the 1700s. And it comes from Naples.

23. Italians ate pasta as far back as 4BC

Pasta dates back to 4BC in Italy. Pre-Roman wall paintings depict early pasta-making equipment.

24. Fourteen billion espressos are consumed in Italy each year

Over 20,000 Italians work as baristas. Household coffee consumption is 37 kg a year.

You can order espresso any time in Italy. But don't order Cappuccino after 11am. It's an unspoken rule.

25. Italy is the world's largest wine producer

Italy produces about 54,800 hectolitres of wine a year. France produces 49,000 hectolitres.

Italy's also the world's largest wine exporter. Most exports go to Germany, US and UK.

26. It's bad luck to place bread upside down on the table

Italians think it's bad luck to place bread upside down. Historians claim it's a medieval superstition. As bread given to town executioners was placed upside down.

27. Native Grapes of Italy

According to Ian D’Agata’s comprehensive Native Wine Grapes of Italy, the country cultivates roughly 2,000 native grape varieties. Although just under 400 are used to make wine in commercially significant volume, that number totals more native grape varieties than France, Spain and Greece combined.

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