We have finally arrived at our next adventure! Italy!
Italy is a large and complex destination and you can’t hope to savor it all in one visit. Experiencing and appreciating the country properly, in all its aspects, arguably would take a lifetime. While being confined to our hotel room for 14 days (having to quarantine because of travel) may not be ideal, it gives me an enormous opportunity to research this beautiful country that we will live in. Join me in a brief exploration of the culture, history, and some fun facts of Italy while we wait until it is safe to explore the country in person. [People wish to visit Italy at least once in their lifetime, many never getting the chance, and now we’re given three years. I plan to dive in as soon as I can!]
Benvenuto in Italia!!
Italy is a boot-shaped peninsula that juts out of southern Europe into the Adriatic Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and other waters. Its location has played an important role in its history. The sea surrounds Italy, and mountains crisscross the interior, dividing it into regions. The Alps cut across the top of the country and are streaked with long, thin glacial lakes. From the western end of the Alps, the Apennines mountains stretch south down the entire peninsula. West of the Apennines are wooded hills that are home to many of Italy’s historic cities, including Rome. In the south are hot, dry coastlands and fertile plains where olives, almonds, and figs are grown.
People & Culture
Since the rise of the Roman Empire, Italian art, architecture, and culture have had an influence around the world. Famed Italian painters include Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Italy is also at the heart of the Catholic Church, which is governed from Vatican City, a city-state surrounded by Rome. The family is at the center of Italian society. Italians love their food, which is usually prepared freshly by ‘la mama‘, the mother, or the nonna, the grandmother. There are still many big families including grandparents, parents and children in the household. In the afternoon or evening it is common to meet up with family and friends on the piazza. The piazza is the main square of the village or town. Young people often live at home until they are in their 30s, even if they have a job. When parents retire, they often go to live with their children. Italians lead a modern lifestyle especially in the urban centers but they also celebrate century-old cultural traditions. A famous festival that’s celebrated annually is the Carnivale, before Lent. In Venice, these are said to originate in the 12th century. And of course, Italians love soccer! The admittedly quite brutal Calcio storico match is still played and celebrated in Florence once a year. Calcio means soccer in Italian. Soccer, skiing, cycling, surfing or motor racing are just some of the other sports Italians have very strong interest in.
For 22 centuries, Italians and their ancestors have cleared fields, grazed livestock, and hunted wild animals. Forests that once covered large areas are gone. But the country’s remote places and many national parks still have wilderness largely untouched by humans. The lower slopes of Italy’s Alps are covered with forests. Above these woodlands are meadows that explode with specially adapted wildflowers in the spring. Throughout Italy, millions of birds stop to rest during their annual migration to Africa.
Government & Economy
In Italy, politics can often be exciting and noisy. Crowds gather in the streets to protest government policies or to show support for their party. Since World War II, Italy has enjoyed an economic transformation. Industry grew, and by the mid-1960s, Italy had become one of the world’s leading economies. Its main exports are clothing, shoes, food, and wine.
- It’s proper name Repubblica Italiana (Italian Republic); Nickname: “Bel Paese” which means beautiful country.
- Italy has a free wine fountain!
- Italy is the 5th most visited country in the world.
- All three of Europe’s active volcanoes are in Italy!
- Italians invented pizza in Napoli (Naples).
- Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world.
- The parliament consists of two houses, the Senate (315 seats) and the Chamber of Deputies (630 seats); both sit for five-year terms of office. The country has an elected president, but real power lies with the prime minister, who is generally the leader of the party with the biggest majority in the Chamber of Deputies.
- Italians have eaten pasta since the 4th century B.C.
- There are over 1,500 lakes in Italy.
- Italians consume 14 billion espressos each year!
- One-fifth of Italy is covered in hills and mountains.
- Italy is the world’s largest wine producer.
- Italy has a low birth rate and the oldest population in Europe.
- Tourists throw €3,000 into the Trevi fountain EVERY DAY!
- Rome is over 2,000 years old – but Italy is one of Europe’s youngest countries!
- The Italians have over 2,500 types of cheese!
- The Italian Government is a Democratic Republic.
- Brown bears are a protected species in Italy, as there are only a few bears left in the wild now.
- Italy is subdivided in 20 regions, like Tuscany (around Florence), Veneto (around Venice) and Lazio (around Rome).
- Italy is easy to recognize on any world map, as the country is shaped like a high-heeled boot.
- The colors of the Italian Flag represent three virtues: hope (green), faith (white), and charity (red).
- The Italian main dishes contain: pork and beef, seafood and potatoes, rice and pasta (wheat and egg noodles) products.
- The currency is the Euro. Prior to 2001 it was the Italian Lira.
- Religion is predominantly Christian (Roman Catholics 90%).
- More than 98% of Italian’s can read and write.
- 13 of Shakespeare’s 38 plays are set in Italy.
- The Vatican City, in Rome, is the smallest country in the world.
- Batteries were invented in Italy.
- Italians invented eyeglasses.
- Italians eat salad after the main meal.
- Italy’s last king ruled for just 36 days.
- The country was under a dictatorship for 20 years.
- Italian dialects are drastically different from one another.
- Italian is the main language as well as German, French and Ladin in some regions in Northern Italy.
- Italy’s largest island is Sicily. This island is also the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.
- The biggest city of the country is Rome with 2.9 million people.
- Italians start their day in a bar (not a place that serves alcohol, but what Americans refer to as a cafè or coffee shop) or in their home for breakfast, which consists of a coffee and some sort of pastry.
Italy’s location on the Mediterranean linked it with the trade routes of the ancient civilizations that developed in the region. With the city of Rome’s rise to power, the Italian peninsula became the center of a huge empire that lasted for centuries. Italy’s first societies emerged around 1200 B.C. Around 800 B.C. Greeks settled in the south and Etruscans arose in central Italy. By the sixth century B.C., the Etruscans had created a group of states called Etruria. Meanwhile, Latin and Sabine people south of Etruria merged to form a strong city-state called Rome. Etruscan kings ruled Rome for nearly a hundred years. But Romans tossed out the Etruscans in 510 B.C. and went on to conquer the whole peninsula. They then set out to build a vast empire. At its greatest extent, in A.D. 117, the Roman Empire stretched from Portugal to Syria to Britain to North Africa. The first sole emperor of Rome, Octavian, took power in 27 B.C. and took the name Augustus Caesar. For more than 400 years, the empire flourished. But by the fourth century A.D., it was in decline. In 395, the empire was split in two, and in 476, Germanic tribes from the north toppled the last emperor. In the 12th century, Italian city-states began to rise again and grow rich on trade. But Italy remained a patchwork of territories, some of which were controlled by foreign dynasties. Beginning in 1859, an uprising forced the foreigners out, and in 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed. In 1914, Italy took the side of the United Kingdom and the U.S. in World War I, but was left in poverty at war’s end. Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party rose to power promising to restore the Roman Empire. He ruled as a dictator and entered World War II on the side of Germany and Japan. He was later captured and executed.[source: National Geographic Kids]
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!