Italy is a fascinating land with an ancient history, incredible cultural, artistic heritage and some of the world’s most outstanding architecture, food and vistas. From the ski slopes of Northern Italy to the Mediterranean beaches of the Southern coast, the diversity of Italy is a major draw for the 90 million tourists who visit each year.
As an Expat, or a tourist, there’s so much to do in Italy that it’s more than enough to keep you busy exploring for the rest of your life! However, some of the most interesting facts about Italy are little known, even to local Italians!
The following are the key facts:
Italy – ‘Calf Land’.
It might come as a surprise, but despite the long history of the people and culture, the actual country of Italy only came into being in 1861, making it one of the youngest countries in Europe!
Nonetheless, Italy derives its name from an ancient term for the Southern part of the country, ‘Italia’. The term ‘Italia’ is related to the word ‘Viteliu’, from an old native language of the region, called Oscan. ‘Viteliu’ literally means ‘land of young cattle’ or, more simply, ‘calf-land’, and refers to the fact the region was famous for its huge abundance of cattle; something which was important for the local food markets but also the country’s early trade exports.
In modern times, the Italian word ‘vitello’, also derives from the Oscan word ‘Viteliu’, and still means either ‘calf’ or ‘veal’, which is still a specialty in many parts of the country.
Thousands Of Soldiers From India Helped Liberate Italy
The liberation of Italy from the Fascists and the Nazis was done by armies from many different parts of the world. But very little is spoken or written about them. This includes the role played by the Indian Army. The Indian Army played a major part in not just liberating Italy but also other European nations including France. During World War II, the Indian Army was the largest voluntary army in the world.
They were then called the British Indian Army because India was still a British colony during WWII (During WWII, the Indian Army was significantly larger than the British Army itself). Close to 50,000 Indian soldiers were deployed in Italy. Italy has been very reluctant to acknowledge India’s contribution in liberating their country.
Italy’s Free Wine Fountain.
Italy is known the world over for it’s superb quality wine but did you know that there’s actually a free wine fountain that flows with local red wine, 24 hours a day! Known as the ‘fontana di vino’, it’s located in the tiny town of Caldari di Ortona, Abruzzo, in the ancient Dora Sarchese vineyard. The fountain is on the traditional Cammino di San Tommaso pilgrimage route but if you’re a wine lover and find yourself in Abruzzo, then it’s certainly worth a visit now it’s been opened to the public!
All Of The Active Volcanoes In Europe Are In Italy!
There are no active volcanoes in Europe except the 3 that still rumble on in Italy! The 3 active volcanoes in Italy are Mount Etna, Stromboli and Mount Vesuvius.
Mount Etna, on the island of Sicily, has been continuously active for as long as anyone can remember and last erupted in 2018, causing no significant damage. Stromboli, found in the Aeolian Islands, is also continuously active but hasn’t erupted in living memory. Mount Vesuvius, located near Naples, last erupted in 1944; but it also destroyed the famous city of Pompeii in the 1st Century AD after a huge eruption flattened the surrounding regions.
In 79 AD, Vesuvius erupted and buried the city of Pompeii under thick layers of dust, rock and ash; the ruins of which were not rediscovered until the 1700s! However, since then, Pompei has become a popular tourist attraction where people can contemplate the fragile nature of life while exploring the fascinating, if not somewhat macabre, ruins of the once thriving city.
Italy’s Incredible Longevity.
Italy is well known for its ‘Dolce Vita’, or ‘sweet life’, but it’s also home to a population that lives extremely long lives! The median age in the country is around 53 years, making it one of Europe’s oldest populations. Recent research found that there are nearly 15,000 people in Italy who are more than 100 years old!
Sardinia, in Southern Italy, is home to the greatest number of centenarians per capita, or people over 100 years old, with more than 10 times the number in the United States!
Scientists have long tried to discover the reason for the long life of Italians although the most probable explanation is a combination of a healthy, Mediterranean diet, plenty of time outside in the fresh air and the relaxed pace of life, particularly in the South of the country.
One Of The Youngest Countries In Europe.
While Italy has an extremely old population compared to most of the world it’s also one of the youngest countries in Europe; only officially coming into existence on March 17th, 1861. This occurred following the political movement known as the ‘Resurgence’ and saw the disparate countries of the Italian Peninsula joining together as one nation.
Italy Was A Dictatorship For 20 Years!
Italy has an ancient history which means it’s experienced many different forms of governance; however, one of the darkest chapters in the nation’s history was the Fascist rule of Mussolini, from 1922-1943.
Mussolini took over power from the constitutional monarchy in 1922 by using the growing trade union movement and a nationwide general strike to seize control. The fascist society that Mussolini oversaw was overtly an anti-Bolshevik movement but it rapidly descended into a cruel dictatorship; with Mussolini even siding with the German Nazis during the Second World War.
Within Italy, throughout Mussolini’s dictatorship, there was a strong Residence movement which often fought tough guerrilla battles in remote mountainous locations of the countries, with many captured members of the Italian Residence being sent to concentration camps across Europe.
In 1946, Italy finally declared it’s Liberation from the fascist rule and the country once more became a Republic. This is still celebrated by Liberation Day each year on 25th April which is a nationwide holiday that sees political parades and rallies in towns and cities across the country.
13 Out Of 38 Shakespeare Plays Are Set In Italy.
With so many of Shakespeare’s plays being set in Italy there has long been speculation that he must have visited the country during his lifetime. However, recent research seems to indicate that this was not the case.
Instead, it seems more likely that because Italian culture played a major role in the Elizabethan drama and literature, Shakespeare could have learned all about Italy and its traditions from written sources, without ever having visited the country himself.
However, that said, many of the people that Shakespeare would have been socializing with, in the elite classes, would certainly have visited Italy, including members of his own Globe Theater Troupe.
Most UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
UNESCO, or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, awards sites of special cultural and historical significance official World Heritage Site status.
Italy, a land of cultural wonders and art, has been awarded the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world, with a total of 58 as of 2021, just ahead of China with 56.
The majority of World Heritage Sites in Italy are centered around the Eternal City of Rome, Florence and the Amalfi Coast; all of which are tourist magnets and full of cultural and artistic treasures.
One Of The Most Visited Countries In The World.
It should come as no surprise that Italy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, ranking at number 5th. With more than 90 million tourists visiting each year the tourist industry is one of the country’s major earners; placing it 4th in the world in terms of annual tourist revenues.
There’s a huge diversity of sites, activities, art and museums to visit, excellent cuisine and a lovely climate, so it’s easy to see why Italy is such a magnet for international travellers and tourists.
Tomato Is New To Italy.
Pasta Was Eaten With Honey And Sugar Until The 16th Century!
If there’s one thing Italy is famous for around the world it’s pasta – the national dish! But it’s origins are shrouded in mystery; with some historians believing that it’s actually a descendent of noodles from China which were first brought to Italy when the great Italian explorer, Marco Polo returned in the 13th Century.
However, recent archaeological finds seem to suggest that pasta was eaten as early as the 4th Century BC after the finding of a pre-Roman tomb that seemed to show images of pasta making equipment in the frescoes on the wall.
Either way, in the early days, before the 16th Century, it was common for Italians to eat their pasta with honey and sugar! However, all this changed after the discovery of tomatoes in the 15th and 16th Centuries by explorers in the Americas.
Musical Notation Is Written In Italian.
Since around 1000 AD, when Guido of Arezzo first created the modern musical notation that is now ubiquitous worldwide, musical notation has always been written in Italian. The new musical notation style, including the staves and heads and stems for the notes, also incorporates Italian directions such as ‘forte’, meaning ‘loud’ and ‘piano’, meaning ‘quiet’. In fact, this is where the word ‘piano’ in English, or to give the instrument its full title, the ‘pianoforte’ gets its name from!
Over the following centuries other Italian and European musicians continued to work with Guido’s system of musical notations, adding new directions in Italian, as the system evolved. These musical notations told the musicians who played the music how they should approach the music and added a powerful depth to the system of notating music that has remained with us to the present day.
Italians Drink 14 Billion Espressos Each And Every Year!
Of course, Italy is practically synonymous with cafe culture and it plays a huge role in the social life of the nation. However, Italians don’t do things by halves, and it turns out that Italians drink as many as 14 billion Espressos each year! That’s an incredible achievement for a nation of just 60 million people.
Italian’s don’t only drink their coffee in cafes and bars, where more than 20,000 Italians work as baristas, but they also make their own coffee at home. Recent studies have shown that the average Italian household consumes more than 35 kilograms of coffee at home each year. So if you’re a coffee lover then you’ll be in your element in Italy!
The World’s Smallest Country Is In Italy.
The Vatican, the world’s smallest official country, or ‘city-state’, is located in the heart of the Italian capital city of Rome. The entire country of the Vatican covers only 44 hectares but it has its own police force, rules and manages to project a huge influence on geopolitics. Within the walls of the Vatican some of the most popular tourist attractions can be found, including, of course, St Peter’s Square itself and the Sistine Chapel, the roof of which was painted in 1512 by the legendary Renaissance artist, Michelangelo.
Italy – A Land Full Of Surprises.
Of course Italy’s well known heritage and tourist spots are must see locations however the country is also home to some unexpected histories, bizarre wine flowing fountains and remarkable facts and statistics.
It’s fun and entertaining to learn about the lesser known aspects of Italy but having a few surprising facts about the country up your sleeve is also the perfect conversation starter with your friends or family. So don’t let your search for unusual facts about Italy, and the world at large, end here; continue to fuel your curiosity and general knowledge by finding further facts about the amazing Italian people and nation.