Italy is a beautiful country; rich in culture and the holiday destination of choice for many. Over 50 million of tourists visit the country every year to soak up the breath-taking scenery, indulge in the cuisine and taste the everlasting supply of quality vino.
Italy, famous for its boot-like appearance on maps, has an extensive history dating back thousands of years. Globally recognised landmarks such as The Colosseum, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the snow-capped Alps, sandy beaches and a plethora of intricately designed cathedrals, known as duomos, are what draws the tourists each year. If you are planning to stay in one of our luxury villas in Italy this summer, we have put together ten interesting and quirky facts about the country for you to read about before you go.
1. The name Italy is believed to have come from the word ‘Italia’ which means ‘calf land’ or ‘land of the cattle’ as a bull was the symbol of Southern Italy tribes. Others believe it comes from the name ‘Italus’ an early king of the region. The official name, however, is the Italian Republic.
2. If you didn’t already know, Italians take their food VERY seriously. When a McDonalds opened in 1986 in Rome, locals handed out spaghetti to remind the citizens of their culinary heritage. The Italians also claim to have taught the rest of Europe how to cook, and are responsible for introducing ice cream to Europe. Along with Belgium and France, they take credit for French fries. The first Italian cookbook was written by Bartolomeo Sicci in 1472.
3. Parmesan cheese originated from the region surrounding Parma in northern Italy, but the Italians were also the brains behind many other kinds of cheese. Mozzarella, ricotta, gorgonzola and provolone are just some of them. And though pizza is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Italian food, there has been several debates about where exactly it came from. The people of Naples are the ones who lay the most claim to pizza’s origin.
4. Italy is believed to have more masterpieces in terms of art, than any other country in the world. This is another attraction for tourists, as there are many tours, museums and galleries where you can see the art, sculpture and architecture on offer. In addition to the galleries and museums, many of the cathedrals also house paintings, murals and sculptures.
5. Italy also contains two independent states within its own borders: San Marino and Vatican City. San Marino has fewer than 30,000 Sammarinese inhabitants and is the world’s oldest republic, established in 301 A.D. The Vatican City has its own phone company, radio and TV stations, money, stamps and army. It is also the only nation in the world that can lock its gates at night.
6. The Italian flag was influenced, in part, by the French flag and has since evolved over several hundred years. The flag consists of three equal, vertical sections of green, white and red to represent hope, faith, and charity. However, there are various interpretations of the flag, depending on your heritage. Some argue that the green is a reflection of the landscape, the white represents the snowy caps of The Alps, and the red represents the blood shed in the battle for independence.
7. Another ‘world first’ for Italy is opera, with the first shows being composed in the country at the end of the sixteenth century. The phenomenon reached its height of popularity in the nineteenth century when works of Gioacchino Rossini, Giacomo Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi were all hugely famous. Italian native Claudio Monteverdi is regarded as the father of the modern opera, and it remains largely associated with Italy and the range of grand theatres at which you can watch a show.
8. Much of Italy is covered by mountains and hills; the Dolomites extend across the north are part of the Alps. The country also stands on a fault and as such has many earthquakes every year, as well as volcanoes, the most notable being Vesuvius near Pompeii, Etna in Sicily and Stromboli which is on the island of the same name, off the north coast of Italy. Stromboli has been in almost continuous eruption for 2,000 years.
9. Christmas is the biggest holiday in Italy, and it is worth visiting the country during this time too, in addition to the warm summer months. The season lasts much longer too, as the season is celebrated over several weeks from early December to 6th January. The whole country takes on a festive feel, with markets, trees, stunning decorations and ‘presepis’ or nativity scenes are put up in churches, piazzas and around the streets.
10. The pre-dinner ‘passeggiata’ is one of the most traditional and enduring leisure activities in the country. Before their evening meal, Italians stroll the street as a family, or with their friends, to see and be seen by the neighbourhood. We definitely recommend trying a passeggiata when you dine out on your holiday, to join in with the tradition. If nothing else, it will build up your appetite for a hearty Italian dinner!