Italy is one of the most visited countries in Europe, with a fascinating history, rich culture and delectable cuisine. There's plenty to love, from the vibrant capital of Rome to canal-laced Venice and sun-baked Calabria. But how much do you actually know about Italy? Know how old the country really is? Any idea what Italy actually means or who Carlo Collodi is? No? Then you'd better read these interesting facts about Italy to get clued up before you go.
Did you know how old Italy is as a country? Italy has only been a country since 1861, when the separate nation-states unified together as the Kingdom of Italy. This might seem strange given Italy has one of the longest and most colourful histories in Europe – and even the world. Though Italy became a single political entity in Roman times, it divided again shortly after. Up until 1861, Italy remained a collection of smaller sovereign states, which accounts for cultural variations across the country today.
Rome was founded in 753 BC. The Roman Empire, named after the city where it began started in 27 BC, and ruled over much of Europe and parts of North Africa until 395 AD. After this Italy was divided into many separate states, until it was unified in 1861. Italy's national day is called the Festa della Repubblica. The founding of the republic is celebrated every year on the 2nd of June.
The fascist dictator Benito Mussolini ruled over Italy from 1925 until 1945. Before assuming control of the country he served as prime minister for three years, from 1922. Known as Il Duce (which means the leader), Mussolini started out as a radical socialist but aligned himself with Adolf Hitler in the lead up to World War II. He was killed in 1945 by partisan troops.
On to a related Italy fun fact: even though it was ruled by a dictator until 1945, Italy had a royal family until 1946. In the wake of the Second World War, the citizens voted to abolish the idea of a ruling monarchy in favour of a republic. King Umberto II ruled from 9 May 1946 to 12 June 1946. He was cheekily nicknamed "the May King", and spent the rest of his days living in exile on the Portuguese Riviera.
The colours of the Italian flag represent hope (green), faith (white) and charity (red). Another interesting fact about Italy: the flag was inspired by the French flag of similar design. In Italian, it is frequently referred to as "il Tricolore", and there's even a Tricolour Day (or Flag Day) on 7 January. Celebrations are centred on Reggio Emilia, where the flag was first adopted by the Cispadane Republic in 1797.
According to myth and legend, tossing a coin into Rome's Trevi Fountain guarantees you'll return to the Eternal City. And it seems everyone likes Rome so much they want to return, because roughly €3,000 of change is thrown in the Trevi Fountain every day. This amount to a staggering million pounds a year. In case you were wondering: the money is collected and donated to charity.
Romeo and Juliet is set in the city of Verona (you can even visit "Juliet's balcony" for yourself), while Julius Caesar takes place in Rome. Othello and the Merchant of Venice are set in Venice (no surprise there) while Much Ado About Nothing is based in the Sicilian city of Messina. Even though there's no evidence that the Bard spent time in Italy himself, his depictions of the country are surprisingly accurate.
The classic tale of a wooden toy who comes to life – and who likes to tell lies – was written in 1880 by Carlo Collodi. It was serialised in Gioniale per i Bambini, Italy's first children's newspaper. Pinocchio remains a cultural icon, and is known all over the world.
From Mount Etna to the trulli of Alberobello, to Rome's Colosseum, Italy is packed with important sights. Still it is a lesser known of the Italy fact that it has 55 world heritage sites. To see some of them yourself contact our tailor-made trip service to plan and book a fully customised holiday in Italy. If you prefer to book and plan yourself, just make sure you book skip-the-line tickets ahead of time, to save you time and money.
Painted by Michelangelo in 1512, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican City is one of the most famous monuments in the world. While certainly the most impressive, it's actually just one of a number of fabulous frescoes that decorate the chapel in the . Today, the Sistine Chapel is the the official residence of the pope and the site of the Papal Conclave, the process that is responsible for selecting the next Pope. To spend more time exploring and less time standing in line, make sure you get your priority access tickets to the Sistine Chapel and Vatican museums ahead of time.
On the island of Sicily, Mount Etna last erupted in 2018, but you can often see a white plume of steam rising from the top. It's a surreal sight as you stroll along Catania's main shopping street, the via Etnea. For a more up-close sight, consider trekking to the summit of Mount Etna.
Mount Stromboli is currently active and located its own small island off the coast of Sicily. You can plan to visit the island, but be aware that you might have to change plans depending on the current level of activity. If you make it out, make sure to take a guided hike to visit the 'Sciara del Fuoco'.
At just 100 acres, the Vatican City in Rome is roughly 1/8 the size of New York's Central Park. It became a soveign nation, separate from Italy, in 1929, with the Pope as head of state. Despite being small in scale, it's packed with historic monuments like St Peter's Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Raphael frescoes and more, while its economy is fuelled by religious donations, museum revenues and the sale of postage stamps and souvenirs. Consider taking a guided tour to explore the Vatican, granting you fast-track access.
Though 2020 was an obviously anomaly, some 64.8 million people visited Italy in 2019 – with many heading to tourist hotspots like Rome, Florence and Pisa. Despite the millions of visitors, you can still find places not teeming with people, like Castelmezzano in Basilicata, or Camogli in Liguria. Our local experts would be happy to guide you find the perfect balance between must-see hotspots and off-the-beaten-track destinations. All in one convenient itinerary for you, ready to be booked.
From the famous names like Lake Garda and Lake Como to the lesser-known Lake Iseo in Lombardy, the country is dotted with charming bodies of water. And that means an abundance of waterside activities, too. From tracing beautiful lakes on tremendous hiking trails to scenic boat trips and stellar wild swimming, there's plenty on offer for active visitors in Italy. Explore the northern lakes with our sample Enchanting Italian Lakes trip - fully customizable to fit your preferences.
Rising 4,808 metres (15,774 ft) above sea level, Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco to Italians) stands on the border between France and Italy. It's also the highest mountain in the Alps, and is eternally popular with all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts, from hikers to skiiers, climbers to trail runners. Day tours are available from Milan, allowing you to visit both Mont Blanc as well as Courmayeur.
In 2020, the average age of an Italian was 45.7 years. By 2050, estimates put the median age of the Italian population at a mighty 53 or 54. Italy is second only to Japan in terms of an ageing population, while Germany comes a close third. In Italy, these statistics largely come down to a low birthrate and a long life span. In fact, the isolated isle of Sardinia is one of the world's five Blue Zones – regions across the globe where residents live the longest.
Invented in 1612, Santorio's device was the first instrument that could show an exact temperature against a scale. Before him, Galileo had worked on a thermoscope that could show whether something was getting hotter or colder.
Italian scientist Alessandro Volta created the first battery in 1800. The volt – the unit of electrical power – is named after him.
Although known the world over for his voyages of discovery to the Americas under the Spanish flag, Christopher Columbus was actually Italian. The explorer was born in Genoa in 1451. Make sure to spend at least a day in Genoa, the largest medieval town in Europe, to trace Columbus' footsteps on a guided tour.
The Bank of San Giorgia in Genoa opened its doors in 1149.
Although the exact date is not certain, it's thought the first pair of glasses with corrective lenses were made in Italy in the late 13th century. Romans had long used glass to magnify text, but these were the first glasses that sat on the nose. They were originally used mainly by monks. Italy is a country well known today for its cutting-edge fashion, and some of the world's most stylish eyeglasses are still designed inside its borders.
Mentions of the word pizza can be found all the way back to the 10th century AD, but pizza in its modern form – with a tomato base – was developed in Naples in the late 18th century. What better place in the world then to learn how to make pizza? Join a pizza-making workshop in Naples and learn from an Italian chef all about the secret ingredients and recipes.
Wall paintings in a pre-Roman Italian tomb depict what many Italians believe is pasta-making equipment.
With many Italians drinking their daily coffee ration out in local cafés, being a barista is big business. Over 20,000 Italians work as baristas, while the annual coffee consumption per household is 37 kg. And while it's fair game to have an espresso at any time of the day in Italy, ordering a cappuccino after 11am will be sure to raise some eyebrows. This is a country that's serious about its coffee.
Italy knows a thing or two about fine food – and good wine, too. In 2018 the country produced a staggering 54,800 hectolitres of wine, ahead of France at 49,000 hectolitres. The country is also one of the world's largest exporters of wine, with the majority going to Germany, the US and the UK. A great way to get a feeling of this to go on a wine tour in Tuscany. Some of the most famous Italian varieties include cianti, barolo and pinot grigio.
Many Italians consider placing a loaf upside down to be bad luck, but the origins of this superstition have been lost. Some historians say that in the Middle Ages bread destined for the town executioner was placed this way, and it might be that the superstition started there.
While in many countries a plate of salad acts as an appetiser, in Italy it's commonly eaten after the main course. This is because the roughage in salad is thought to aid digestion. It's not really dessert though – in a traditional meal there are still two courses (plus coffee) to go – la fruta (fresh fruit) then dolce (dessert).
Love our fun and interesting facts about Italy? Thinking of planning a trip to Italy? We can help! Our tailor-made travel service will pair you with a local expert who can create and book a fully personalized itinerary for you.
Top image: The ruins of the Taormina amphitheatre and Mount Etna at sunset © Natalia Paklina/Shutterstock