25 fun facts about Italy you didn't know

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 17.06.2024

There are plenty of fun facts about Italy. It's one of Europe's most visited countries. The history's long. The culture's rich. And the food's delectable. But what do you actually know? Here are our interesting facts about Italy. Time to test your knowledge.

The information in this article is taken from The Rough Guide to Italy — your essential guide to visiting Italy. Not only did you vote this one of the most beautiful countries in the world, but a trio of Italian cities — Florence, Rome and Venice — featured in our survey of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Fun facts about Italy and history

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

Italy has one of Europe's longest histories, yet it's only been a country since 1861. In Roman times Italy was a single entity. It then divided into a collection of sovereign states and remained that way until 1861.

This long history of individuality is why the country today has such a wide range of cultural variations.

Piazza Venezia in Rome, statue of Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of united Italy

Statue of Victor Emmanuel II at Piazza Venezia in Rome © reuerendo/Shutterstock

2. Rome is over 2,000 years old

Rome was founded in 753 BC and the Roman Empire was born in 27 BC. The Empire ruled Europe and parts of North Africa right up until 395 AD. After the fall of the Empire, Italy divided into separate states until 1861. Italy's national day is called Festa della Repubblica and it's celebrated each year on 2 June.

Planning a break in the Eternal City? Discover the best area to stay in Rome. And in case you choose Rome for your family trip, read about things to do there with kids.

3. The country was under a dictatorship for 20 years

Benito Mussolini established a dictatorship in Italy in 1925 and ruled the country until 1945.

Known as Il Duce at the height of his powers, Mussolini wasn't always a fascist. In fact he began his political life as a radical socialist, and served as Italian PM until 1922.

During WWII, he aligned Italy with Germany and, in 1945, was executed by partisan troops.

Vintage 1930s Italian stamp depicting the dictators, Hitler and Mussolini © Mark Yuill/Shutterstock

1930s Italian stamp depicting dictators Hitler and Mussolini © Mark Yuill/Shutterstock

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

Italy was a dictatorship until 1945, although it also had a royal family until 1946.

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

He ended his days exiled in Portugal. In a nod to his unusually short reign, he's known in Italy as, "the May King".

King Umberto II of Italy with his only son Vittorio Emanuele © unknown author/public domain/wikimedia commons

Fun facts about Italy? King Umberto II reigned for just 36 days © unknown author/public domain/wikimedia commons

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. Inspired by the French flag, it's often called Il Tricolore.

Tricolore Day in Italy is 7 January. And it's celebrated on Reggio Emilia, at the very spot where the flag was first adopted in 1797.

Flag of Italy hanging on the balcony in Milan, Italy © DELBO ANDREA/Shutterstock

The Italian flag depicts hope, faith and charity © DELBO ANDREA/Shutterstock

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.

Tourists toss around €3,000 a day into the fountain. This amounts to roughly €1,000,000 every year, which is all donated to charity.

While visiting the Trevi is one of the best things to do in Rome, if you want to break the tourist mould, take an underground tour of Trevi for a different perspective. You could also discover the best places to get off the tourist trail in Rome.


The moneymaking Trevi fountain in Rome © Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock

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

Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona and you can even visit "Juliet's balcony" in the city.

Julius Caesar takes place in Rome. Both Othello and The Merchant of Venice are set in Venice. And Much Ado About Nothing is based in Messina.

Although Shakespeare is surprisingly accurate about Italy, there's no proof he ever visited the country. Don't be like the Bard and miss out — read our guide to where to stay in Venice.

Verona image during summer sunset © Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock

Verona at sunset © Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock

8. Pinocchio was first published in an Italian newspaper

Carlo Collodi wrote the legendary story Pinocchio in 1880. It was originally serialised in the children's newspaper, Gioniale per i Bambini.

Traditional wooden pinocchio toy in Italy © luckyraccoon/Shutterstock

Traditional wooden Pinocchio toy souvenir © luckyraccoon/Shutterstock

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

Italy has 55 world heritage sites, more than anywhere else on earth. 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.

View of Trulli houses in Alberobello, Italy © Svitlana Belinska/Shutterstock

View of Trulli houses in Alberobello © Svitlana Belinska/Shutterstock

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

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

It's also the official residence of the pope, as well as the site of the Papal Conclave: the process for selecting new popes.

Skip the Vatican queues. Book a Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel tour.

Last Judgment fresco in Sistine Chapel, Vatican City © byggarn.se/Shutterstock

Last Judgment fresco in Sistine Chapel, Vatican City © byggarn.se/Shutterstock

Fun facts about Italy and geography

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

There's a reason Italy gets a few mentions in our round-up of the world's top 20 volcanoes.

Mount Etna on Sicily last erupted in 2021, its 50th recorded eruption. However, plumes of steam regularly flow out of the volcano and are best seen from Catania. Despite its liveliness, you can also trek to Etna's summit.

Mount Stromboli is another active Italian volcano. It's on a small island near Sicily. If you plan to visit, check current activity and go with experienced guides.

Vesuvius in Naples has been dormant since 1944. But a visit to nearby Pompeii lets you see the effects of its devastating 76AD eruption. 

Planning to visit this vibrant southern city? Discover unusual things to do in Naples. When in the area, book a small group tour of Pompeii with archaeologists.

Mount Vesuvius overlooking Naples

Interesting facts about Italy? Mt Vesuvius is one of three live Italian volcanoes © Enki Photo/Shutterstock

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

The Vatican City in Rome covers just 1000 acres. In 1929 it became a sovereign nation and the Pope is officially its head of state.

The Vatican's economy is mainly fuelled by donations. It's only an 1/8 of the size of Central Park, yet packed with monuments. This is where you'll see St Peter's Basilica and it's also home to the Sistine Chapel.

Piazza San Pietro in Vatican City © Shutterstock

Piazza San Pietro in the Vatican City © Banauke/Shutterstock

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

Almost 65 million people visit Italy each year. Given that most head to Rome, Florence and Pisa, it's still possible to find uncrowded places. Try Castelmezzano in Basilicata or head to Camogli in Liguria.

Though growing in popularity, Puglia is another stunning, less crowded option, and it also happens to be one of our best places to visit with kids and features in our round-up of the best beach holidays in Italy.

Duomo Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence Italy © Songquan Deng/Shutterstock

Duomo Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence © Songquan Deng/Shutterstock

14. Italy has over 1500 lakes

Italy is covered in lakes and not just icons like Lake Garda or Lake Como. There are several lesser known beauties too. And you'll find lakes to hike round, lakes for boat trips and quite a few that are wild swimming legends.

If you're in Milan, take a tour of Lake Como and Bellagio for the day. Water-lovers will also want to discover the best beaches in Italy.

Read more about this beautiful city in our guide to where to stay in Milan.

Varenna old town in Como lake © Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

Varenna old town on the shores of Lake Como © Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

15. Italy's highest mountain is Mont Blanc

Italy shares Mont Blanc with France, although it's called Monte Bianco in Italian. It rises 4,808 metres above sea level and is Italy's highest peak as well as the highest mountain in the Alps.

Into adventures? Read up on sports and outdoor activities in Italy. You could also test your head for heights and book a Mont Blanc and Courmayeur day tour.

On the way of Mount Blanc © Berit Kessler/Shutterstock

Italy shares Mont Blanc, or Monte Bianco, with France © Berit Kessler/Shutterstock

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, giving it Europe's oldest population. In world terms only Japan's population is older. And estimates suggest the average age in Italy will be 54 years by 2050.

In fact, Sardinia is one of the world's five Blue Zones: places where residents live the longest. The main reasons given for Italy's aging population are low birth rate and extraordinary longevity, which might be attributed to the local diet - discover where to eat out in Sardinia.

Old man watching the sea in the evening, Messina, Sicily, Italy © Marco Crupi/Shutterstock

Older man gazes across evening sea in Messina, Sicily © Marco Crupi/Shutterstock

17. Santorio Santorio designed the world's first thermometer

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

Galileo had previously worked on a thermoscope. But his invention only showed changes in temperature and didn't measure the degrees of change.

18. Batteries were invented in Italy

The first batteries were invented in Italy in 1800 by Alessandro Volta - the man after whom 'volts' are named.

19. Christopher Columbus was Italian

Columbus might have sailed under the Spanish flag, but he was actually Italian, and born in Genoa in 1451.

Genoa is Europe's largest medieval town. Find out more on full day tour of Genoa and Portofino with local guides.

Christopher Columbus' first view of the New World on October 12, 1492 as depicted in a chromolithograph from 1892 © Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Fun facts about Italy? Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa © Everett Collection/Shutterstock

20. The first ever bank started in Italy

The Bank of San Giorgia was another Italian world first, it opened in Genoa in 1149.

21. Italians invented eyeglasses

Italians also invented corrective eyeglasses. They were first made in the 13th century, and used mainly by monks. Previously Ancient Romans had used magnifying glasses, but medieval Italian eyeglasses were the first to be worn.

Leaning tower reflecting in glasses, Pisa, Italy © Alliance Images/Shutterstock

Leaning tower reflecting in sunglasses, Pisa © Alliance Images/Shutterstock

Fun facts about Italy and eating

20. Pizza was invented in Naples

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

When in Naples, why not learn how to create authentic pizza at a pizza-making workshop? That said, Rome isn't short of great options, either. Discover where to eat the best pizza in Rome.


Neapolitan pizza – where the dish was invented © Shutterstock

21. Italians ate pasta as far back as 4BC

Pasta dates back to 4BC in Italy. And pre-Roman wall paintings even depict what's thought to be early pasta-making equipment.

But Italy's not all about pizza and pasta — find out more about eating and drinking in Italy.

22. Fourteen billion espressos are consumed in Italy each year

Over 20,000 Italians work as baristas and the country's average household coffee consumption is 37 kg a year.

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

Espresso machine in Italy © Firma V/Shutterstock

Espresso machine © Firma V/Shutterstock

23. Italy is the world's largest wine producer

Italy produces about 54,800 hectolitres of wine a year compared to 49,000 hectolitres produced by France. Italy's also the world's largest wine exporter with most exports going to Germany, US and the UK.

Browse our Tuscany itineraries or talk to one of our local experts, and discover 15 unforgettable things to do in Tuscany.

Langhe vineyards in Piedmont, Italy © Giorgio1978/Shutterstock

Langhe vineyards in Piedmont © Giorgio1978/Shutterstock

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

Italians think it's bad luck to place bread upside down on the table. Historian's suggest this ancient superstition arose because bread given to town executioners in the Middle Ages was always placed upside down.

25. Italians eat salad for dessert

In Italy, salad is always eaten after the main course as the fibre supposedly aids digestion. However, it's not a dessert. Italian meals have another two courses. So after salad, you can still look forward to fruit, and then dessert.

Ready to travel to Italy? Find out when to go and where to go in Italy, and discover the best things to do in Italy. For further inspiration, see our Italy travel guides, or contact our local travel agents in Italy.

Looking for practical guidance? Read up on getting there, getting around, and where to stay in Italy

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 17.06.2024

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