Do you know how old Italy really is? Any idea what Italy actually means or who Alessandro Volta is? No? Then you'd better read these fun facts about Italy to get clued up before you go.
1. Rome is over 2,000 years old
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.
2. Italy is one of Western Europe's youngest countries
Italy has only been a country since 1861 when the separate nation-states unified together as the Kingdom of Italy.
3. Italy's last king ruled for just 36 days
Italy had a royal family until 1946 when citizens voted to abolish the idea of a ruling monarchy in favour of a republic in the wake of the Second World War. King Umberto II ruled from 9 May 1946 to 12 June 1946.
4. The country was under a dictatorship for 20 years
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.
5. Italy's national day is called the Festa della Repubblica
The founding of the republic is celebrated every year on the 2nd of June.
6. The national flag is green, white and red
The colours of the Italian flag represent hope (green), faith (white) and charity (red). Another interesting fact: the flag was inspired by the French flag of similar design.
7. Tourists throw €1,000,000 into the Trevi fountain each year
Roughly €3,000 of change is thrown in the Trevi Fountain every day – that's a million pounds a year. It is then collected and donated to charity.
8. 13 of Shakespeare's 38 plays are set in Italy
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.
9. The Adventures of Pinocchio was first published in an Italian newspaper
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.
10. Italy has the most Unesco Sites in the world
From Mount Etna to the trulli of Alberobello, to Rome's Colosseum, Italy is packed with important sights. 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.
11. The national flower of Italy is the lily
Despite this, many people still consider the traditional symbolic flower of Italy to be the rose.
12. The Sistine chapel welcomes over 20,000 visitors per day
Painted by Michelangelo in 1512, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous monuments in the world. 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.
13. Italy is home to Europe’s only three active volcanoes
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'. Vesuvius overlooks the southern city of Naples and hasn't erupted since 1944, making it a very popular half-day excursion from Naples.
14. The Vatican City, in Rome, is the smallest country in the world
At just 100 acres, the Vatican City is roughly 1/8 the size of New York's Central Park. That said, it's packed with historic monuments like St Peter's Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Raphael frescoes and more. Consider taking a guided tour to explore the Vatican, granting you fast-track access.
15. Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world
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.
16. There are 60 million inhabitants in Italy
While the country's birth rate is declining, the number of people living in Italy has increased thanks to immigration. With births reaching a record low of 8 births per 1,000 people in 2018 (the lowest in the EU), the government is considering plans to encourage Italians to have more children. To compare, in 1950 there were 19 births per 1,000 people.
17. You'll find over 1,500 lakes in Italy
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. Explore the northern lakes with our sample Enchanting Italian Lakes trip - fully customisable to fit your preferences.
18. Italy's highest mountain is Mont Blanc
Rising 4,808 m (15,774 ft) above sea level, Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) stands on the border between France and Italy. It's also the highest mountain in the Alps. Day tours are available from Milan, allowing you to visit both Mont Blanc as well as Courmayeur.
19. The first thermometer was designed by Italian inventor Santorio Santorio
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.
20. Italy has the oldest population in Europe
The median age of Italians in 2019 is 46.3 years. Italy is second only to Japan in terms of an ageing population (46.9 years), while Germany comes a close third.
21. Batteries were invented in Italy
Italian scientist Alessandro Volta created the first battery in 1800. The volt – the unit of electrical power – is named after him.
22. The first ever bank started in Italy
The Bank of San Giorgia in Genoa opened its doors in 1149.
23. Christopher Columbus was Italian
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.
24. Italians invented eyeglasses
Although the exact date is not certain, it's thought the first pair of glasses with corrective lenses were made in the late 13th century.
25. Pizza was invented in Naples
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.
26. Italians ate pasta as far back as the 4th century BC
Wall paintings in a pre-Roman Italian tomb depict what many Italians believe is pasta-making equipment.
27. Fourteen billion espressos are consumed in Italy each year
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.
28. Italy is the world's largest wine producer
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.
29. It's bad luck to place bread upside down on the table
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.
30. Italians eat their salad for dessert
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).
Top image: The ruins of the Taormina amphitheatre and Mount Etna at sunset © Natalia Paklina/Shutterstock