11 Interesting Facts About Italy

Diana Bocco  ·  13 / 8 / 2018

From amazing archeological ruins to pristine beaches to non-stop shopping, magical, beautiful Italy has much to offer to visitors. Even if you’re a regular tourist, though, chances are you’ve missed some of Italy’s best-kept secrets.  

Here are 11 interesting facts you probably didn’t know about Italy.

 

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1/ Venice Floods Regularly

Acqua alta (high water) is a well-known term in Venice and it happens more often than you can imagine –usually as a combination of strong Southern winds, high tides, and the movement of water in the canals. Acqua alta is actually quite frequent in winter and when it hits it can flood from just a few streets to massive areas of the city. The good news? It usually only lasts a few hours and then the waters start to recede.

If you happen to get stuck in St. Mark’s Square (one of the lowest areas in the city and the first one to flood), look around for the passarelle, elevated highways that allow people to move around when the square floods.  

 

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2/ The Romans Were Ahead of Their Time

Florence was the first city in Europe to have all its streets paved. This happened, impressively, in 1339, thanks to generous donations from local bankers and merchants. The Roman Empire had a tradition of paving streets centuries before this but had abandoned the practice because they feared that smooth streets would actually make it easier for invading armies to approach cities. After Florence's successful paving, however, many other Italian cities soon did the same.

 

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3/ Italy Has Always Been an Enlightened Society

Europe’s oldest University is in Italy. Founded in 1088, Bologna University originally only taught canon and civil law. New departments have been added over the years, including medicine, philosophy, and the arts.

Bologna University isn't the only high-education school with an impressive record, though. Four of the 10 oldest universities in the world are located in Italy.

 

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4/ Italian Volcanoes Are Still a Threat

Mount Vesuvius – which erupted and killed the entire population of Pompeii in AD 79  – is still an active volcano. Italy also has two additional active volcanoes: Mount Etna and Stromboli, both in the vicinity of Sicily. Stromboli has been in continuous eruption for over 2000 years. Mount Etna has been very active since 2014.

 

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5/ Pasta Rules

The average Italian consumes 25-31 kg of pasta per year. Historically, pasta was expensive and time-consuming to make, so it wasn't until the 14th-15th century (when dry pasta became a staple) that the dish gained popularity. Modern Italians favor fresh egg pasta with olive oil and garlic – the popular tomato sauce we add to pasta today wasn't introduced until the 18th century; before then, pasta was eaten dry using just your fingers.

 

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6/ Black Cats, Unlucky Numbers and More

Italian society is full of superstitions – and some could be qualified as truly strange. A lot of superstitions actually have to do with bad luck: it's bad luck to place a hat on a bed, have 13 people around the table for dinner (there were 13 people at the Last Supper), and spilling salt. Want to avoid tempting fate? Knock on iron (instead of wood) or wear a cornicello, a little good luck charm shaped as a red pepper.

 

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7/ Italians Speak More than Just Italian

In addition to the official language, Italy also recognizes 12 minority languages, from Cimbrian (a Germanic language) to Griko (Hellenic). Italy is also home to many additional languages that aren't recognized by the state but are widely spoken in certain regions. For example, Piedmontese (a rich mix of Italian, French, Occitan, and Catalan) is spoken by about 700,000 people in the Northwest of Italy. 

 

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8/ Of Course They Invented That

A number of inventions that make our life better, easier and well, more fun, have its origin in Italy. You might not be surprised that somebody in Italy invented the espresso machine, but Italy is also responsible for giving the world the first bank, which opened in Genoa in the year 1149. We can also thank Italy for several musical instruments (including the piano and the violin), the battery, and the mercury barometer.

 

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9/ The Hidden “Countries” Inside Italy

There are two independent states within the Italian territory. One is Vatican City, the smallest state in the world with a population of just 1000 residents. Vatican City is a sacerdotal-monarchy, which means it's ruled by a religious leader. The other is the Republic of San Marino, which is located against the Apennine Mountains and has a population of just over 30,000 people. Despite its tiny size, San Marino is a significant producer of wine and cheese and has a standard of living comparable to that of Denmark (which is higher than Italy and surrounding countries)

 

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10/ Breaking Records

There are more UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy than in any other country in the world – a total of 54. These include a number of impressive archeological sites (such as Pompeii), the world's first botanical garden in Padua, many cathedrals and churches, the entire city of Verona, and Etruscan cemeteries that date as far back as the 9th century BCE.

 

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11/ More Than Just Gladiators

The Colosseum is famous as the arena used for gladiator fights and executions, but the magnificent amphitheater was also used for mock sea battles, dramas, and, later on, to house workshops and as a fortress. At its prime, the Colosseum could hold over 60,000 spectators – about as many as one of Italy's modern soccer stadiums.

How many of these intriguing facts did you already know about Italy?

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The Best of Tuscany, Part 1: Food
The Best of Tuscany, Part 3: Culture
10 Reasons to Visit Florence, Italy

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