14 Things you don’t know about Italy. Italy is renowned for its delectable cuisine, picturesque destinations, and rich history that has made it the magnificent country it is today.
If you have visited this country, you probably think you know everything, but believe me when I tell you that there are really interesting things to discover!
While most people know that pizza originated in Naples (specifically, the famous Neapolitan margherita), and that the University of Bologna is the oldest university in the world (founded in 1088), few are aware that around 500,000 Italians seek the help of exorcists every year.
So, get ready for some surprises! Here are 14 things you don’t know About Italy!
“Italy offers one the most priceless of one’s possessions – One’s own soul”.
Barbara Grizzuti Harrison
Things you don’t know About Italy: Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Italy may be small in size, but it boasts more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country – a total of 53 sites to be exact.
Given its rich history that dates back to the Roman Empire and the stunning landscapes that make up its territory, this feat is not too surprising.
From the north to the south, and even in Sicily and Sardinia, visitors can explore the fascinating remnants of the significant peoples who have left their mark on the country.
Italy’s legacy is incredibly diverse and leaves a lasting impact on those who visit.
Italy is famous for its exceptional cuisine, offering a diverse array of ancient and delectable dishes throughout the country.
It’s no surprise, then, that Italy holds the world record for the largest white truffle, which was discovered in Umbria and weighed an astonishing 1.89 kg.
This prized treasure was sold at auction by Sotheby’s for a staggering 56,000 euros to a buyer in Taiwan, with the proceeds going to charity.
If you’re visiting Umbria, be sure to keep your senses alert for rare and exceptional truffles.
Things you don’t know About Italy: Fountain of Wine
In the charming Abruzzo region lies a small vineyard called Dora Sarchese, which boasts a unique fountain that offers an endless flow of red wine, 24 hours a day. The fountain was installed with the aid of a local non-profit association, with the aim of promoting tourism in the area and preserving the historic pilgrimage route of the Cammino di San Tommaso. This 315-km-long spiritual route is comprised of various churches and abbeys that link the city of Ortona to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Spectacular Fireworks Display
Although the Chinese created the first fireworks using dried bamboo stalks around 200 BC, the Italians were responsible for enhancing this art form.
It was not until the 1830s that the Italians discovered the technique of adding vibrant colors to fireworks.
They achieved this by incorporating metal salts into gunpowder, which when ignited, produced an array of colors.
For instance, sodium generated a yellow hue, strontium resulted in red, while barium produced green.
This innovation paved the way for more intricate and striking displays of fireworks worldwide, lighting up the night sky with mesmerizing beauty.
Things you don’t know About Italy: invention of the telephone
The is often attributed to Alexander Bell, but in fact, it was first conceived by an Italian scientist named Antonio Meucci in 1849. Meucci publicly announced his invention in 1871 and even obtained a patent, but he was unable to renew it in 1876 due to financial constraints. Ownership of the patent then passed to Bell.
Subsequently, the Italian government acknowledged Meucci’s contribution to the development of the telephone, and he was bestowed with the title of the ‘official inventor of the telephone’.
The Mystery of Poveglia Island
Located between Venice and Lido, the charming Poveglia Island has a gruesome past. During the period between 1793 to 1814, it served as a ‘lazzaretto’, a quarantine station where more than 160,000 people with the plague were isolated. After almost a century, an asylum was constructed on the island in 1922, but disturbing reports about the methods used by the doctor in charge of the institution surfaced.
The said physician resorted to invasive procedures, including lobotomies and torture, which earned him notoriety.
Allegedly, patients from the asylum reported seeing ghosts on the island, believed to be the spirits of the plague-infected people who died there. However, their accounts were disregarded due to their mental condition.
In 1968, the doctor passed away, and the hospital ceased operations, leaving Poveglia Island abandoned.
Today, the island is infamous as the ‘island of evil’, and visitors are strictly prohibited from entering.
However, in 2016, five adventurous American tourists defied the ban and arrived on the island via water taxi, but they were later rescued by the fire brigade due to their loud screams. The group claimed to have witnessed terrifying apparitions that sent chills down their spines.
If you’re planning to visit Poveglia Island, be prepared to shell out a hefty sum for the water taxi and note that the uninhabited island remains off-limits to the public.
Things you don’t know About Italy: Cherished Felines
For those who adore cats, the Eternal City of Rome is a haven. With over 300,000 felines residing there, these sentient creatures are treasured as much as the city’s historical treasures.
Interestingly, these beloved cats are the only living beings permitted to roam freely amidst the ancient ruins.
To protect them, the Italian government has enacted strict laws that impose a fine of up to 10,000 euros and a maximum of three years imprisonment for anyone found guilty of mistreating a cat.
Italy’s Oscar Legacy
Since its inception in 1929, the esteemed Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, have recognized cinematic excellence.
Italy holds a prominent position in the Best Foreign Language Film category, having earned 14 awards out of 31 nominations.
In fact, Italy made history as the first country to receive this award for its iconic film ‘La Strada’.
With its impressive record, Italy surpasses many other European nations in terms of Oscar wins.
Things you don’t know About Italy: Italy’s Impact on World Discoveries
Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who famously stumbled upon America, is not the only explorer to have left an enduring legacy.
Venetian merchant Marco Polo spent a considerable amount of time with Genghis Khan’s grandson in China, and his tales of travel were chronicled in his book ‘The Million’.
Polo’s writings inspired subsequent explorers such as Columbus.
In fact, the Americas were named after another Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who contested Columbus’ assertion that the Caribbean islands were part of Asia. Instead, Vespucci confirmed that it was a completely new continent
Remarkable Italian Women Scholars
Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia, a noble Venetian philosopher, made history in 1678 by becoming one of the first women to earn a degree from the University of Padua.
Not only did she obtain her degree, but she also received her doctorate, making her the first woman in the world to earn the prestigious title of Doctor Philosophiae (PhD) in history.
Things you don’t know About Italy: Bloodthirsty Sport of Florence
Football is a globally recognized sport, but only a few know about a unique game called ‘calcio storico’ or “football in livery” in Florence. This sport, which has its origins in the Renaissance period and is thought to be similar to the Latin game harpastum, is a mix of football and rugby, but much more brutal and bloodier.
In the span of 50 minutes, two teams of 27 men each (54 in total) fight tooth and nail to score goals into their opponents’ net while protecting their team, regardless of the physical toll it takes. It’s not uncommon to see broken bones and bloody bodies on the field.
If you ever visit Florence, don’t miss the opportunity to witness this gruesome yet magnificent spectacle!
Fun fact: In Italian, the term ‘tifosi’ is used to refer to fans of one team compared to another. The word’s etymology comes from the disease called tifo; thus, an ardent supporter of a team is compared to someone experiencing a morbid state.
Have you heard about the money fountain in Italy? The famous baroque Trevi fountain in Rome attracts thousands of visitors daily who come to marvel at its beauty.
However, throwing a coin into the fountain is not just a photo op for tourists; it’s also a tradition. According to legend, tossing a coin into the fountain increases one’s chances of returning to the Eternal City.
As a result, approximately 3,000 euros are tossed into the Trevi Fountain every day, indicating that everyone wants to come back to Rome.
Things you don’t know About Italy: the most superstitious people in Europe
It’s often said that Italians are the most superstitious people in Europe, and for good reason. Some everyday superstitions in Italy include:
- Using a bowl of water with olive oil to detect the presence of the Evil Eye.
- Wearing the Corno amulet (Devil’s Horn) to protect male potency and prevent curses.
- Always placing bread face up as a sign of respect towards Jesus Christ.
- Avoiding having a broom touch your feet while someone is cleaning the floor, especially if you’re single, to prevent missing the chance of getting married.
- Considering a cat’s sneeze as a good omen for good fortune.
There are plenty more bizarre Italian superstitions out there, and many are unique to specific regions.
Individuals with Italian ancestry surpasses the present population of Italy
The number of people with Italian ancestry exceeds the actual population of Italy. Despite being the fifth most populous country in Europe with 59 million inhabitants, Italy has been surpassed by the number of Italians who migrated abroad during the Italian diaspora from 1861 to the 1920s, mostly to the Americas. This trend continued, with millions more emigrating since then.
For instance, an estimated 25 million Argentines and 31 million Brazilians, which make up approximately 62.5% and 11% of their total populations, respectively, have some degree of Italian heritage. Additionally, up to 18 million US citizens claim Italian ancestry, and this figure does not include the Italians who migrated to other parts of Europe, Australia, or Africa.