85 Interesting Facts About Italy

Last updated on August 26th, 2016

Italy is officially known as the Italian Republic. It is exotic, has great cuisine, thousands of museums, friendly and passionate people and more. Let’s learn more with these interesting facts about Italy that cover its history, culture, geography, people, food, weird laws, and some interesting things for kids. 

12 Interesting historical facts about Italy

1. Benito Mussolini may have been a Fascist, but he was responsible for promoting Italian soccer to the international stage. He tried to ban the English-sounding “goal” and have the locals call “meta”, but the attempted ban didn’t last long.

2. We all know that Galileo Galilei was arrested nearly 400 years ago by the Roman Catholic Church for having proved the earth moves around the sun and not the other way round. The Church issued a formal apology in 1992.

3. Old houses of the Alberobello region in Bari, Italy have “trulli” or conical roofs with grey stones and unique shaped chimney stacks at the top of the pinnacle to identify houses at a time when house numbers were not common.

4. Venice is prone to acqua alta (or high water) in winters, due to high tides and sirocco in the lagoon. In 1974 a system of walkways were built along the city’s main pedestrian areas about 120 cm above sea level.

5. Florence was Europe’s first city to have paved streets in 1339. In other places in the failing Roman Empire projects to pave roads were abandoned for fear it would help enemies attack faster.

6. The Ponte Vecchio Bridge over the River Arno in Florence was the only bridge left standing after the bombings of WWII. It is rumored that Hitler spared the bridge because he thought it was too beautiful to destroy!

7. The city of Turin had a heavily subsidized auto industry so that it could provide vehicles to the military, which led to its bombing and destruction in the Second World War. Today, it is known as the home of Fiat.

8. The Italian flag is based on the French flag, from the time that Napoleon brought troops and his flag into Italy in 1797.

9. Italian sculptor Michelangelo created David with his right hand larger than his left – because David was said to be “strong of hand” or “manu fortis”.

10. Cabiria was the first cinema blockbuster and an epic (2 hour-long) Italian silent film set in Turin, and it went on to be shown around the world.

11. The first true piano was invented by one man – Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua.

12. From 1904 to 1999, Italian kids only needed to attend school till they were 14! Now the age of compulsory education is sixteen.

12 Interesting facts about Italian Culture

13. First names in Italy usually end in -o (for men) and -a (for women).

14. In Sardinia, you will find witches, or women who make healing potions for the locals and pass their knowledge to their daughters in secret tongues. Consult them if you like, but beware of swindlers.

15. Italian soccer fans are called “tifosi” which may come from the same root as the illness “typhoid”. Italian fans can be rowdy and uninhibitedly enthusiastic, and their fanaticism is contagious!

16. You can play a live human chess game in Marostica in September, once every two years, in a tradition that is hundreds of years old. The town’s main piazza is a giant chessboard!

Marostica style living chess game.
Marostica style living chess game, Italy. Image credit – Neerav Bhatt

17. Italian sons continue to live with their parents even in their thirties, usually until they marry. The family is a strong institution in the country.

18. The streets of Via dei Leoni in Florence today once had live lions kept in cages behind the Palazzo Communale! Today you’ll find lion heads all over the city.

19. Many Italians subscribe to scaramanzia, which can be loosely translated to superstitions. One common scaramanzia is no romantic candles in the bedroom – candles are for lighting when someone dies.

20. Most Roman churches have a dress code, especially in Vatican City for the Papal audience.

21. If you want to post Roman postcards from Vatican City, you can’t use Italian stamps. You’ll have to buy stamps in the Vatican to do so.

22. Rome has a few talking statues – the Baboon in Via del Babuino, Madam Lucrezia in Piazza San Marco and others – that have been used by locals for venting their spleen against the authorities in the form of graffiti. These were cleaned up, but you can sometimes see a few crop up now and then.

23. In Italy, it’s customary to eat lentils after the clock strikes 12:00. Italians also associate wearing red under garments with good luck when beginning the new year.

24. More than three quarters of Italy is either mountainous or hilly.

26 Random facts about Italy

25. When tourists throw small change into the Trevi fountain for luck don’t know that the fountain made a million dollars in 2011 from this small change. The money of course went to charity.

Fontana di Trevi, Rome, Italy.
Fontana di Trevi, Rome, Italy. Image credit: Giorgio Galeotti

26. Venice has been sinking into the mud on which it is built and tilting towards the Adriatic Sea at the rate of 2mm a year, for the last 10 years.

27. It is the Arab invaders who brought dried pasta to Italy. Before that, the Italians had eaten fresh pasta.

28. In Pisa on the eve of the Patron Saint’s Feast Day, more than 70,000 lumini or candles in a glass container are lit or set sail on the Arno and the city alongside the Lungarno is a wonderful glowing sight.

29. In some parts of Italy such as outside the main post office in Mantova, Lombardy you can still find old-style post boxes with separate slots for various kinds of mail – correspondence in the town, letters and postcards in town, air mail and fast mail etc.

30. In Siena, a horse race called the Palio is held each year in July and August. The race between 17 Contrada or camps, takes place at the heart of the city in the Piazza del Campo, and for the Sienese, it is a big part of their lives. Each person is assigned a Contrada from birth!

31. Pinocchio, the wooden lying boy with the long nose was Florentian, and created by a man named Collodi for local publication in the 19th century.

32. One of the most famous scenes from the frescoes by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel in Rome is The Creation of Adam. Some experts believe today that this scene is also meant to look like the outline of the human brain!

33. One ancient lewd graffiti from Pompeii, preserved for over 2000 years under volcano ash, reads “hic Phoebus unguentarius optime futuit” or “here Phoebus the apothecary screwed best.”

34. Cities in Italy lack public toilets! Never leave a museum without using the restrooms.

35. In Palermo, locals play a game of tocco to drink their friends under the table. The game can lead to brawls and reach warlike proportions!

36. Locals in Genoa speak Genoese, a dialect of the Roman language. The younger generation is losing this language though there are many associations to stop its decline.

37. The World’s longest tunnel–Gotthard Base Tunnel–runs from Switzerland to Italy. It took 17 years to build and is 57 km long.

38. 34% of the Italians and 33% of the Portuguese have never used the Internet.

39. The University of Bologna, in Italy, is the Europe’s oldest university in continuous operation since 1088.

40. Italy outranks any other country in the world in number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites with a total of 47 cultural and four natural sites.

41. Italy is the world’s largest producer of wine while US is the largest consumer.

42. Italian Traffic Police has two Lamborghini Gallado in service.

Lamborghini Police car from Italy. Image credit – Copcarland.com

43. Italy is an earthquake prone region. It experiences more number of earthquakes than any other European country. Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey are also among the regions that are most affected with earthquakes.

44. Italians are always under the threat of volcanoes because of the most number of “lava spitting monsters” in the region. Etna, Stromboli, and Vesuvius are the three major volcanoes in Italy.

45. Armani, Versace, Gucci, and Prada are all Italian fashion brands. Italy is also known for its fast and furious car makers such as Ferrari and Lamborghini.

46. Italy along with Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States is a member of G8, which is a governmental political forum.

47. The Italian town of Acciaroli has a disproportionately high number of centenarians in its population of about 2,000 and scientists what to know why! The town is famous for its low rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The residents of the town eat diet heavy in fish and olive oil, which could be one of the reasons for their good health in the old age. However, the research is ongoing to collect some concrete evidence.

48. Italy has two independent states entirely contained within its boundaries – San Marino and the Vatican City.

49. Number 17 is considered unlucky in Italy, which is also why some of the hotels in the country do not have a 17th floor.

50. As there were 13 people at “the Last Supper” — the famous painting by Leonardo Da Vinci, it is considered unlucky to seat together 13 people at the dinner table.

The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. Image credit – Wikimedia Commons.

14 Italian Food Facts

51. Traditionally Italians don’t put their meatballs in their pasta. In most Italian meals, the first course (Primo piatto) is pasta followed by the main course of meat or fish (the secondo piatto).

52. While the ‘mad cow’ disease had made an Italian delicacy called Pajata illegal for 14 years, it is now back on the menus. Pajata is made from the intestines of calves which have been milk-fed, and the result of cooking this in tomato sauce or grilling is a creamy intestine dish.

53. If you thought any pasta shape could go with any sauce, you’d be wrong. The Italians are very precise about sauce and pasta pairings. You’ll rarely find thick ragu with thin linguini served in Italy; shells go best with thick meat or cream sauces.

54. The Alfredo that you’ve found at nearly every Italian restaurant in different versions is not “authentic” Italian at all but a pasta sauce that only Americans think is Italian!

55. If you look for Pepperoni Pizza in Italy, you may find a vegetarian pizza being served to you. “Pepperoni” is not salami in Italy, but peppers!

56. If you’re looking for your favorite “latte” in Italy, you’ll probably be served a glass of milk. Instead, ask for “latte macchiato” which is milk with espresso.

57. Breakfast in Italy is a simple affair. If you want to eat like the locals, you’ll have to be satisfied with just a cappuccino and a croissant (such as brioche).

58. You won’t find Spaghetti Bolognese on the Italian menu either. Italians eat the bolognese sauce with tagliatelle, which is a traditional flat ribbon pasta thicker than spaghetti.

59. Italians love their organ meats and pig’s blood. In Southern Italy, people eat a sweet pig blood pudding mixed with chocolate and cream usually just before Ash Wednesday. The locals call it Sanguinaccio dolce.

60. Another really bizarre Italian food that is not for everyone is the Casu marzu – rotten cheese. This cheese is truly rotten, made from sheep’s milk and containing real live maggot larvae. If you’re brave enough to try, head to Sardinia.

61. Around Christmas, the Italians make something called the zampone – which literally comes from the word for “trotter”. The zampone is an old, traditional sausage of herbed and spiced meat, stuffed in a casing made from the skin of the trotter!

62. While chicken on pasta is not heard of in Italy, fish in pasta is not unheard of. Italian seafood pasta is particularly delicious in Sicily, where they can put everything from swordfish (pesce spada) to sardines (sarde) and more in your pasta.

63. When McDonald’s first opened in Italy, the Romans protested by giving out free spaghetti to the supporters of the protest!

64. In the rustic resort town of Montecatini Terme you can enjoy the Vesuvio Molten Cake, a richly decadent chiffon cake lit up with a sparkling candle when served, to symbolize the active volcano that Italians are always in fear of.

St Peter's Square, Vatican City
St Peter’s Square, Vatican City. Image credit – Diego Cambiaso

16 Interesting facts about Italy for kids 

65. When the Roman Empire was most powerful in 117 AD, it stretched all the way from modern Spain to the west to present-day Iraq in the west, and from Great Britain in the north to Egypt across the Mediterranean in North Africa!

66. The Romans added boarding ramps called corvus to their ships during the Punic Wars, so their ships could pull alongside the ships of their enemy, Carthage, and let their soldiers board the ships as if it was a land battle and not a sea battle.

67. Italians are highly educated. Over 99% can read and write.

68. The Italian brown bear, known as the Marsican brown bear, is endangered and rare, but can be still seen in the Abruzzo National Park.

69. The biggest holiday in Italy is Christmas. People take a lot of care in building the nativity crib scene.

70. Italians brought the world ice-cream as we know it today, but it may be that China made the first.

71. Pizza as we know it in America is nothing like the original Italian pizza. In Italy, they don’t top pizzas with seasonings and tomato sauce, but use fresh tomatoes or tomato sauce, vegetables and herbs, and sometimes mozzarella cheese.

72. Fewer children are born in Italy each year than in most other places in the world!

73. In Turin there is a piece of linen cloth called the Shroud of Turin that is said to contain the real imprint of Jesus Christ’s face!

74. Italy is slightly larger than Arizona but it is the world’s eighth largest economy!

75. Rome has been called the Eternal City for centuries because the Romans believed that the city would go on forever.

76. The island of Sicily is famous for the Mafia criminal organization.

77. Italy is also home to Europe’s highest peak, Monte Bianco (White Mountain), which is 15,771 feet high and is part of the Alps.

78. “Russo” is the most common Italian surname.

79. Leonardo Da Vinci, Galileo Galile, Christopher Columbus, Leonardo Fibonacci, Enzo Ferrari and Guglielmo Marconi are some of the famous people born in Italy.

80. The Leaning Tower of Pisa built in 1173 is a famous Italian monument. The tower probably because of its weak foundation started leaning soon after its construction. Reconstruction work was carried out in 2008 and the engineers declared it safe for another 200 years.

Geographical location of Italy

Facts about some weird Italian laws

81. For those who live In Turin and own a dog, it is compulsory for them to walk their pet at least three times a day else they may be fined.

82. As per a court order, Italian men are not allowed to touch their own genitals in public.

83. In Milan it is an old law to smile constantly when one is at a public place. The only exceptions to this law are those who are attending funerals and those who work in hospitals. If you don’t follow the law, you will be fined.

84. It is not permissible to eat outdoors in Rome’s historic center.

85. Italy does not permit men to wear a skirt in public. The consequence of doing so may land you behind the bars in jail.

Quick facts about Italy

Capital CityRome
(41°54′N 12°29′E)
Largest CityRome
(41°54′N 12°29′E)
Total area301,340 sq km
Population62,137,802 (July 2017 est.)
Official LanguageItalian
BordersAustria 430 km
France 488 km
Holy See (Vatican City) 3.2 km
San Marino 39 km
Slovenia 199 km
Switzerland 740 km
Literacy rate99.2%
Life expectancy82.2 Years (2016)
Suffrage18 years of age; universal except in senatorial elections, where minimum age is 25
Climatepredominantly Mediterranean; alpine in far north; hot, dry in south
Terrainmostly rugged and mountainous; some plains, coastal lowlands
Natural resourcescoal, mercury, zinc, potash, marble, barite, asbestos, pumice, fluorspar, feldspar, pyrite (sulfur), natural gas and crude oil reserves, fish, arable land
Agricultural land47.1%
Birth rate
8.6 births/1,000 population (2017 est.)
Death rate10.4 deaths/1,000 population (2017 est.)
Sex ratio0.93 male(s)/female (2016 est.)
Government typeparliamentary republic
PresidentSergio Mattarella
Prime MinisterPaolo Gentiloni
Independence17 March 1861 (Kingdom of Italy proclaimed; Italy was not finally unified until 1871)
National anthem"Il Canto degli Italiani" (The Song of the Italians)
National holidayRepublic Day, 2 June (1946)
National symbolwhite, five-pointed star (Stella d'Italia)
National colorsred, white, green
Industriestourism, machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, food processing, textiles, motor vehicles, clothing, footwear, ceramics
Exports$436.3 billion (2016 est.)
engineering products, textiles and clothing, production machinery, motor vehicles, transport equipment, chemicals; foodstuffs, beverages, and tobacco; minerals, nonferrous metals
Imports$372.2 billion (2016 est.)
engineering products, chemicals, transport equipment, energy products, minerals and nonferrous metals, textiles and clothing; food, beverages, tobacco
GDP - per capita (PPP)$36,300 (2016 est.)
Internet country code.it
Time ZoneCET (UTC+1)
Calling Code+39
Drives on theRight
Data sourcesCIA, Wikipedia
Table last updatedSeptember 5, 2017