Capital and largest city. Rome 41°54′N 12°29′E
Official language and national language Italiana. German is co-official in South Tyrol; French is co-official in the Aosta Valley; Slovene is co-official in the Province of Trieste and the Province of Gorizia; Ladin is co-official in South Tyrol, Trentino and in other northern areas.
Religion. 83.3% Christianity, 12.4% Irreligion, 3.7% Islam, 0.2% Buddhism, 0.1% Hinduism, 0.3% other
Government. Unitary Republic
European Union 1 January 1958
Area. Total301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) 71st Water (%)2.4
Population. 2016 estimate 60,599,936 23rd. Density 201.3/km2 (521.4/sq mi) 63r
GDP. Total $2.234 trillion 12th. Per capita $36,833 32nd. GDP (nominal) Total$1.850 trillion 8th. Per capita $30,507 25th
Gini. (2015) 32.4 medium
HDI. (2015) 0.887
Time zone. Central_European_Time CET
Italy, officially the Italian Republic is located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, San Marino and Vatican City. Italy covers an area of 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. Due to its shape, it is often referred to in Italy as lo Stivale (the Boot). With 61 million inhabitants it is the fourth most populous EU member state.
Today Italy has the third largest GDP in the Eurozone and the eighth largest in the world. As an advanced economy it also has the sixth worldwide national wealth. It has a very high level of human development and is ranked sixth in the world for life expectancy. The country plays a prominent role in regional and global economic, military, cultural and diplomatic affairs, and it is both a regional power and a great power. Italy is a founding leading member of the European Union and the member of numerous international institutions, including the UN, NATO, OECD, WTO, G20, Union for the Mediterranean, the Council of Europe, Uniting for Consensus and many more. As a reflection of its cultural wealth, Italy is home to 53 World Heritage Sites, the most in the world, and is the fifth most visited country.
Etymology. Latin: Italia, was borrowed through Greek from the Oscan Víteliú, meaning “land of young cattle” The bull was a symbol of the southern Italic tribes and was often depicted goring the Roman wolf as a defiant symbol of free Italy during the Social War. The name Italia originally applied only to a part of what is now Southern Italy. The Greeks gradually came to apply the name “Italia” to a larger region, but it was during the reign of Emperor Augustus (end of the 1st century BC) that the term was expanded to cover the entire peninsula until the Alps.
Prehistory and antiquity. Excavations throughout Italy revealed a Neanderthal presence dating back to the Palaeolithic period, some 200,000 years ago. Anatomically modern Humans appeared about 40,000 years ago. Archaeological sites from this period include Addaura cave, Altamura, Ceprano, Monte Poggiolo, Gravina in Puglia.
The Ancient peoples of pre-Roman Italy – such as the Umbrians, the Latins (from which the Romans emerged), Volsci, Oscans, Samnites, Sabines, Celts, Ligures, and many others – were Indo-European peoples; the main historic peoples of possible non-Indo-European heritage include the Etruscans, the Elymians in Sicily and the prehistoric Sardinians, which includes the Nuragic civilisation. Other ancient Italian peoples of undetermined language families but of possible non-Indo-European origins include the Rhaetian people and Cammuni, known for their rock carvings.
Between the 17th and the 11th centuries BC Mycenaean Greeks established contacts with Italy and in the 8th and 7th centuries BC Greek colonies were established all along the coast of Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula became known as Magna Graecia. Also the Phoenicians established colonies on the coasts of Sardinia and Sicily.
Ancient Rome. Rome, a settlement around a ford on the river Tiber, conventionally founded in 753 BC, was ruled for a period of 244 years by a monarchical system, initially with sovereigns of Latin and Sabine origin, later by Etruscan kings. The tradition handed down seven kings: Romulus, Numa Pompilius, Tullus Hostilius, Ancus Marcius, Tarquinius Priscus, Servius Tullius, and Tarquinius Superbus. In 509 BC, the Romans expelled the last king from their city and established an oligarchic republic.
In the wake of Julius Caesar’s rise and death in the first century B.C., Rome grew over the course of centuries into a massive empire stretching from Britain to the borders of Persia, and engulfing the whole Mediterranean basin, in which Greek and Roman and many other cultures merged into a unique civilisation. The long and triumphant reign of its first emperor, Augustus, began a golden age of peace and prosperity.
The Roman Empire was among the most powerful economic, cultural, political and military forces in the world of its time. It was one of the largest empires in world history. At its height under Trajan, it covered 5 million square kilometres. The Roman legacy has deeply influenced the Western civilisation, shaping most of the modern world; among the many legacies of Roman dominance are the widespread use of the Romance languages derived from Latin, the numerical system, the modern Western alphabet and calendar, and the emergence of Christianity as a major world religion.
In a slow decline since the third century AD, the Empire split in two in 395 AD. The Western Empire, under the pressure of the barbarian invasions, eventually dissolved in 476 AD, when its last Emperor was deposed by the Germanic chief Odoacer, while the Eastern half of the Empire survived for another thousand years.
Middle Ages. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Italy was seized by the Ostrogoths, followed in the 6th century by a brief Gothic War under Byzantine Emperor Justinian. The invasion of another Germanic tribe, the Lombards, late in the same century, reduced the Byzantine presence to a rump realm (the Exarchate of Ravenna) and started the end of political unity of the peninsula for the next 1,300 years. The Lombard kingdom was subsequently absorbed into the Frankish Empire by Charlemagne in the late 8th century. The Franks also helped the formation of the Papal States in central Italy. Until the 13th century, Italian politics was dominated by the relations between the Holy Roman Emperors and the Papacy, with most of the Italian city-states siding for the former (Ghibellines) or for the latter (Guelphs) from momentary convenience.
It was during this chaotic era that Italian towns saw the rise of a peculiar institution, the medieval commune. Given the power vacuum caused by extreme territorial fragmentation and the struggle between the Empire and the Holy See, local communities sought autonomous ways to maintain law and order. In 1176 a league of city-states, the Lombard League, defeated the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the Battle of Legnano, thus ensuring effective independence for most of northern and central Italian cities. In coastal and southern areas, the maritime republics, the most notable being Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi, heavily involved in the Crusades, grew to eventually dominate the Mediterranean and monopolise trade routes to the Orient.
In the south, Sicily had become an Islamic emirate in the 9th century, thriving until the Italo-Normans conquered it in the late 11th century together with most of the Lombard and Byzantine principalities of southern Italy. Through a complex series of events, southern Italy developed as a unified kingdom, first under the House of Hohenstaufen, Capetian House of Anjou and, from the 15th century, the House of Aragon. In Sardinia, the former Byzantine provinces became independent states known as Giudicati, although some parts of the island were under Genoese or Pisan control until the Aragonese conquered it in the 15th century. The Black Death, a pandemic of 1348 left its mark on Italy by killing perhaps one third of the population. However, the recovery from the plague led to a resurgence of cities, trade and economy which allowed the bloom of Humanism and Renaissance, that later spread in Europe.
Early Modern. In the 14th and 15th centuries, northern-central Italy was divided into a number of warring city-states, the rest of the peninsula being occupied by the larger Papal States and the Kingdom of Sicily, referred to here as Naples. Though many of these city-states were often formally subordinate to foreign rulers, as in the case of the Duchy of Milan, which was officially a constituent state of the mainly Germanic Holy Roman Empire, the city-states generally managed to maintain de facto independence from the foreign sovereigns that had seized Italian lands following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The strongest among these city-states gradually absorbed the surrounding territories giving birth to the Signorie, regional states often led by merchant families which founded local dynasties. War between the city-states was endemic, and primarily fought by armies of mercenaries known as condottieri, bands of soldiers drawn from around Europe, especially Germany and Switzerland, led largely by Italian captains. Decades of fighting eventually saw Florence, Milan and Venice emerged as the dominant players that agreed to the Peace of Lodi in 1454, which saw relative calm brought to the region for the first time in centuries. This peace would hold for the next forty years.
The Renaissance, a period of vigorous revival of the arts and culture, originated in Italy thanks to a number of factors, as the great wealth accumulated by merchant cities, the patronage of its dominant families, and the migration of Greek scholars and texts to Italy following the Conquest of Constantinople at the hands of the Ottoman Turks. The Italian Renaissance peaked in the mid-16th century as foreign invasions plunged the region into the turmoil of the Italian Wars.
The Medici became the leading family of Florence and fostered and inspired the birth of the Italian Renaissance, along with other families of Italy, such as the Visconti and Sforza, Milan, Este, and the Gonzaga of Mantua. Greatest artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Brunelleschi, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Giotto, Donatello, Titian and Raphael produced inspired works – their paintwork was more realistic-looking than had been created by Medieval artists and their marble statues rivalled and sometimes surpassed those of Classical Antiquity. Humanist historian Leonardo Bruni also split the history in the antiquity, Middle Ages and modern period. The ideas and ideals of the Renaissance soon spread into Northern Europe, France, England and much of Europe. In the meantime, the discovery of the Americas, the new routes to Asia discovered by the Portuguese and the rise of the Ottoman Empire, all factors which eroded the traditional Italian dominance in trade with the East, caused a long economic decline in the peninsula.
Following the Italian Wars (1494 to 1559), ignited by the rivalry between France and Spain, the city-states gradually lost their independence and came under foreign domination, first under Spain (1559 to 1713) and then Austria (1713 to 1796). In 1629–1631, a new outburst of plague claimed about 14% of Italy’s population. In addition, as the Spanish Empire started to decline in the 17th century, so did its possessions in Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, and Milan. In particular, Southern Italy was impoverished and cut off from the mainstream of events in Europe.
In the 18th century, as a result of the War of Spanish Succession, Austria replaced Spain as the dominant foreign power, while the House of Savoy emerged as a regional power expanding to Piedmont and Sardinia. In the same century, the two-century long decline was interrupted by the economic and state reforms pursued in several states by the ruling élites. During the Napoleonic Wars, northern-central Italy was invaded and reorganised as a new Kingdom of Italy, a client state of the French Empire, while the southern half of the peninsula was administered by Joachim Murat, Napoleon’s brother-in-law, who was crowned as King of Naples. The 1814 Congress of Vienna restored the situation of the late 18th century, but the ideals of the French Revolution could not be eradicated, and soon re-surfaced during the political upheavals that characterised the first part of the 19th century.
Italian unification. The birth of the Kingdom of Italy was the result of efforts by Italian nationalists and monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula. In the context of the 1848 liberal revolutions that swept through Europe, an unsuccessful war was declared on Austria. The Kingdom of Sardinia again attacked the Austrian Empire in the Second Italian War of Independence of 1859, with the aid of France, resulting in liberating Lombardy.
In 1860–1861, general Giuseppe Garibaldi led the drive for unification in Naples and Sicily, allowing the Sardinian government led by the Count of Cavour to declare a united Italian kingdom on 17 March 1861. In 1866, Victor Emmanuel II allied with Prussia during the Austro-Prussian War, waging the Third Italian War of Independence which allowed Italy to annex Venetia. Finally, as France abandoned its garrisons in Rome during the disastrous Franco-Prussian War of 1870, the Italians rushed to fill the power gap by taking over the Papal States.
The Constitutional Law of the Kingdom of Sardinia the Albertine Statute of 1848, was extended to the whole Kingdom of Italy in 1861, and provided for basic freedoms of the new State, but electoral laws excluded the non-propertied and uneducated classes from voting. The government of the new kingdom took place in a framework of parliamentary constitutional monarchy dominated by liberal forces. In 1913, male universal suffrage was adopted. As Northern Italy quickly industrialised, the South and rural areas of the North remained underdeveloped and overpopulated, forcing millions of people to migrate abroad, while the Italian Socialist Party constantly increased in strength, challenging the traditional liberal and conservative establishment. Starting from the last two decades of the 19th century, Italy developed into a colonial power by forcing Somalia, Eritrea and later Libya and the Dodecanese under its rule.
Italy, nominally allied with the German Empire and the Empire of Austria-Hungary in the Triple Alliance, in 1915 joined the Allies into the war with a promise of substantial territorial gains, that included western Inner Carniola, Austrian Littoral, Dalmatia as well as parts of the Ottoman Empire. The war was initially inconclusive, as the Italian army get struck in a long attrition war in the Alps, making little progress and suffering very heavy losses. Eventually, in October 1918, the Italians launched a massive offensive, culminating in the victory of Vittorio Veneto. The Italian victory marked the end of the war on the Italian Front, secured the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was chiefly instrumental in ending the First World War less than two weeks later.
During the war, more than 650,000 Italian soldiers and as many civilians died and the kingdom went to the brink of bankruptcy. Under the Peace Treaties of Saint-Germain, Rapallo and Rome, Italy obtained most of the promised territories, but not Dalmatia (except Zara), allowing nationalists to define the victory as mutilated. Moreover, Italy annexed the Hungarian harbour of Fiume, that was not part of territories promised at London..
Fascist regime. The socialist agitations that followed the devastation of the Great War, inspired by the Russian Revolution, led to counter-revolution and repression throughout Italy. The liberal establishment, fearing a Soviet-style revolution, started to endorse the small National Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini. In October 1922 the Blackshirts of the National Fascist Party attempted a coup (the March on Rome) which failed but at the last minute, King Victor Emmanuel III refused to proclaim a state of siege and appointed Mussolini prime minister. Over the next few years, Mussolini banned all political parties and curtailed personal liberties, thus forming a dictatorship. These actions attracted international attention and eventually inspired similar dictatorships such as Nazi Germany and Francoist Spain.
In 1935, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, resulting in an international alienation and leading to Italy’s withdrawal from the League of Nations; Italy allied with Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan and strongly supported Francisco Franco in the Spanish civil war. In 1939, Italy annexed Albania, a de facto protectorate for decades.
WW II. Italy entered World War II on 10 June 1940. After initially advancing in British Somaliland and Egypt, the Italians were defeated in East Africa, Greece, Russia and North Africa.
After the attack on Yugoslavia by Germany and Italy, suppression of the Yugoslav Partisans resistance and attempts to Italianisation resulted in the Italian war crimes and deportation of about 25,000 people to the Italian concentration camps, such as Rab, Gonars, Monigo, Renicci di Anghiari and elsewhere. After the war, due to the Cold war, a long period of censorship, disinterest and denial occurred about the Italian war crimes and the Yugoslav’s foibe killings. Meanwhile, about 250,000 Italians and anti-communist Slavs fled to Italy in the Istrian exodus.
An Allied invasion of Sicily began in July 1943, leading to the collapse of the Fascist regime and the fall of Mussolini on 25 July. On 8 September, Italy surrendered. The Germans shortly succeeded in taking control of northern and central Italy. The country remained a battlefield for the rest of the war, as the Allies were slowly moving up from the south.
In the north, the Germans set up the Italian Social Republic, a Nazi puppet state with Mussolini installed as leader. The post-armistice period saw the rise of a large anti-fascist resistance movement, the Resistenza. In late April 1945, with total defeat looming, Mussolini attempted to escape north, but was captured and summarly executed near Lake Como by Italian partisans. His body was then taken to Milan, where it was hung upside down at a service station for public viewing and to provide confirmation of his demise. Hostilities ended on 29 April 1945, when the German forces in Italy surrendered. Nearly half a million Italians (including civilians) died in the conflict, and the Italian economy had been all but destroyed; per capita income in 1944 was at its lowest point since the beginning of the 20th century.
Republican Italy. Italy became a republic after a referendum held on 2 June 1946, a day celebrated since as Republic Day. This was also the first time that Italian women were entitled to vote. Victor Emmanuel III’s son, Umberto II, was forced to abdicate and exiled. The Republican Constitution was approved on 1 January 1948. Under the Treaty of Peace with Italy of 1947, most of Julian March was lost to Yugoslavia and, later, the Free Territory of Trieste was divided between the two states. Italy also lost all its colonial possessions, formally ending the Italian Empire.
Fears in the Italian electorate of a possible Communist takeover proved crucial for the first universal suffrage electoral outcome on <18 April 1948, when the Christian Democrats, under the leadership of Alcide De Gasperi, obtained a landslide victory. Consequently, in 1949 Italy became a member of NATO. The Marshall Plan helped to revive the Italian economy which, until the late 1960s, enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth commonly called the Economic Miracle. In 1957, Italy was a founding member of the European Economic Community (EEC), which became the European Union (EU) in 1993.
From the late 1960s until the early 1980s, the country experienced the Years of Lead, a period characterised by economic crisis (especially after the 1973 oil crisis), widespread social conflicts and terrorist massacres carried out by opposing extremist groups, with the alleged involvement of US and Soviet intelligence. The Years of Lead culminated in the assassination of the Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro in 1978 and the Bologna railway station massacre in 1980, where 85 people died.
In the 1980s, for the first time since 1945, two governments were led by non-Christian-Democrat premiers: one republican (Giovanni Spadolini) and one socialist (Bettino Craxi); the Christian Democrats remained, however, the main government party. During Craxi’s government, the economy recovered and Italy became the world’s fifth largest industrial nation, gaining entry into the G7 Group. However, as a result of his spending policies, the Italian national debt skyrocketed during the Craxi era, soon passing 100% of the GDP.
In the early 1990s, Italy faced significant challenges, as voters – disenchanted with political paralysis, massive public debt and the extensive corruption system (known as Tangentopoli) uncovered by the ‘Clean Hands’ investigation – demanded radical reforms. The scandals involved all major parties, but especially those in the government coalition: the Christian Democrats, who ruled for almost 50 years, underwent a severe crisis and eventually disbanded, splitting up into several factions. The Communists reorganised as a social-democratic force. During the 1990s and the 2000s (decade), centre-right (dominated by media magnate Silvio Berlusconi) and centre-left coalitions (led by university professor Romano Prodi) alternatively governed the country.
In the late 2000s, Italy was severely hit by the Great Recession. From 2008 to 2013, the country suffered 42 months of GDP recession. The economic crisis was one of the main problems that forced Berlusconi to resign in 2011. The government of the conservative Prime Minister was replaced by the technocratic cabinet of Mario Monti. Following the 2013 general election, the Vice-Secretary of the Democratic Party formed a new government at the head of a right-left Grand coalition. In 2014, challenged by the new Secretary of the PD Matteo Renzi, Letta resigned and was replaced by Renzi. The new government started important constitutional reforms such as the abolition of the Senate and a new electoral law. On 4 December the constitutional reform was rejected in a referendum and Renzi resigned after few days on 12 December; the Foreign Affairs Minister Paolo Gentiloni was appointed new Prime Minister.
Italy was affected by the European migrant crisis in 2015 as it became the entry point and leading destination for most asylum seekers entering the EU. The country took in over half a million refugees, which caused great strain on the public purse and a surge in the support for far-right and euroskeptic political parties.
Southern Europe, between latitudes 35th parallel north and 47° N, and longitudes 6° and 19°. To the north, Italy borders France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia, and is roughly delimited by the Alpine watershed, enclosing the Po Valley and the Venetian Plain. To the south, it consists of the entirety of the Italian Peninsula and the two Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia, in addition to many smaller islands. The sovereign states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italy, while Campione d’Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland.
The country’s total area is 301,230 square kilometres (116,306 sq mi), of which 294,020 km2 (113,522 sq mi) is land and 7,210 km2 (2,784 sq mi) is water. Including the islands, Italy has a coastline and border of 7,600 kilometres (4,722 miles) on the Adriatic, Ionian, Tyrrhenian seas (740 km (460 mi)), and borders shared with France (488 km (303 mi)), Austria (430 km (267 mi)), Slovenia (232 km (144 mi)) and Switzerland (740 km (460 mi)). San Marino (39 km (24 mi)) and Vatican City (3.2 km (2.0 mi)), both enclaves, account for the remainder.
The Apennine Mountains form the peninsula’s backbone and the Alps form most of its northern boundary, where Italy’s highest point is located on Monte Bianco (4,810 m or 15,780 ft). The Po, Italy’s longest river (652 kilometres or 405 miles), flows from the Alps on the western border with France and crosses the Padan plain on its way to the Adriatic Sea. The five largest lakes are, in order of diminishing size: Garda (367.94 km2 or 142 sq mi), Maggiore (212.51 km2 or 82 sq mi, shared with Switzerland), Como (145.9 km2 or 56 sq mi), Trasimeno (124.29 km2 or 48 sq mi) and Bolsena (113.55 km2 or 44 sq mi).
Although the country includes the Italian peninsula, adjacent islands and most of the southern Alpine basin, some of Italy’s territory extends beyond the Alpine basin and some islands are located outside the Eurasian continental shelf. These territories are the comuni of: Livigno, Sexten, Innichen, Toblach, Chiusaforte, Tarvisio, Graun im Vinschgau (in part), which are all part of the Danube’s drainage basin, while the Val di Lei constitutes part of the Rhine’s basin and the islands of Lampedus and Lampione are on the African continental shelf. Monte Bianco in Aosta Valley, the highest point in the European Union.
Volcanology. The country is situated at the meeting point of the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate, leading to considerable volcanic activity. There are 14 volcanoes in Italy, four of which are active: Etna, Vulcan, Stromboli, Vulcano, Vesuvius. The latter one is the only active volcano in mainland Europe and is most famous for the destruction of Pompeii and Herculanum in the eruption in 79 AD. Several islands and hills have been created by volcanic activity, and there is still a large active caldera, the Campi Flegrei north-west of Naples.
Until the 1950s, Italy was the first and only country to exploit geothermal energy to produce electricity in the Larderello area, and later in the Mount Amiata area. The high geothermal gradient that forms part of the peninsula makes potentially exploitable also other provinces: research carried out in the 1960s and 1970s identifies potential geothermal fields in Lazio and Tuscany, as well as in most volcanic islands.
After its quick industrial growth, Italy took a long time to confront its environmental problems. After several improvements, it now ranks 84th in the world for ecological sustainability. National parks cover about 5% of the country. In the last decade, Italy has become one of the world’s leading producers oF renewable energy, ranking as the world’s fourth largest holder of installed solar energy capacity and the sixth largest holder of wind power capacity in 2010. Renewable energies now make up about 12% of the total primary and final energy consumption in Italy, with a future target share set at 17% for the year 2020.
However, air pollution remains a severe problem, especially in the industrialised north, reaching the tenth highest level worldwide of industrial carbon dioxide emissions in the 1990s. Italy is the twelfth largest carbon dioxide producer. Extensive traffic and congestion in the largest metropolitan areas continue to cause severe environmental and health issues, even if smog levels have decreased dramatically since the 1970s and 1980s, and the presence of smog is becoming an increasingly rarer phenomenon and levels of sulphur dioxide are decreasing.
Many watercourses and coastal stretches have also been contaminated by industrial and agricultural activity, while because of rising water levels, Venice has been regularly flooded throughout recent years. Waste from industrial activity is not always disposed of by legal means and has led to permanent health effects on inhabitants of affected areas, as in the case of the Seveso disaster. The country has also operated several nuclear reactors between 1963 and 1990 but, after the Chernobyl disaster and a referendum on the issue the nuclear programme was terminated, a decision that was overturned by the government in 2008, planning to build up to four nuclear power plants with French technology. This was in turn struck down by a referendum following the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Deforestation, illegal building developments and poor land-management policies have led to significant erosion all over Italy’s mountainous regions, leading to major ecological disasters like the 1963 Vajont Dam flood, the 1998 and 2009 Messina mudslides.
Fauna and flora. Italy has the highest level of faunal biodiversity in Europe, with over 57,000 species recorded, representing more than a third of all European fauna. The Italian peninsula is in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, forming a corridor between central Europe and North Africa, and has 8,000 km of coastline. Italy also receives species from the Balkans, Eurasia, and the Middle East. Italy’s varied geological structure, including the Alps and the Apennines, Central Italian woodlands, and Southern Italian Garigue and Maquis shrubland, also contribute to high climate and habitat diversity. The Italian wolf inhabits the Apennine Mountains and the Western Alps.
Italian fauna includes 4777 endemi animal species, such as the Sardinian long-eared bat, Sardinian red deer, spectacled salamander, Brown cave salamander, Italian cave salamander, Monte Albo cave salamander, Sardinian brook newt, Italian newt, Italian frog, Apennine yellow-bellied toad, Aeolian wall lizard, Sicilian wall lizard, Italian Aesculapian snake, Sicilian pond turtle. There are 102 mammals species in Italy, such as the Alpine marmot, Etruscan shrew, European snow vole; notable large mammals are the Italian wolf, Marsican brown bear<, Pyrenean chamois, Alpine ibex, rough-toothed dolphin, crested porcupine, Mediterranean monk seal. Italy has also recorded 516 bird species and 56213 invertebrates species.
Southern Italy has a Mediterranean climate. Thanks to the great longitudinal extension of the peninsula and the mostly mountainous internal conformation, the climate of Italy is highly diverse. In most of the inland northern and central regions, the climate ranges from humid subtropical to humid continental and oceanic. In particular, the climate of the Po valley geographical region is mostly continental, with harsh winters and hot summers.
The coastal areas of Liguria, Tuscany and most of the South generally fit the Mediterranean climate stereotype (Köppen climate classification Csa). Conditions on peninsular coastal areas can be very different from the interior’s higher ground and valleys, particularly during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions have mild winters and warm and generally dry summers, although lowland valleys can be quite hot in summer. Average winter temperatures vary from 0 °C (32 °F) on the Alps to 12 °C (54 °F) in Sicily, like so the average summer temperatures range from 20 °C (68 °F) to over 25 °C (77 °F).
Italy has been a unitary parliamentary republic since 2 June 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by a constitutional referendum. The President of Italy (Presidente della Repubblica), currently Sergio Mattarella since 2015, is Italy’s head of state. The President is elected for a single seven years mandate by the Parliament of Italy in joint session. Italy has a written democratic constitution, resulting from the work of a Constituent Assembly formed by the representatives of all the anti-fascist forces that contributed to the defeat of Nazi and Fascist forces during the Civil War.
Italy has a parliamentary government based on a proportional voting system. The parliament is perfectly bicameral: the two houses, the Chamber of Deputies (that meets in Palazzo Montecitorio) and the Senate of the Republic (that meets in Palazzo Madama), have the same powers. The Prime Minister, officially President of the Council of Ministers (Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri), is Italy’s head of government. The Prime Minister and the cabinet are appointed by the President of the Republic, but must pass a vote of confidence in Parliament to come into office. The incumbent Prime Minister is Paolo Gentiloni of the Democratic Party.
The prime minister is the President of the Council of Ministers—which holds effective executive power— and he must receive a vote of approval from it to execute most political activities. The office is similar to those in most other parliamentary systems, but the leader of the Italian government is not authorised to request the dissolution of the Parliament of Italy. The Chamber of Deputies is the lower house of Italy.
A peculiarity of the Italian Parliament is the representation given to Italian citizens permanently living abroad: 12 Deputies and 6 Senators elected in four distinct overseas constituencies. In addition, the Italian Senate is characterised also by a small number of senators for life, appointed by the President “for outstanding patriotic merits in the social, scientific, artistic or literary field”. Former Presidents of the Republic are ex officio life senators.
Italy’s three major political parties are the Democratic Party, Forza Italia and the Five Star Movement. During the 2013 general election these three parties won 579 out of 630 seats available in the Chamber of Deputies and 294 out of 315 in the Senate. Most of the remaining seats were won by a short-lived electoral bloc formed to support the outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti, the far left party Left, Ecology, Freedom or by parties that contest elections only in one part of Italy: the Northern League, the South Tyrolean People’s Party, Vallée d’Aoste and Great South. On 15 November 2013, 58 splinter MPs from Forza Italia founded New Centre-Right.
LAW and CRIMINAL JUSTICE
The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes. The Supreme Court of Cassation is the highest court in Italy for both criminal and civil appeal cases. The Constitutional Court of Italy (Corte Costituzionale) rules on the conformity of laws with the constitution and is a post–World War II innovation. Since their appearance in the middle of the 19th century, Italian organised crime and criminal organisations have infiltrated the social and economic life of many regions in Southern Italy, the most notorious of which being the Sicilian Mafia, which would later expand into some foreign countries including the United States. Mafia receipts may reach 9% of Italy’s GDP.
A 2009 report identified 610 comunities which have a strong Mafia presence, where 13 million Italians live and 14.6% of the Italian GDP is produced. The Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, nowadays probably the most powerful crime syndicate of Italy, accounts alone for 3% of the country’s GDP. However, at 0.013 per 1,000 people, Italy has only the 47th highest murder rate (in a group of 62 countries) and the 43rd highest number of rapes per 1,000 people in the world (in a group of 65 countries), relatively low figures among developed countries.
Law enforcement. Law enforcement in Italy is provided by multiple police forces, five of which are national, Italian agencies. The Polizia di Stato (State Police) is the civil national police of Italy. Along with patrolling, investigative and law enforcement duties, it patrols the Autostrada (Italy’s Express Highway network), and oversees the security of railways, bridges and waterways. The Carabinieriis the common name for the Arma dei Carabinieri, a Gendarmerie-like military corps with police duties. They also serve as the military police for the Italian armed forces.
The Guardia di Finanza, (English: Financial Guard) is a corps under the authority of the Minister of Economy and Finance, with a role as police force. The Corps is in charge of financial, economic, judiciary and public safety. The Polizia Penitenziaria (Prison Guards, literally Penitentiary Police) operate the Italian prison system and handle the transportation of inmates.
Italy is a founding member of the European Community, now the European Union (EU), and of NATO. Italy was admitted to the United Nations in 1955, and it is a member and strong supporter of a wide number of international organisations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization (GATT/WTO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, and the Central European Initiative. Its recent or upcoming turns in the rotating presidency of international organisations include the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2018, the G8 in 2017 and the EU Council from July to December 2014. Italy is also a recurrent Non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, the most recently in 2017.
Italy strongly supports multilateral international politics, endorsing the United Nations and its international security activities. As of 2013, Italy was deploying 5,296 troops abroad, engaged in 33 UN and NATO missions in 25 countries of the world. Italy deployed troops in support of UN peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Mozambique, and East Timor and provides support for NATO and UN operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania. Italy deployed over 2,000 troops in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) from February 2003.
Italy supported international efforts to reconstruct and stabilise Iraq, but it had withdrawn its military contingent of some 3,200 troops by 2006, maintaining only humanitarian operators and other civilian personnel. In August 2006 Italy deployed about 2,450 troops in Lebanon for the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission UNIFIL. Italy is one of the largest financiers of the Palestinian National Authority, contributing €60 million in 2013 alone.
The Italian Army, Navy, Air Force and Carabinieri collectively form the Italian Armed Forces, under the command of the Supreme Defence Council, presided over by the President of Italy. Since 2005, military service is voluntary. In 2010, the Italian military had 293,202 personnel on active duty, of which 114,778 are Carabinieri. Total Italian military spending in 2010 ranked tenth in the world, standing at $35.8 billion, equal to 1.7% of national GDP. As part of NATO’s nuclear sharing strategy Italy also hosts 90 United States nuclear bombs, located in the Ghedi and Aviano air bases.
The Italian Army is the national ground defence force, numbering 109,703 in 2008. Its best-known combat vehicles are the Dardo infantry fighting vehicle, the Centauro tank destroyer and the Ariete tank, and among its aircraft the Mangusta attack helicopter, in the last years deployed in EU, NATO and UN missions. It also has at its disposal a large number of Leopard 1 and M113armoured vehicles.
The Italian Navy in 2008 had 35,200 active personnel with 85 commissioned ships and 123 aircraft. It is a blue-water navy. In modern times the Italian Navy, being a member of the EU and NATO, has taken part in many coalition peacekeeping operations around the world.
The Italian Air Force in 2008 had a strength of 43,882 and operated 585 aircraft, including 219 combat jets and 114 helicopters. A transport capability is guaranteed by a fleet of 27 C-130Js and C-27J Spartan.
An autonomous corps of the military, the Carabinieri are the gendarmerie and military police of Italy, policing the military and civilian population alongside Italy’s other police forces. While the different branches of the Carabinieri report to separate ministries for each of their individual functions, the corps reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs when maintaining public order and security.
Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni), five of these regions having a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their local matters. The country is further divided into 14 metropolitan cities (città metropolitane) and 96 provinces (province), which in turn are subdivided in 8,047 municipalities (comuni).
Milan is a leading business centre in Europe and a fashion capital of the world.
Italy has a capitalist mixed economy, ranking as the third-largest in the Eurozone and the eighth-largest in the world. The country is a founding member of the G7, the Eurozone and the OECD.
Italy is regarded as one of the world’s most industrialised nations and a leading country in world trade and exports. It is a highly developed country, with the world’s 8th highest quality of life in 2005 and the 26th Human Development Index. The country is well known for its creative and innovative business, a large and competitive agricultural sector (Italy is the world’s largest wine producer), and for its influential and high-quality automobile, machinery, food, design and fashion industry.
A Fiat 500 by one of the worlds largest auto makers FCA. Italy maintains a large automotive industry, and is the world’s seventh exporter of goods.
Manufacturing. Italy is the world’s sixth largest manufacturing country, characterised by a smaller number of global multinational corporations than other economies of comparable size and a large number of dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises, notoriously clustered in several industrial districts, which are the backbone of the Italian industry. This has produced a manufacturing sector often focused on the export of niche market and luxury products, that if on one side is less capable to compete on the quantity, on the other side is more capable of facing the competition from China and other emerging Asian economies based on lower labour costs, with higher quality products. Italy was the world’s 7th largest exporter in 2016. Its closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European Union, with whom it conducts about 59% of its total trade. Its largest EU trade partners, in order of market share, are Germany (12.9%), France (11.4%), and Spain (7.4%).
The automotive industry is a significant part of the Italian manufacturing sector, with over 144,000 firms and almost 485,000 employed people in 2015, and a contribution of 8.5% to Italian GDP. It began with the construction of the first FIAT plant in 1899 by Giovanni Agnelli, and in the following years at least 50 other manufacturers appeared; the best known being Isotta Fraschini, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Abarth, Lamborghini, Iveco, Pagani, DR Motor Company, and Fiat S.p.A.. Some of these brands are owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (abbreviated in FCA), an Italian-controlled multinational corporation incorporated in the Netherlands, currently the world’s seventh-largest auto maker. Sports car manufacturer Ferrari, which was spun off from FCA in 2016, was rated the world’s most powerful brand by Brand Finance. Italy is also the most awarded country at the European Car of the Year, with 12 awards won (9 by Fiat, 2 by Alfa Romeo, and one by Lancia).
Italy is part of a monetary union, the Eurozone (dark blue) and of the EU single market
Italy is part of the European single market which represents more than 500 million consumers. Several domestic commercial policies are determined by agreements among European Union (EU) members and by EU legislation. Italy introduced the common European currency, the Euroin 2002. It is a member of the Eurozone which represents around 330 million citizens. Its monetary policy is set by the European Central Bank.
Italy has been hit hard by the Financial crisis of 2007–08 and the subsequent European sovereign-debt crisis, that exacerbated the country’s structural problems. Effectively, after a strong GDP growth of 5–6% per year from the 1950s to the early 1970s, and a progressive slowdown in the 1980-90s, the country virtually stagnated in the 2000s. The political efforts to revive growth with massive government spending eventually produced a severe rise in public debt, that stood at over 135% of GDP in 2014, ranking second in the EU only after the Greek one (at 174%). For all that, the largest chunk of Italian public debt is owned by national subjects, a major difference between Italy and Greece, and the level of household debt is much lower than the OECD average.
A gaping North–South divide is a major factor of socio-economic weakness. It can be noted by the huge difference in statistical income between the northern and southern regions and municipalities. The richest region, Lombardy, earns 127% of the national GDP per capita, while the poorest, Calabria, only 61% The unemployment rate (11.9%) stands slightly above the Eurozone average, however the average figure is 7.9% in the North and 20.2% in the South.
Agriculture. According to the last national agricultural census, there were 1.6 million farms in 2010 (−32.4% since 2000) covering 12.7 million hectares (63% of which are located in Southern Italy). The vast majority (99%) are family-operated and small, averaging only 8 hectares in size. Of the total surface area in agricultural use (forestry excluded), grain fields take up 31%, olive tree orchards 8.2%, vineyards 5.4%, citrus orchards 3.8%, sugar beets 1.7%, and horticulture 2.4%. The remainder is primarily dedicated to pastures (25.9%) and feed grains (11.6%).
Italy is the world’s top wine producer, and one of the leading in olive oil, fruits (apples, olives, grapes, oranges, lemons, pears, apricots, hazelnuts, peaches, cherries, plums, strawberries and kiwifruits), and vegetables (especially artichokes and tomatoes). The most famous Italian winesare probably the Tuscan Chianti and the Piedmontese Barolo. Other famous wines are Barbaresco, Barbera d’Asti, Brunello di Montalcino, Frascati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Morellino di Scansano, and the sparkling wines Franciacorta and Prosecco. Quality goods in which Italy specialises, particularly the already mentioned wines and regional cheeses, are often protected under the quality assurance labels DOC/DOP. This geographical indication certificate, which is attributed by the European Union, is considered important in order to avoid confusion with low-quality mass-produced ersatz products.
Transport in Italy. In 2004 the transport sector in Italy generated a turnover of about 119.4 billion euros, employing 935,700 persons in 153,700 enterprises. Regarding the national road network, in 2002 there were 668,721 km (415,524 mi) of serviceable roads in Italy, including 6,487 km (4,031 mi) of motorways, state-owned but privately operated by Atlantia. In 2005, about 34,667,000 passenger cars (590 cars per 1,000 people) and 4,015,000 goods vehicles circulated on the national road network.
The national railway network, state-owned and operated by Ferrovie dello Stato, in 2008 totalled 16,529 km (10,271 mi) of which 11,727 km (7,287 mi) is electrified, and on which 4,802 locomotives and railcars run.
The national inland waterways network comprised 1,477 km (918 mi) of navigable rivers and channels in 2002. In 2004 there were approximately 30 main airports (including the two hubs of Malpensa International in Milan and Leonardo da Vinci International in Rome) and 43 major seaports (including the seaport of Genoa, the country’s largest and second largest in the Mediterranean Sea). In 2005 Italy maintained a civilian air fleet of about 389,000 units and a merchant fleet of 581 ships.
Italy needs to import about 80% of its energy requirements.
Water supply and sanitation. Italy does not invest enough to maintain its drinking water supply and sanitation infrastructure, while water and sanitation tariffs are among the lowest in the European Union. The Galli Law, passed in 1993, aimed at raising the level of investment and to improve service quality by consolidating service providers, making them more efficient and increasing the level of cost recovery through tariff revenues. Despite these reforms, investment levels have declined and remain far from sufficient.
Science and technology. Through the centuries, Italy has fostered the scientific community that produced many major discoveries in physics and the other sciences. During the Renaissance Italian polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Michelangelo (1475–1564) and Leon Battista Alberti (1404–72) made important contributions to a variety of fields, including biology, architecture, and engineering. Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), a physicist, mathematician and astronomer, played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include key improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations, and ultimately the triumph of Copernicanism over the Ptolemaic model.
Other astronomers suchs as Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625–1712) and Giovanni Schiaparelli(1835–1910) made many important discoveries about the Solar System. In mathematics, Joseph Louis Lagrange (born Giuseppe Lodovico Lagrangia, 1736–1813) was active before leaving Italy. Fibonacci (c. 1170 – c. 1250), and Gerolamo Cardano (1501–76) made fundamental advances in mathematics. Luca Pacioli established accounting to the world. Physicist Enrico Fermi (1901–54), a Nobel prize laureate, led the team in Chicago that developed the first nuclear reactor and is also noted for his many other contributions to physics, including the co-development of the quantum theory and was one of the key figures in the creation of the nuclear weapon. He, Emilio G. Segrè((1905–89) who discovered the elements technetium and astatine, and the antiproton), Bruno Rossi ((1905–93) a pioneer in Cosmic Rays and X-ray astronomy) and a number of Italian physicists were forced to leave Italy in the 1930s by Fascist laws against Jews.
Other prominent physicists include: Amedeo Avogadro (most noted for his contributions to molecular theory, in particular the Avogadro’s law and the Avogadro constant), Evangelista Torricelli (inventor of barometer), Alessandro Volta (inventor of electric battery), Guglielmo Marconi (inventor of radio), Ettore Majorana (who discovered the Majorana fermions), Carlo Rubbia (1984 Nobel Prize in Physics for work leading to the discovery of the W and Z particles at CERN). In biology, Francesco Redi has been the first to challenge the theory of spontaneous generation by demonstrating that maggots come from eggs of flies and he described 180 parasites in details and Marcello Malpighi founded microscopic anatomy, Lazzaro Spallanzani conducted important research in bodily functions, animal reproduction, and cellular theory, Camillo Golgi, whose many achievements include the discovery of the Golgi complex, paved the way to the acceptance of the Neuron doctrine, Rita Levi-Montalcini discovered the nerve growth factor (awarded 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine). In chemistry, Giulio Natta received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1963 for his work on high polymers. Giuseppe Occhialini received the Wolf Prize in Physics for the discovery of the pion or pi-meson decay in 1947. Ennio de Giorgi, a Wolf Prize in Mathematics recipient in 1990, solved Bernstein’s problem about minimal surfaces and the 19th Hilbert problem on the regularity of solutions of Elliptic partial differential equations.
Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world, with a total of 50.7 million international arrivals in 2015. The total contribution of travel & tourism to GDP (including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts) was EUR162.7bn in 2014 (10.1% of GDP) and generated 1,082,000 jobs directly in 2014 (4.8% of total employment).
Italy is well known for its cultural and environmental tourist routes and is home to 53 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most in the world. Milan is the 6th most visited city in Europe and the 14th in the world, with an average of 7.65 million international arrivals in 2016 while Rome is the 8th and 16th resptectively, with 7.12 million toruists. In addition, Venice and Florence are also among the world’s top 100 destinations.
Italy’s most-visited landmarks include e.g. Coloseum and Roman Forum, Pompeii, Uffizi Gallery, Galleria dell’Accademia, Castel Sant’Angelo, Boboli Garden, Venaria Reale, Turin Egyptian Museum, the Borghese Gallery, the Royal Palace of Caserta, Cenacolo Vinciano Museum, Villa d’Este, Pitti Palace, the Excavations of Hercolaneum, Naples National Archaeological Museum, the Medici Chapels, Ostia Antica Excavations and Museum, Blu Grotto, Venice National Archaeological Museum, Lake Como and Pinacoteca di Brera.
At the end of 2013, Italy had 60,782,668 inhabitants. The resulting population density, at 202 inhabitants per square kilometre (520/sq mi), is higher than that of most Western European countries. However, the distribution of the population is widely uneven. The most densely populated areas are the Po Valley (that accounts for almost a half of the national population) and the metropolitan areas of Rome and Naples, while vast regions such as the Alps and Apennines highlands, the plateaus of Basilicata and the island of Sardinia are very sparsely populated.
The population of Italy almost doubled during the 20th century, but the pattern of growth was extremely uneven because of large-scale internal migration from the rural South to the industrial cities of the North, a phenomenon which happened as a consequence of the Italian economic miracle of the 1950–1960s. High fertility and birth rates persisted until the 1970s, after which they start to dramatically decline, leading to rapid population ageing. At the end of the 2000s (decade), one in five Italians was over 65 years old. However, in recent years Italy experienced a significant growth in birth rates. The total fertility rate has also climbed from an all-time low of 1.18 children per woman in 1995 to 1.41 in 2008. The TFR is expected to reach 1.6–1.8 in 2030.
From the late 19th century until the 1960s Italy was a country of mass emigration. Between 1898 and 1914, the peak years of Italian diaspora, approximately 750,000 Italians emigrated each year. The diaspora concerned more than 25 million Italians and it is considered the biggest mass migration of contemporary times. As a result, today more than 4.1 million Italian citizens are living abroad, while at least 60 million people of full or part Italian ancestry live outside of Italy, most notably in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela, the United States, Canada, Australia and France.
In 2016, Italy had about 5.05 million foreign residents, making up 8.3% of the total population. The figures include more than half a million children born in Italy to foreign nationals—second generation immigrants, but exclude foreign nationals who have subsequently acquired Italian citizenship. In 2016, about 201,000 people acquired Italian citizenship (130,000 in 2014). The official figures also exclude illegal immigrants, that were estimated in 2008 to number at least 670,000.
Starting from the early 1980s, until then a linguistically and culturally homogeneous society, Italy begun to attract substantial flows of foreign immigrants. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and, more recently, the 2004and 2007 enlargements of the European Union, large waves of migration originated from the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe (especially Romania, Albania, Ukraine and Poland). An equally important source of immigration is neighbouring North Africa (in particular, Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia), with soaring arrivals as a consequence of the Arab Spring. Furthermore, in recent years, growing migration fluxes from Asia-Pacific (notably China and the Philippines) and Latin America have been recorded.
Currently, about one million Romanian citizens (around 10% of them being from the Romani people ethnic group) are officially registered as living in Italy, representing thus the most important individual country of origin, followed by Albanians and Moroccans with about 500,000 people each. The number of unregistered Romanians is difficult to estimate, but the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network suggested in 2007 that there might have been half a million or more. Overall, at the end of the 2000s (decade) the foreign born population of Italy was from: Europe (54%), Africa (22%), Asia (16%), the Americas (8%) and Oceania (0.06%). The distribution of immigrants is largely uneven in Italy: 87% of immigrants live in the northern and central parts of the country (the most economically developed areas), while only 13% live in the southern half of the peninsula.
Italy’s official language is Italian. It is estimated that there are about 64 million native Italian speakers while the total number of Italian speakers, including those who use it as a second language, is about 85 million. Italy has numerous regional dialects; however, the establishment of a national education system has led to a decrease in variation in the languages spoken across the country during the 20th century. Standardisation was further expanded in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to economic growth and the rise of mass media and television (the state broadcaster RAI helped set a standard Italian).
All the minority language groups officially recognised by Italy. Twelve historical minority languages are legally recognised: Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovene, Croatian, French, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan and Sardinian (Law number 482 of 15 December 1999). French is co-official in the Valle d’Aosta—although in fact Franco-Provencal is more commonly spoken there. German has the same status in South Tyrol as, in some parts of that province and in parts of the neighbouring Trentino, does Ladin. Slovene is officially recognised in the provinces of Trieste, Gorizia and Udine.
Because of significant recent immigration, Italy has sizeable populations whose native language is not Italian. According to the Italian National Institute of Statistics, Romanian is the most common mother tongue among foreign residents in Italy: almost 800,000 people speak Romanian as their first language (21.9% of the foreign residents aged 6 and over). Other prevalent mother tongues are Arabic (spoken by over 475,000 people; 13.1% of foreign residents), Albanian (380,000 people) and Spanish (255,000 people). Other languages spoken in Italy are Ukrainian, Hindi, Polish and Tamil amongst others.
Italy is home to many of the world’s largest churches and masterpieces of architecture. Clockwise from left: Florence Cathedral, which has the biggest brick dome in the world; St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church of Christendom; Milan Cathedral, the largest Italian church and the fifth largest in the world; and St Mark’s Basilica, one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture
Roman Catholicism is, by far, the largest religion in the country, although since 1985 no longer officially the state religion. In 2010, the proportion of Italians that identify themselves as Roman Catholic was 81.2%.
The Holy See, the episcopal jurisdiction of Rome, contains the central government of the entire Roman Catholic Church, including various agencies essential to administration. Diplomatically, it is recognised by other subjects of international law as a sovereign entity, headed by the Pope, who is also the Bishop of Rome, with which diplomatic relations can be maintained. Often incorrectly referred to as “the Vatican”, the Holy See is not the same entity as the Vatican City State, which came into existence only in 1929; the Holy See dates back to early Christian times. Ambassadors are officially accredited not to the Vatican City State but to “the Holy See”, and papal representatives to states and international organisations are recognised as representing the Holy See, not the Vatican City State.
Minority Christian faiths in Italy include Eastern Orthodox, Waldensians and other Protestant communities. In 2011, there were an estimated 1.5 million Orthodox Christians in Italy, or 2.5% of the population; 0.5 million Pentecostals and Evangelicals (of whom 0.4 million are members of the Assemblies of God), 235,685 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 30,000 Waldensians, 25,000 Seventh-day Adventists, 22,000 Latter-day Saints, 15,000 Baptists (plus some 5,000 Free Baptists), 7,000 Lutherans, 4,000 Methodists (affiliated with the Waldensian Church).
One of the longest-established minority religious faiths in Italy is Judaism, Jews having been present in Ancient Rome since before the birth of Christ. Italy has for centuries welcomed Jews expelled from other countries, notably Spain. However, as a result of the Holocaust, about 20% of Italian Jews lost their lives. This, together with the emigration that preceded and followed World War II, has left only a small community of around 28,400 Jews in Italy.
Soaring immigration in the last two decades has been accompanied by an increase in non-Christian faiths. In 2010, there were 1.6 million Muslims in Italy, forming 2.6% of population. In addition, there are more than 200,000 followers of faiths originating in the Indian subcontinent with some 70,000 Sikhs with 22 gurdwaras across the country, 70,000 Hindus, and 50,000 Buddhists. There were an estimated 4,900 Bahá’ís in Italy in 2005.
The Italian state, as a measure to protect religious freedom, devolves shares of income tax to recognised religious communities, under a regime known as Eight per thousand (Otto per mille). Donations are allowed to Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu communities; however, Islam remains excluded, since no Muslim communities have yet signed a concordat with the Italian state. Taxpayers who do not wish to fund a religion contribute their share to the state welfare system.
Bologna University is the oldest academic institution of the world, founded in AD 1088
Education in Italy is free and mandatory from ages six to sixteen, and consists of five stages: kindergarten (scuola dell’infanzia, formerly known as asilo), primary school (scuola primaria,formerly known as scuola elementare), lower secondary school (scuola secondaria di primo grado, formerly known as scuola media), upper secondary school (scuola secondaria di secondo grado, formerly known as scuola superiore) and university (università).
Primary education lasts eight years. The students are given a basic education in Italian, English, mathematics, natural sciences, history, geography, social studies, physical education and visual and musical arts. Secondary education lasts for five years and includes three traditional types of schools focused on different academic levels: the liceo prepares students for university studies with a classical or scientific curriculum, while the istituto tecnico and the Istituto professionaleprepare pupils for vocational education. In 2012, the Italian secondary education has been evalued as slightly below the OECD average, with a strong and steady improvement in science and mathematics results since 2003;however, a wide gap exists between northern schools, which performed significantly better than the national average (among the best in the world in some subjects), and schools in the South, that had much poorer results.
Tertiary education in Italy is divided between public universities, private universities and the prestigious and selective superior graduate schools, such as the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. The university system in Italy is generally regarded as poor for a world cultural powerhouse, with no universities ranked among the 100 world best and only 20 among the top 500. However, the current government has scheduled major reforms and investments in order to improve the overall internationalisation and quality of the system.
The Italian state runs a universal public healthcare system since 1978. However, healthcare is provided to all citizens and residents by a mixed public-private system. The public part is the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale, which is organised under the Ministry of Health and administered on a devolved regional basis. Healthcare spending in Italy accounted for 9.2% of the national GDP in 2012, very close the OECD countries’ average of 9.3%. Italy in 2000 ranked as having the world’s 2nd best healthcare system, and the world’s 2nd best healthcare performance.
Life expectancy in Italy is 80 for males and 85 for females, placing the country 6th in the world for life expectancy. In comparison to other Western countries, Italy has a relatively low rate of adult obesity (below 10%), probably thanks to the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. The proportion of daily smokers was 22% in 2012, down from 24.4% in 2000 but still slightly above the OECD average. Smoking in public places including bars, restaurants, night clubs and offices has been restricted to specially ventilated rooms since 2005. In 2013, UNESCO added the Mediterranean diet to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of Italy (promoter), Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Croatia.
For centuries divided by politics and geography until its eventual unification in 1861, Italy has developed a unique culture, shaped by a multitude of regional customs and local centres of power and patronage. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a number of magnificent courtscompeted for attracting the best architects, artistis and scholars, thus producing an immense legacy of monuments, paintings, music and literature.
Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites (53) than any other country in the world, and has rich collections of art, culture and literature from many different periods. The country has had a broad cultural influence worldwide, also because numerous Italians emigrated to other places during the Italian diaspora. Furthermore, the nation has, overall, an estimated 100,000 monuments of any sort (museums, palaces, buildings, statues, churches, art galleries, villas, fountains, historic houses and archaeological remains).
Architecture. Italy has a very broad and diverse architectural style, which cannot be simply classified by period, but also by region, because of Italy’s division into several regional states until 1861. This has created a highly diverse and eclectic range in architectural designs.
Italy is known for its considerable architectural achievements, such as the construction of arches, domes and similar structures during ancient Rome, the founding of the Renaissance architectural movement in the late-14th to 16th centuries, and being the homeland of Palladianism, a style of construction which inspired movements such as that of Neoclassical architecture, and influenced the designs which noblemen built their country houses all over the world, notably in the UK, Australia and the US during the late 17th to early 20th centuries. Several of the finest works in Western architecture, such as the Colosseum, the Milan Cathedral and Florence cathedral, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the building designs of Venice are found in Italy.
Italian architecture has also widely influenced the architecture of the world. British architect Inigo Jones, inspired by the designs of Italian buildings and cities, brought back the ideas of Italian Renaissance architecture to 17th-century England, being inspired by Andrea Palladio. Additionally, Italianate architecture, popular abroad since the 19th century, was used to describe foreign architecture which was built in an Italian style, especially modelled on Renaissance architecture.
Visual art. The history of Italian visual art is part of Western painting history. Roman art was influenced by Greece and can in part be taken as a descendant of ancient Greek painting. However, Roman painting does have important unique characteristics. The only surviving Roman paintings are wall paintings, many from villas in Campania, in Southern Italy. Such painting can be grouped into 4 main “styles” or periods and may contain the first examples of trompe-l’œil, pseudo-perspective, and pure landscape.
Panel painting becomes more common during the Romanesque period, under the heavy influence of Byzantine icons. Towards the middle of the 13th century, Medieval art and Gothic painting became more realistic, with the beginnings of interest in the depiction of volume and perspective in Italy with Cimabue and then his pupil Giotto. From Giotto on, the treatment of composition by the best painters also became much more free and innovative. They are considered to be the two great medieval masters of painting in western culture.
The Italian Renaissance is said by many to be the golden age of painting; roughly spanning the 14th through the mid-17th centuries with a significant influence also out of the borders of modern Italy. In Italy artists like Paolo Uccello, Fra Angelico, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Andrea Mantegna, Filippo Lippi, Giorgione, Tintoretto, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael, Giovanni Bellini, and Titian took painting to a higher level through the use of perspective, the study of human anatomy and proportion, and through their development of an unprecedented refinement in drawing and painting techniques. Michelangelo was an active sculptor from about 1500 to 1520, and his great masterpieces including his David, Pietà, Moses. Other prominent Renaissance sculptors include Lorenzo Ghiberti, Luca Della Robbia, Donatello, Filippo Brunelleschi and Andrea del Verrocchio.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, the High Renaissance gave rise to a stylised art known as Mannerism. In place of the balanced compositions and rational approach to perspective that characterised art at the dawn of the 16th century, the Mannerists sought instability, artifice, and doubt. The unperturbed faces and gestures of Piero della Francesca and the calm Virgins of Raphael are replaced by the troubled expressions of Pontormo and the emotional intensity of El Greco. In the 17th century, among the greatest painters of Italian Baroque are Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, Artemisia Gentileschi, Mattia Preti, Carlo Saraceni and Bartolomeo Manfredi. Subsequently, in the 18th century, Italian Rococo was mainly inspired by French Rococo, since France was the founding nation of that particular style, with artists such as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Canaletto. Italian Neoclassical sculpture focused, with Antonio Canova’s nudes, on the idealist aspect of the movement.
In the 19th century, major Italian Romantic painters were Francesco Hayez, Giuseppe Bezzuoli and Francesco Podesti. Impressionismwas brought from France to Italy by the Macchiaioli, led by Giovanni Fattori, and Giovanni Boldini; Realism by Gioacchino Toma and Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo. In the 20th century, with Futurism, primarily through the works of Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla, Italy rose again as a seminal country for artistic evolution in painting and sculpture. Futurism was succeeded by the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, who exerted a strong influence on the Surrealists and generations of artists to follow.
Literature and theatre. Italian literature began after the founding of Rome in 753 BC. Roman, or Latin literature, was and still is highly influential in the world, with numerous writers, poets, philosophers, and historians, such as Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Ovid and Livy. The Romans were also famous for their oral tradition, poetry, drama and epigrams. In early years of the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi was considered the first Italian poet by literary critics, with his religious song Canticle of the Sun.
Dante, poised between the mountain of Purgatory and the city of Florence, displays the famous incipit “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita”of the Divine Comedy in a detail of Domenico di Michelino’s painting, 1465
Another Italian voice originated in Sicily. At the court of emperor Frederick II, who ruled the Sicilian kingdom during the first half of the 13th century, lyrics modeled on Provençal forms and themes were written in a refined version of the local vernacular. The most important of these poets was the notary Giacomo da Lentini, inventor of the sonnet form, though the most famous early sonneteer was Petrarch.
Guido Guinizelli is considered the founder of the Dolce Stil Novo, a school that added a philosophical dimension to traditional love poetry. This new understanding of love, expressed in a smooth, pure style, influenced Guido Cavalcanti and the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri, who established the basis of the modern Italian language; his greatest work, the Divine Comedy, is considered among the foremost literary statements produced in Europe during the Middle Ages; furthermore, the poet invented the difficult terza rima. The two great writers of the 14th century, Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio, sought out and imitated the works of antiquity and cultivated their own artistic personalities. Petrarch achieved fame through his collection of poems, Il Canzoniere. Petrarch’s love poetry served as a model for centuries. Equally influential was Boccaccio’s The Decameron, one of the most popular collections of short stories ever written.
Italian Renaissance authors produced a number of important works. Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince is one of the world’s most famous essays on political science and modern philosophy, in which the effective truth is taken to be more important than any abstract ideal. Another important work of the period, Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, continuation of Matteo Maria Boiardo’s unfinished romance Orlando Innamorato, is perhaps the greatest chivalry poem ever written. Baldassare Castiglione’s dialogue The Book of the Courtierdescribes the ideal of the perfect court gentleman and of spiritual beauty. The lyric poet Torquato Tasso in Jerusalem Delivered wrote a Christian epic, making use of the ottava rima, with attention to the Aristotelian canons of unity.
Giovanni Francesco Straparola and Giambattista Basile, which have written The Facetious Nights of Straparola (1550-1555) and the Pentamerone (1634) respectively, printed some of the first known versions of fairy tales in Europe. In the early 17th century, some literary masterpieces were created, such as Giambattista Marino’s long mythological poem, L’Adone. The Baroque period also produced the clear scientific prose of Galileo as well as Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun, a description of a perfect society ruled by a philosopher-priest. At the end of the 17th century, the Arcadians began a movement to restore simplicity and classical restraint to poetry, as in Metastasio’s heroic melodramas. In the 18th century, playwright Carlo Goldonicreated full written plays, many portraying the middle class of his day.
The Romanticism coincided with some ideas of the Risorgimento, the patriotic movement that brought Italy political unity and freedom from foreign domination. Italian writers embraced Romanticism in the early 19th century. The time of Italy’s rebirth was heralded by the poets Vittorio Alfieri, Ugo Foscolo, and Giacomo Leopardi. The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni, the leading Italian Romantic, was the first Italian historical novel to glorify Christian values of justice and Providence, and it has been called the most famous and widely read novel in the Italian language.
In the late 19th century, a realistic literary movement called Verismo played a major role in Italian literature; Giovanni Verga and Luigi Capuana were its main exponents. In the same period, Emilio Salgari, writer of action adventure swashbucklers and a pioneer of science fiction, published his Sandokan series. In 1883, Carlo Collodi also published the novel The Adventures of Pinocchio, the most celebrated children’s classic by an Italian author and the most translated non-religious book in the world. A movement called Futurism influenced Italian literature in the early 20th century. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote Manifesto of Futurism, called for the use of language and metaphors that glorified the speed, dynamism, and violence of the machine age.
Modern literary figures and Nobel laureates are Gabriele D’Annunzio from 1889 to 1910, nationalist poet Giosuè Carducci in 1906, realist writer Grazia Deledda in 1926, modern theatre author Luigi Pirandello in 1936, short stories writer Italo Calvino in 1960, poets Salvatore Quasimodo in 1959 and Eugenio Montale in 1975, Umberto Eco in 1980, and satirist and theatre author Dario Fo in 1997.
Italian theatre can be traced back to the Roman tradition which was heavily influenced by the Greek; as with many other literary genres, Roman dramatists tended to adapt and translate from the Greek. For example, Seneca’s Phaedra was based on that of Euripides, and many of the comedies of Plautus were direct translations of works by Menander. During the 16th century and on into the 18th century, Commedia dell’arte was a form of improvisational theatre, and it is still performed today. Travelling troupes of players would set up an outdoor stage and provide amusement in the form of juggling, acrobatics and, more typically, humorous plays based on a repertoire of established characters with a rough storyline, called canovaccio.
Music. Giacomo Puccini, Italian composer whose operas, including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Turandot, are among the most frequently worldwide performed in the standard repertoire.
From folk music to classical, music has always played an important role in Italian culture. Instruments associated with classical music, including the piano and violin, were invented in Italy, and many of the prevailing classical music forms, such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata, can trace their roots back to innovations of 16th- and 17th-century Italian music.
Italy’s most famous composers include the Renaissance composers Palestrina and Monteverdi, the Baroque composers Scarlatti, Corelli and Vivaldi, the Classical composers Paganini and Rossini, and the Romantic composers Verdi and Puccini. Modern Italian composers such as Berio and Nono proved significant in the development of experimental and electronic music. While the classical music tradition still holds strong in Italy, as evidenced by the fame of its innumerable opera houses, such as La Scala of Milan and San Carlo of Naples, and performers such as the pianist Maurizio Pollini and the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Italians have been no less appreciative of their thriving contemporary music scene.
Italy is widely known for being the birthplace of opera. Italian opera was believed to have been founded in the early 17th century, in Italian cities such as Mantua and Venice. Later, works and pieces composed by native Italian composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, are among the most famous operas ever written and today are performed in opera houses across the world. La Scala operahouse in Milan is also renowned as one of the best in the world. Famous Italian opera singers include Enrico Caruso and Alessandro Bonci.
Introduced in the early 1920s, jazz took a particularly strong foothold in Italy, and remained popular despite the xenophobic cultural policies of the Fascist regime. Today, the most notable centres of jazz music in Italy include Milan, Rome, and Sicily. Later, Italy was at the forefront of the progressive rock and pop movement of the 1970s, with bands like PFM, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Le Orme, Goblin, and Pooh. The same period saw diversification in the cinema of Italy, and Cinecittà films included complex scores by composers including Ennio Morricone, Armando Trovaioli, Piero Piccioni and Piero Umiliani. The Italian hip hop scene began in the early 1990s with Articolo 31duo, mainly influenced by the East Coast rap.
Italy was also an important country in the development of disco and electronic music, with Italo disco, known for its futuristic sound and prominent usage of synthesisers and drum machines, being one of the earliest electronic dance genres, as well as European forms of disco aside from Euro disco (which later went on to influence several genres such as Eurodance and Nu-disco). Notable Italian DJs and remixers include Benny Benassi, Gigi D’Agostino, and Gabry Ponte, member of the Eiffel 65 group.
Producers such as Giorgio Moroder, who won three Academy Awards for his music, were highly influential in the development of electronic dance music. Today, Italian pop music is represented annually with the Sanremo Music Festival, which served as inspiration for the Eurovision song contest, and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto. Singers such as Mina, Andrea Bocelli, Grammy winner Laura Pausini, Eros Ramazzotti and Tiziano Ferro have attained international acclaim.
Cinema. The history of Italian cinema began a few months after the Lumière brothers began motion picture exhibitions. The first Italian film was a few seconds, showing Pope Leo XIII giving a blessing to the camera. The Italian film industry was born between 1903 and 1908 with three companies: the Società Italiana Cines, the Ambrosio Film and the Itala Film. Other companies soon followed in Milan and in Naples. In a short time these first companies reached a fair producing quality, and films were soon sold outside Italy. Cinema was later used by Benito Mussolini, who founded Rome’s renowned Cinecittàstudio for the production of Fascist propaganda until World War II.
After the war, Italian film was widely recognised and exported until an artistic decline around the 1980s. Notable Italian film directors from this period include Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni and Roberto Rossellini; some of these are recognized among the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time. Movies include world cinema treasures such as Bicycle Thieves, La dolce vita, 8½, The Good, the Bad and the Uglyand Once Upon a Time in the West. The mid-1940s to the early 1950s was the heyday of neorealist films, reflecting the poor condition of post-war Italy.
As the country grew wealthier in the 1950s, a form of neorealism known as pink neorealism succeeded, and other film genres, such as sword-and-sandal followed as spaghetti westerns, were popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Actresses such as Sophia Loren, Giulietta Masina and Gina Lollobrigida achieved international stardom during this period. Erotic Italian thrillers, or giallos, produced by directors such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento in the 1970s, also influenced the horror genre worldwide. In recent years, the Italian scene has received only occasional international attention, with movies like Life Is Beautiful directed by Roberto Benigni, Il Postino: The Postman with Massimo Troisi and The Great Beauty directed by Paolo Sorrentino.
The aforementioned Cinecittà studio is today the largest film and television production facility in continental Europe and the centre of the Italian cinema, where a large number of biggest box office hits are filmed, and one of the biggest production communities in the world. In the 1950s, the number of international productions being made there led to Rome’s being dubbed “Hollywood on the Tiber”. More than 3,000 productions have been made on its lot, of which 90 received an Academy Award nomination and 47 of these won it, from some cinema classics to recent rewarded features (such as Ben-Hur, Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, The English Patient, Gladiator, The Passion of the Christ, and Gangs of New York).
Italy is the most awarded country at the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, with 14 awards won, 3 Special Awards and 31 nominations. As of 2016, Italian films have also won 12 Palmes d’Or (the second-most of any country), 11 Golden Lions and 7 Golden Bears.
Sport. The most popular sport in Italy is, by far, football. Italy’s national football team (nicknamed Gli Azzurri – “the Blues”) is one of the world’s most successful team as it has won four FIFA World Cups (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006). Italian clubs have won 48 major European trophies, making Italy the second most successful country in European football. Italy’s top-flight club football league is named Serie A and ranks as the fourth best in Europe and is followed by millions of fans around the world.
Other popular team sports in Italy include volleyball, basketball and rugby. Italy’s male and female national teams are often featured among the world’s best. The Italian national basketball team’s best results were gold at Eurobasket 1983 and EuroBasket 1999, as well as silver at the Olympics in 2004. Lega Basket Serie A is widely considered one of the most competitive in Europe. Rugby union enjoys a good level of popularity, especially in the north of the country. Italy’s national team competes in the Six Nations Championship, and is a regular at the Rugby World Cup. Italy ranks as a tier-one nation by World Rugby. Italy men’s national volleyball team winning three World Championships in a row 1990, 1994 and 1998 an three silver medal in Olympics 1996, 2004, 2016.
Italy has a long and successful tradition in individual sports as well. Bicycle racing is a very familiar sport in the country. Italians have won the UCI World Championships more than any other country, except Belgium. The Giro d’Italia is a cycling race held every May, and constitutes one of the three Grand Tours, along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, each of which last approximately three weeks. Alpine skiing is also a very widespread sport in Italy, and the country is a popular international skiing destination, known for its ski resorts. Italian skiers achieved good results in Winter Olympic Games, Alpine Ski World Cup, and World Championship. Tennis has a significant following in Italy, ranking as the fourth most practised sport in the country. The Rome Masters, founded in 1930, is one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world. Italian professional tennis players won the Davis Cupin 1976 and the Fed Cup in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2013. Motorsports are also extremely popular in Italy. Italy has won, by far, the most MotoGP World Championships. Italian Scuderia Ferrari is the oldest surviving team in Grand Prix racing, having competed since 1948, and statistically the most successful Formula One team in history with a record of 224 wins.
Historically, Italy has been successful in the Olympic Games, taking part from the first Olympiad and in 47 Games out of 48. Italian sportsmen have won 522 medals at the Summer Olympic Games, and another 106 at the Winter Olympic Games, for a combined total of 628 medals with 235 golds, which makes them the fifth most successful nation in Olympic history for total medals. The country hosted two Winter Olympics (in 1956 and 2006), and one Summer games (in 1960).
Fashion and design. Italian fashion has a long tradition, and is regarded as one most important in the world. Milan, Florence and Rome are Italy’s main fashion capitals. According to Top Global Fashion Capital Rankings 2013 by Global Language Monitor, Rome ranked sixth worldwide when Milan was twelfth. Major Italian fashion labels, such as Gucci, Armani, Prada, Versace, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Fendi, Moschino, Max Mara, Trussardi, and Ferragamo, to name a few, are regarded as among the finest fashion houses in the world. Also, the fashion magazine Vogue Italia, is considered one of the most prestigious fashion magazines in the world.
Italy is also prominent in the field of design, notably interior design, architectural design, industrial design and urban design. The country has produced some well-known furniture designers, such as Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass, and Italian phrases such as “Bel Disegno” and “Linea Italiana”have entered the vocabulary of furniture design. Examples of classic pieces of Italian white goods and pieces of furniture include Zanussi’s washing machines and fridges, the “New Tone” sofas by Atrium, and the post-modern bookcase by Ettore Sottsass, inspired by Bob Dylan’s song “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”. Today, Milan and Turin are the nation’s leaders in architectural design and industrial design. The city of Milan hosts Fiera Milano, Europe’s largest design fair. Milan also hosts major design and architecture-related events and venues, such as the “Fuori Salone” and the Salone del Mobile, and has been home to the designers Bruno Munari, Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni.
Cuisine. The Italian cuisine has developed through centuries of social and political changes, with roots as far back as the 4th century BC. Italian cuisine in itself takes heavy influences, including Etruscan, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Jewish. Significant changes occurred with the discovery of the New World with the introduction of items such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and maize, now central to the cuisine but not introduced in quantity until the 18th century. Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is known to be one of the most popular in the world, wielding strong influence abroad.
The Mediterranean diet forms the basis of Italian cuisine, rich in pasta, fish, fruits and vegetables and characterised by its extreme simplicity and variety, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. Dishes and recipes are often derivatives from local and familial tradition rather than created by chefs, so many recipes are ideally suited for home cooking, this being one of the main reasons behind the ever-increasing worldwide popularity of Italian cuisine, from America to Asia. Ingredients and dishes vary widely by region.
A key factor in the success of Italian cuisine is its heavy reliance on traditional products; Italy has the most traditional specialities protected under EU law. Cheese, cold cuts and wine are a major part of Italian cuisine, with many regional declinations and Protected Designation of Origin or Protected Geographical Indication labels, and along with coffee (especially espresso) make up a very important part of the Italian gastronomic culture. Desserts have a long tradition of merging local flavours such as citrus fruits, pistachio and almonds with sweet cheeses like mascarpone and ricotta or exotic tastes as cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon. Gelato, tiramisù and cassata are among the most famous examples of Italian desserts, cakes and patisserie.
PUBLIC HOLIDAYS & FESTIVALS
Public holidays celebrated in Italy include religious, national and regional observances. Italy’s National Day, the Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day) is celebrated on 2 June each year, and commemorates the birth of the Italian Republic in 1946.
The Epiphany in Italy is associated with the figure of the Befana, a broomstick-riding old woman who, in the night between January 5 and 6, brings gifts to children, or a lump of “coal” (really black candy) for the times they have not been good during the year. The Saint Lucy’s Day, which take place on 13 December, is very popular among children in some Italian regions, where she plays a role similar to Santa Claus.
Each city or town also celebrates a public holiday on the occasion of the festival of the local patron saint, for example: Rome on 29 June (Saints Peter and Paul) and Milan on 7 December (S. Ambrose).
There are many festivals and festivities in Italy. Some of them include the Palio di Siena, Holy Week rites, Saracen Joust of Arezzo, Saint Ubaldo Day in Gubbio, Giostra della Quintana in Foligno, and the Calcio Fiorentino. In 2013, UNESCO has included among the intangible cultural heritage some Italian festivals and pasos, such as the Varia di Palmi, the Macchina di Santa Rosa in Viterbo, the Festa dei Gigli in Nola, and faradda di li candareri in Sassari.
Other festivals include the carnivals in Venice, Viareggio, Satriano di Lucania, Mamoiada, and Ivrea, mostly known for its Battle of the Oranges.
Non-Guidebooks about Italy or by Italian writers.
• Italian Journey (in the German original: Italienische Reise) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; a report on his travels to Italy via Innsbruck and the Brenner Pass. He visited Lake Garda, Verona, Vicenza, Venice, Bologna, Assisi, Rome and Alban Hills, Naplesand Sicily from 1786–7, published in 1816–7
• The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone — a biography of Michelangelo that also paints a lovely portrait of Tuscany and Rome
• Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King — a compelling story of one of the greatest structural engineering achievements of the Renaissance. The story of the building of the immense dome on top of the basilica in Florence, Italy.
• Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes — an account of a woman who buys and restores a holiday home in Cortona, Italy. Full of local flavor and a true taste of Tuscany.
• The Sea and Sardinia by D.H. Lawrence — describes a brief excursion undertaken by Lawrence and Frieda, his wife aka Queen Bee, from Taormina in Sicily to the interior of Sardinia. They visited Cagliari, Mandas, Sorgono, and Nuoro. Despite the brevity of his visit, Lawrence distills an essence of the island and its people that is still recognisable today. Also by D.H. Lawrence is Etruscan Places, recording his impressions of Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Vulci and Volterra.
• Italian neighbours and A season with Verona by Tim Parks. Two portraits of nowdays life in Italy as seen by an English writer who decided to live just outside Verona.
• Winter Stars by Beatrice Lao — poems born between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian by the oriental poetess, 988979991X
• The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo — stories about China by the Venetian traveller
• A Tivoli Companion by Tim Cawkwell — illustrated essay about history and gardens of Tivoli, Lazio
REGIONS OF ITALY
Northwest Italy (Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy and Aosta Valley)
Home of the Italian Riviera, including Portofino and the Cinque Terre. The Alps, world class cities like the industrial capital of Italy (Turin), its largest port (Genoa), the main business hub of the country (Milan), share the region’s visitors with beautiful landscapes like the Lake Como and Lake Maggiorearea, and little known Renaissance treasures like Mantova.
Northeast Italy (Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adigeand Veneto)
From the canals of Venice to the gastronomic capital Bologna, from impressive mountains such as the Dolomites and first-class ski resorts like Cortina d’Ampezzo to the delightful roofscapes of Parma and Verona these regions offer much to see and do. South Tyrol and the cosmopolitan city of Trieste offer a uniquely Central European flair.
Central Italy (Lazio, Marche, Tuscany, Abruzzo and Umbria)
Breathes history and art. Rome boasts the remaining wonders of the Roman Empire and some of the world’s best known landmarks, combined with a vibrant, big-city feel. Florence, cradle of the Renaissance, is Tuscany’s top attraction, whereas the magnificent countryside and nearby cities like Siena, Pisa and Lucca have much to offer to those looking for the country’s rich history and heritage. Umbria is dotted with many picturesque cities such as Perugia, Orvieto, Gubbio and Assisi
Southern Italy (Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania and Molise)
Bustling Naples, the dramatic ruins of Pompeii, the romantic Amalfi Coast and Capri, laidback Apulia and stunning unspoilt beaches of Calabria, as well as up-and-coming agritourism help making Italy’s less visited region a great place to explore.
The beautiful island famous for archaeology, seascape and some of the best cuisine the Italian kitchen has to offer.
Large island some 250 km west of the Italian coastline. Beautiful scenery, megalithic monuments, lovely seas and beaches: a major holiday destination for high budget tourists.
There are hundreds of Italian cities. Here are nine of its most famous:
• Rome (Roma) — the capital, both of Italy and, in the past, of the Roman Empire until 285 AD
• Bologna — one of the world’s great university cities that is filled with history, culture, technology and food
• Florence (Firenze) — the Renaissance city known for its architecture and art that had a major impact throughout the world
• Genoa (Genova) — an important medieval maritime republic; its port brings in tourism and trade, along with art and architecture
• Milan (Milano) — one of the main fashion cities of the world, but also Italy’s most important centre of trade and business
• Naples (Napoli) — one of the oldest cities of the Western world, with a historic city centre that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is also the birth-place of pizza.
• Pisa — one the medieval maritime republics, it is home to the unmistakable image of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
• Turin (Torino) — a well-known industrial and historical city, first capital of Italy and home of FIAT. The city’s also renowned for its large amount of baroque buildings.
• Venice (Venezia) — one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, known for its history, art, and of course its world famous canals
• Italian Alps — some of the most beautiful mountains in Europe, including Mont Blanc and Mount Rosa
• Amalfi Coast — stunningly beautiful rocky coastline, so popular that private cars are banned in the summer months
• Capri — the famed island in the Bay of Naples, formerly a favoured resort of the Roman emperors
• Cinque Terre — five tiny, scenic, towns strung along the steep vineyard-laced coast of Liguria
• Lake Como — its atmosphere has been appreciated for its beauty and uniqueness since Roman times
• Lake Garda — a beautiful lake in Northern Italy surrounded with many small villages
• Matera — in the Basilicata region, Matera boasts the “sassi”, well-preserved rock-cut settlements that are a World Heritage site and one of Southern Italy’s many important attractions
• Pompeii and Herculaneum — two neighbouring cities covered by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, now excavated to reveal life as it was in Roman times
• Vesuvius — the famous dormant volcano with a stunning view of the Bay of Naples
Minimum validity of travel documents
• EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, as well as non-EU citizens who are visa-exempt (e.g. U.S. Citizens and Australians), need only produce a passport which is valid for the entirety of their stay in Italy.
–CAUTION– In practice, if entering from another Schengen area country (such as a change of planes in France), you may need to satisfy somewhat different requirements for visa-exempt entry. For example, you may need a passport valid for 6 months from entry.
• Other nationals who are required to have a visa (eg: South Africans), however, must have a passport which has at least 3 months’ validitybeyond their period of stay in Italy.
• For more information, visit this webpage of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy.
Italy is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty – the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
Foreign military entering Italy under a Status of Forces Agreement do not require a passport and need only show their valid military identification card and travel orders. Their dependants, however, are not exempt from visa requirements.
All non-EU, EEA or Swiss citizens staying in Italy for 90 days or less have to declare their presence in Italy within 8 days of arrival. If your passport was stamped on arrival in Italy, the stamp counts as such a declaration. Generally, a copy of your hotel registration will suffice if you are staying at a hotel (i.e. a copy of your passport ID page will be retained by hotel staff and they will complete the paperwork for you). Otherwise, however, you will have to go to a police office to complete the form (dichiarazione di presenza) yourself. Failing to do so may result in expulsion. Travellers staying longer than 90 days do not need to complete this declaration, but must instead have an appropriate visa and must obtain a residence permit (permesso di soggiorno).
Italy has a national airline, Alitalia, as well as several smaller carriers, such as Meridiana. Germany’s Lufthansa started an Italian subsidiary that tries to become a main rival for Alitalia with a hub in Milan.
Italy is one of the main battle grounds for European low cost airlines several routes to/from and within Italy are offered. The larger airports are, of course, served by the major European airlines.
Intercontinental airlines mainly arrive in Rome and Milan, with Rome being the main international gateway into the country.
Most of mid-range international flights arrive to the following Italian cities:
• Rome – with two airports: Fiumicino (FCO – Leonardo Da Vinci) and Ciampino (CIA) for budget airlines
• Milan – with two airports: Malpensa (MXP) and Linate (LIN); in addition, Bergamo (BGY – Orio al Serio) is sometimes referred to as “Milan Bergamo”
• Bologna (BLQ – Guglielmo Marconi)
• Naples (NAP – Capodichino)
• Pisa (PSA – Galileo Galilei)
• Venice (VCE – Marco Polo); in addition, Treviso (TSF – Antonio Canova) is sometimes referred to as “Venice Treviso”
• Turin (TRN – Sandro Pertini)
• Palermo (PMO – Punta Raisi)
• Catania (CTA – Vincenzo Bellini)
• Bari (BRI – Palese)
• Genoa (GOA – Cristoforo Colombo)
• From Austria via Vienna, Innsbruck and Villach
• From France via Nice, Lyon, and Paris
• From Germany via Munich
• From Spain via Barcelona
• From Switzerland via Basel, Geneva and Zurich
Direct connection by train with eastern Europe (Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Serbiaand Slovenia) no longer exists. The only way to reach Italy by train from these countries is via Vienna or Villach; it’s also possible reach by train Nova Gorica (in Slovenia, then cross the border by foot and take a train in Italy in the railway station of Gorizia.
By car. Italy borders on France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia. All borders are open (without passport/customs checks),except for the Swiss one, with customs checks and random passport checks.In the other borders cars can be stopped behind the border for random checks.
Eurolines has are regular buses between Ljubljana, Slovenian coastal towns and Istria (Croatia) and Trieste (Italy). These services are cheap and from Trieste onward connections with the rest of Italy are plentiful. There’s also a bus that goes from Malmö, Sweden via Denmark, Germany and Switzerland to Italy.
By boat. See also Ferries in the Mediterranean There are several ferries departing from Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Croatia. Most of them arrive at Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi.
Some regular ferry services connect the island of Corsica in France to Genoa, Livorno, Civitavecchia, Naples and North of Sardinia. Barcelona is connected to Civitavecchia and to Genoa.
Some regular ferry services connect Sicily and Naples to some North Africanharbours.
There is a hydrofoil service running from Pozzallo on the south-eastern coast of Sicily to Malta.
There is a year-round service between Trieste and Albania and summer services between Trieste and Pirano (Slovenia) and Parenzo and Rovigno in Croatian Istria. The service between Trieste and Rovigno takes less than 2 hours which is quicker than the bus service.
By train. Trains in Italy are generally good value, frequent but of mixed reliability. There are different train types: high-speed trains (Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca, Eurostar Italia), Intercity, regional trains (Regionali, Regionali Veloci) and international trains (Eurocity, Euronight).
High-speed trains are efficient and very comfortable, travelling up to 300 km/h and stopping only at major stations. They connect Rome with Turin, Milan, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Naples and other cities. They also are the most expensive train type by far. To travel on these trains you are required to pay a supplement to the standard ticket, which includes the booking fee. Regional trains are the slowest, cheapest and less reliable, stopping at all stations. Intercity trains are somewhere in between high-speed and local trains. They are generally reliable, but if you need to catch a flight, for example, it might be better to pay extra for the high-speed trains.
On long distance trains there are 1st and 2nd classes. A 2nd class ticket costs about 80% the price of a 1st class ticket. On high-speed trains you can also choose between basic, standard and flexible tickets. Basic tickets are of course the cheapest. On high-speed trains seating reservation is compulsory. This means your seat is theoretically guaranteed, but it also means you will need to purchase tickets in advance. Actually, many passengers with tickets for other trains that take a wrong one will have to pay the cheap fine for not having a seat reservation. As a result, on major routes or peak hours, expect to find your seat taken, in this case just showing the ticket is enough to get your seat. During commuter hours, on major north-south routes during the holidays, or before and after large political demonstrations, trains on the lower train types can become extremely full, to the point where it gets very uncomfortable, in which case you could find yourself sitting on a tiny fold out flap in the hallway, where you’ll have to move for everyone passing by.
While between Milan and Naples (including Bologna, Florence and Rome) high-speed trains cut travel times in half, on other routes, such as between Rome and Genoa, Naples and Reggio Calabria, Venice and Trieste, high-speed trains travel on the traditional line rather than on a dedicated high-speed line, with only marginally shorter travel times compared to Intercity trains, thus taking them might be a waste of money. Just check the Trenitalia website or the printed schedule, usually located near the entrance to each platform, to see how long the trip will take.
On long routes, such as Milan – Rome or Milan – Reggio Calabria, Trenitalia operates special night trains Treni Notte. They depart around 22.00 and arrive in the morning. Depending on the train, you may be able to choose between normal seats, couchette and sleeper cabins of different categories. Seats are cheapest, but even sleeper cabins are not prohibitively expensive and are a very relaxing way to travel long distances. Also keep in mind some trains do not provide air conditioning so bring your own water bottle during the hot summer months.
On the train schedules displayed at each station, every train is listed in different colours (i.e. blue, red, green). The arrival times are listed in parentheses next to the names of each destination. One thing to watch out for is that certain trains only operate seasonally, or for certain time periods (for example, during holidays).
The queues to buy tickets can be very long, and slow, so get to the station early. There are touch-screen ticket machines which are very useful, efficient, and multilingual, but there are never that many, and the queues for those can be very long too.
You can also buy tickets online on the Trenitalia website; you will receive a code (codice di prenotatione (PNR)) that is used to pick up the ticket from a ticket machine in the station (“Self Service”). For some (but not all) trains you can also choose a ticketless option, where you print out the ticket yourself. See also below at Trenitalia Ticketless. You can also choose an option to have a “proper” receipt printed on the train, should you need one. By default the site will only show the “best” (usually more expensive) connections – you may select to “show all connections” to see if there are slower but cheaper connections available.
High-speed trains can fill up, so if you’re on a tight schedule you should buy those tickets in advance. In general, you should buy the tickets before boarding the train. The Italian Rail recently (end of 2007) started a campaign against fare evasion, and introduced heftier fines (starting at €50). If you’re really running late and you have no ticket, it’s probably best to directly talk with the conductor (il controllore or il capotreno) outside the train when boarding.
Remember that you must validate the ticket before boarding most trains, by stamping it in one of the yellow boxes (marked Convalida). Travelling with an unstamped ticket is technically the same as travelling without ticket. It is quite important not to forget to validate your ticket as the conductors are generally not tolerant in this particular matter. The exception are tickets which specify the day and time of travel; since those are only valid for one specific train they generally do not need to be validated.
The cheapest and best way to travel in a region is to buy a zone ticket card. A chart displayed near the validating machine tells you how many zones you must pay between stations. To buy a zone card for the next region you would have to get off the train at the last station and because the stops are so short you would have to board the next train (usually in about 1 hour).
As of January 10, 2005 a smoking ban in public places went into effect in Italy. You will be subject to fines for smoking on any Italian train.
There are special deals offered too, some of them are reserved to foreign tourist and others are available to locals. Some deals are passes that allow travel during a chosen period, while other special offers are normal tickets sold at decent prices with some restrictions. Before you choose to buy a pass, check first if it is cheaper than buying a normal ticket (or better, a discounted normal ticket, if available).
If you are traveling a lot, and you’re not Italian and a resident of another EU nation, you can get a TRENITALIA PASS: you buy a number of days of travel to be used within 2 months, however you still have to pay a supplement on the compulsory reservation services, i.e. TBiz, Eurostar Italia, Intercity Plus and Intercity which will between EUR 5.00 and EUR 25.00 depending on the train type. You should be aware that reserved seats available for pass holders is quite limited. Additionally, there are substantial discounts for advanced reservations which can often be lower than the reservation fee for using the pass. This is particularly true of the high speed trains. Also note that there is a second network of private high speed trains called Italo which do not recognize the pass; prices are similar and similarly discounted for advance booking. Pass details are on the Trenitalia website , and also on RailChoice website at.
Trenitalia Ticketless. Trenitalia’s Ticketless option is only available when booked online or at an approved travel agency, and only for high-speed and intercity trains. The Ticketless solution allows you to buy a ticket online, get a PNR code via mail and board the train directly. You can choose whether to obtain a receipt by email or pick it up on board the train. On board you must tell the conductor your PNR code to allow him/her to issue the receipt, or confirm your presence on board if you have already obtained the payment receipt by email.
By car. In Northern and Central Italy there’s a well-developed system of motorways (autostrade), while in the South it is a bit worse for quality and extent. Every motorway is identified by an A followed by a number on a green backdrop. Most motorways are toll roads. Some have toll stations giving you access to a whole section (particularly the tangenziali of Naples, Rome, and Milan, for example), but generally, most have entrance and exit toll stations; on those motorways, you need to collect a ticket upon entrance and your toll amount will be calculated upon exit depending on the distance covered. Tolls depend on the motorways and stretches; as a rough estimate, you should expect a toll between €0.06 and €0.12 for each kilometre. Don’t lose your entrance ticket, for if you do, it will be assumed you have entered the motorway at the farthest station from your exit, thus you will be charged the maximum toll possible. All the blue lanes(marked “Viacard”) of toll stations are automatic machines accepting major credit cards as well as pre-paid cards (called Viacard) that are for sale at service stations along the motorway or for instance at several tobacconists’ in cities. If you have problems with the machine (eg, your credit card can’t be read), press the assistenza button and wait for an operator to help you – be prepared to have to pay your toll in cash if problems persist. Do not back up to move into another lane, even if you might see other locals doing it, unless the personnel or the police clearly instruct you to do so; backing up in toll stations is considered equivalent to backing up on the motorway and very heavily fined if you get caught.
Many Italians use an electronic pay-toll device, and there are reserved lanes marked in yellow with the sign “Telepass” or a simply “T”. Driving through those lanes (controlled by camera system) without the device will result in a fine and a payment of the toll for the longest distance. Due to agreement with other countries, if you’re foreigner, you’ll pay also extra cost for locating you in your country.
Speeding on the autostrade is nowadays far less common than in the past because of sensibly strengthened control in the last years. There are a number of automatic and almost invisible systems to punish speeding and hazardous driving, also Italian Highway Patrol (Polizia Stradale) operates several unmarked cars equipped with very advanced speed radars and camera systems. Since 2006, several sections of the Italian Highways are equipped with an automatic system called Tutor with automatic license plate recognition, which checks the average speed of all vehicles over a road stretch. The coverage of this system is being extended to more and more motorways. At times, road signs will remind you of the presence of this system.
If virtually all vehicles around you seem to behave, scrupulously driving at the speed limit or even a bit below, this is a good hint that some kind of enforcement system is in operation on that road. As a foreigner, it will be better to stay on the safe side and respect limits and rules at all times, even when locals driving like crazy might lead you to think a certain speed limit or “no passing” sign was a mere suggestion: every now and then, those locals do encounter the police on their way.
When Italian drivers flash their lights it may be meant either as a demand to get out of the way or as an invitation to go first, depending on the situation. A vehicle coming in the opposite direction flashing repeatedly might warn you about a danger or a police car/checkpoint further on the road (even though this warning is forbidden).
Unless different limits are posted, general speed limits are:
• 130km/h on motorways (autostrade) (110 km/h in case of rain);
• 110km/h on divided, grade-separated highways marked with blue motorway signs at the entrances, called superstrade;
• 90km/h general speed limit on highways and roads outside urban areas;
• 50km/h in urban areas – an urban area beginning with a white sign with the town/city name written in black, and ending with a similar sign barred in red.
Italian laws allow a 5% (minimum 5km/h) tolerance on speed limits. Fines are generally very expensive. If you are caught doing more than 40km/h over the speed limit, you will be fined in excess of €500 and will receive an immediate driving ban from 1 to 3 months, leaving you on foot that very moment (you may reach the destination of your current journey). Non-resident drivers of vehicles with foreign registration are required either to pay their fines on the spot if they accept it, or to pay a deposit on the spot if they intend to appeal afterwards; either way, you must pay something immediately and the police won’t hesitate to escort you to the nearest ATM to withdraw the cash you need. While the chances of getting caught are admittedly not terribly high, you really don’t want all of this to happen to you.
As of 2003, all vehicles must use headlights at all times outside urban areas, including motorways. Motorbikes must drive with headlights on at all times everywhere.
The issue of drunk driving has received a great deal of attention in the last years after a series of lethal accidents. The tolerated limit is 0.50g/L in blood; being above this limit is a crime punishable by heavy fines, license revocation, jail time and even immediate confiscation of one’s own vehicle in the most serious cases. The limit for drivers under 21 years of age or less than 3 years of driving experience or professional drivers is zero. Unfortunately, enforcement, although stronger than before, is still insufficient and drunk driving is still somewhat an issue.
All passengers are required to wear their seat belts and children under 10 must use the back seats. Children under 12 years of age must use either an approved car seat or a booster seat, depending on the age.
At unmarked intersections, you are supposed to yield to any vehicle coming from your right. Be on the look-out because many Italians seem to ignore this rule and will insist on an non existent right of way just because they are going straight on or they are travelling on what they think is the main road, even if the intersection is actually completely unmarked. This especially occurs in large cities at night time, when traffic lights at some intersections are switched off. Most times, the minor roads at those intersections will have a “give way” sign, but sometimes they don’t, which is both confusing, because you never know if the crossing road has a sign or is unmarked, and dangerous because you might expect the vehicle coming from your left to let you pass while it will assume you have a “give way” sign and will carry on travelling like a bullet.
Be advised that many Italians don’t take road markings too seriously (a few of them don’t even seem to notice there are any road markings…), which can be odd if you come from north of the Alps. On multi-lane roads, you should always be wary of vehicles on other lanes invading your lane in curves. Lane markings in multi-lane roundabouts are systematically ignored and virtually all motorists will “cut off” while negotiating the roundabout and again when exiting, of course without signalling. There is a fair amount of confusion in Italy about the correct behaviour in large roundabouts; you should exercise caution there, expect vehicles entering, turning and exiting at any time without signalling and never travel side by side with other vehicles in a roundabout assuming the other will respect the lane markings.
Signposts used in Italy are patterned according to EU recommendations and use mostly pictographs (not text). Motorway (autostrade) directions are written on a green background while general highway signs (including those on the divided-carriageway, grade-separated superstrade) are on a blue background, and urban or local road signs are on a white one.
When on a timetable, use the autostrade – marked in green – where available and avoid using the general highways – marked in blue – for long distances (unless they are the divided-carriageway, grade-separated superstrade). While the toll on the autostrade can be rather expensive, they significantly decrease your travel time, whereas general roads can be annoyingly slow since they are heavily used by local traffic, can be clogged with trucks, can feature lots of roundabouts or traffic lights and will often run through towns and villages without bypasses. On the other side, general roads often offer breath-taking sceneries and should be your first choice if you are not in a rush and want to explore the real nature of the country.
Fuel prices are a bit more expensive than in western Europe and considerably more expensive than in North America and Japan. As of 2016, prices wander about €1.35 per litre for gasoline and €1.15 per litre for diesel. At most stations, only one sort of 95-octane gasoline and one sort of diesel is available; some others additionally have premium gasoline and/or premium diesel sorts. At many service stations, there is a considerable price difference between self-service filling (self-service) and having an attendant do it (servito). The respective pumps are marked accordingly when you enter the gas station, and you are supposed to pull up to the pump(s) according to the type of service you’d like. If you stop at an attendant-served pump, just wait and an attendant will pop out within seconds.
Traffic in large Italian cities is really heavy and finding a parking spot can vary from a challenging to an impossible enterprise at times, so driving in Italian large cities is not advisable unless you really need to. Basically in any large city, you’ll be better off parking your vehicle at a park-and-ride facility or somewhere in the outskirts and using public transport, which is reasonably reliable and quite cheap. Be very careful with Zone a Traffico Limitato or ZTLs (Limited Traffic Zones). They are restricted areas in many medium-sized and large Italian cities, mostly but not only in the historical centres, where only authorized vehicles are permitted. The entrance to a ZTL is marked by signs and cameras, which go easily unnoticed by tourists driving a car. Many tourists every year report being fined (about €100) for entering a ZTL unknowingly. Tourists renting a car will end up receiving one or more tickets months later at their homes, including additional fees for the paperwork needed to send the papers abroad. Also, the renting companies may charge €15-50 to give the driver details to the police. So entering those zones without authorization might easily add up to a fine of more than €200. If you booked accommodation in a city centre and plan to reach it by car, you should check in advance if it lies within such a limited zone and if you are entitled to an authorization. If you plan to rent a car, the following car rental brokers and companies are a good choice: AutoEurope.com, Avis, Hertz, Europcar.
Buy town bus tickets from corner shops, bus company offices or automated machines before boarding (on some systems, tickets mightbe bought on-board from an automated machine). Buying tickets from the bus driver is generally not possible. The payment system for most mass transit in Italy (urban trains, city buses, subway) is based on voluntary payment combined with variable enforcement. Tickets are bought before boarding and validated on an on-board machine; inspectors may board the vehicle to check the passengers’ tickets and issue fines to those who do not have a validated ticket. Bus company inspectors are generally recognizable by some item displaying the company’s logo. When issuing a fine inspectors are allowed to ask to see your documents, and they have to give some sort of receipt with date, time and location. They are never allowed to directly collect the fine (which generally can be payed at a post office). Assaulting an inspector during his work is a serious offense.
Daily, weekly, monthly and year-round tickets are generally available, in addition to multi-use tickets. These may or may not need to be validated. In almost every city there’s a different pricing scheme, so check in advance ticket formulas and availability. For tourists it may be very convenient to buy daily (or multi-day) tickets that allow you to travel as much as you want in a single (or more) day. Every major city also has some type of City Card, a fixed-fee card allowing you to travel on local public transportation and visit a number of museums and giving you discounts in shops, hotels and restaurants.
Check for both these possibilities at local Tourist Offices or on the city’s website (which is often of the form www.comune.cityname.it as for example www.comune.roma.it).
Hitchhiking in Italy is related with the 1960’s hippies and “on the road” kind of culture. Therefore, it is considered out-dated and useless. You will almost never find Italians hitchhiking unless there’s a serious problem with the bus or other means of transportation. Also, it is nowadays common to spot prostitutes by the side of the road pretending to hitchkike to attact clientele so it’s advisable to avoid being mistaken for one. Hitchhiking in the summer in touristy areas works okay because you’ll get rides from Northern European tourists, and it works okay in very rural areas as long as there is consistent traffic (because you’re still playing the odds), but hitchhiking near large cities or along busy routes is extremely frustrating. Hitchhiking along expressways and highways is forbidden by law. Off the Autostrada things are also a bit difficult: Italians are generally friendly people, but they’re less likely to pick up hitchhikers than anyone else in the world. It is easier to hitchhike out of the Bronx than it is to hitchhike in Italy.
Approaching Italy by sea can be a great experience and is a good alternative to traditional onshore “tours”.
A yacht charter to Italy is a fulfilling way to experience the country. Although the yacht charter industry is smaller than one would expect for this incredibly popular tourist destination, there are many reasons to choose a yacht over a more conventional onshore approach. The Italian coast, like the French coast, attracts luxury yacht charters of the highest standards. “Touring” Italy from a private yacht is surprisingly convenient and comfortable. Italy’s dramatic coastline is best appreciated from the sea and the Italians know it! You may take a swim whenever you like, and many of the most famous sights are within easy reach of the seashore. Cruising on a private yacht also offers you a certain relief from the crowds and traffic that are traditionally unavoidable in Italy’s most popular destinations. There are many companies offering luxury yacht charters in Italy.
There are major distinct nautical regions in Italy: Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Sardinia and Sicily. Each has its own flavour and focus. Be sure to plan your itinerary carefully as each region is rewarding in its own particular way.
Not surprisingly, Italian is the language spoken natively by most Italians.
Every region in Italy has a distinct native Romance dialect (which is, sometimes, a language) in addition to Italian that may or may not be the native language of the locals depending on the area: in areas like Rome or Milan the spoken language is nowadays mostly Italian with slight local influence, whereas in rural areas the local language is more common; though people are usually bilingual.
A good phrasebook will be very useful if you’re going anywhere remote, while in most big cities you will find many people understanding English, Spanish or French. But even in those areas Italians will be happy to hear you trying to speak Italian or the local language, and will try to understand you even if you are making many mistakes. If you want your errors to be corrected to help you better learn the language, don’t forget to ask before starting a conversation. Italians will rarely correct you otherwise as they consider it very impolite to do so. They also appreciate your efforts to speak their language, even if you do it badly, and won’t make too much fuss about your mistakes.
English is widely spoken at varied levels of proficiency in the well-traveled touristic areas where it may be used by shopkeepers and tourist operators. Outside of that, you will find that most Italians are not conversant in English, a relatively new subject in schools (first introduced in the 1970s instead of French). While most younger Italians have studied English, due to a lack of practice and exposure proficiency tends to be poor. Nevertheless, the most basic words and phrases usually stick, and there is often at least one person in a group of younger people who knows enough English to help you out. Senior citizens rarely know English, but they’ll try to help you anyway with gestures or similar words and they will most surely assume you understand Italian. If you are going to speak in English, it is polite begin the conversation in Italian and ask if the person understands English before proceeding. Speaking in a foreign language while assuming it will be understood might be considered very arrogant and impolite by many Italians.
In South Tyrol the majority of people also speaks Austro-Bavarian dialects of German as their native tongue (except in the region’s capital Bolzano where it is spoken by only about a fourth of the population), and German is an official language of the autonomous province in addition to Italian. That is because those regions used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I.
Spanish, French and Portuguese are not as widely spoken but as they are similar enough to Italian that people might be able recognise some words, thus making yourself understood; note however that trying to address people in Spanish – or confusing Italian with that language – is considered rather annoying by the locals. In the northwesternmost Valle d’Aosta region there is a Franco-Provençal speaking minority.
In the northern part of Italy, there are small pockets of other Romance languages like Ladin, a Rhaeto-Romance language related to Switzerland’s Romansh. Friulano, another Rhaeto-Romance language, is still spoken by a small minority in the border province near Slovenia. There are several small pockets of Greek-speaking communities in the southern regions of Calabria and Puglia and there are an estimated 100,000 Albanian speakers in Puglia, Calabria and Sicily—some of which have migrated in Middle Ages and thus speak rather medieval Arberesh language. Italian is the only official language of Italy but some regions have other languages which are also co-official: German in South Tyrol, Slovene in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and French in Val d’Aosta.
Slovene is a native language in parts of Friuli-Venezia Giulia alongside Italian and is widely spoken in villages near the Slovenian border and Trieste. In all cases Slovene speakers will also speak Italian.
There is so much to see in Italy that it is difficult to know where to begin. Virtually every small village has an interesting location or two, plus a couple of other things to see.
• Medieval villages and towns are dotted across rural Italy, and make for pleasant day trips or scenic places for a more relaxed holiday. Two notable examples (and UNESCO World Heritage sites) are San Gimignano, known for it’s profusion of thin towers, and Assisi, known for Saint Francis of Assisi and the Basilica di San Francesco dedicated to the saint and filled with breathtaking frescos.
• Etruscan Italy. If you have limited time and no potential to travel outside the main cities, then don’t miss the amazing collection at the Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia in Rome. Hiring a car gives access to the painted tombs and museum of Tarquinia or the enormous burial complex at Cerveteri and those are just the sites within easy reach of Rome.
• The Greek Influence. Well-preserved Greek temples at Agrigento in the southwest of Sicily and at Paestum, just south of Naples, give a good understanding of the extent of Greek influence on Italy.
• Roman ruins. From the south, in Sicily, to the north of the country Italy is full of reminders of the Roman empire. In Taormina, Sicily check out the Roman theatre, with excellent views of Mt. Etna on a clear day. Also in Sicily, don’t miss the well-preserved mosaics at Piazza Armerina. Moving north to just south of Naples, you find Pompeii and Herculaneum, covered in lava by Mt. Vesuvius and, as a result, amazingly well preserved. To Rome and every street in the center seems to have a few pieces of inscribed Roman stone built into more recent buildings. Don’t miss the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Aqueducts, the Appian Way, and a dozen or so museums devoted to Roman ruins. Further north, the Roman amphitheatre at Verona is definitely not to be missed.
• Christian Italy. The Vatican is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church. Although inside Rome it has the status of a separate state. Don’t miss St Peter’s and the Vatican Museum. Rome, itself, has over 900 churches; a large number of these are worth a quick visit. Throughout Italy there is some truly amazing Christian architecture covering the Romanesque (700-1200); Gothic (1100-1450); Renaissance (1400-1600); and ornate Baroque (1600-1830) styles. Although theft of artwork has been a problem, major city churches and cathedrals retain an enormous number of paintings and sculptures and others have been moved to city and Church museums. Frescoes and mosaics are everywhere, and quite stunning. Don’t just look for churches: in rural areas there are some fascinating monasteries to be discovered. When planning to visit churches, note that all but the largest are usually closed between 12.30 and 15.30.
• The Byzantine Cities. The Byzantines controlled northern Italy until kicked out by the Lombards in 751. Venice is of course world famous and nearby Chioggia, also in the Lagoon, is a smaller version. Ravenna’s churches have some incredible mosaics. Visiting Ravenna requires a bit of a detour, but it is well worth it.
• The Renaissance. Start with a visit to Piazza Michelangelo in Florence to admire the famous view. Then set about exploring the many museums, both inside and outside Florence, that house Renaissance masterpieces. The Renaissance, or Rebirth, (Rinascimento in Italian) lasted between 14th and 16th centuries and is generally believed to have begun in Florence. The list of famous names is endless: in architecture Ghiberti (the cathedral’s bronze doors), Brunelleschi (the dome), and Giotto (the bell tower). In literature: Dante, Petrarch and Machiavelli. In painting and sculpture: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello, Masaccio and Boticelli.
• The Streets and squares. You could visit Italy’s cities, never go in a church, museum or Roman ruin, and still have a great time. Just wander around, keeping your eyes open. Apart from in the northern Po and Adige valleys most of Italy (including the cities) is hilly or mountainous, giving some great views. Look up when walking around to see amazing roof gardens and classical bell towers. In cities such as Rome, note the continued juxtaposition of expensive stores with small workplaces for artisans. Search for interesting food shops and places to get a good ice cream (gelato). Above all, just enjoy the atmosphere.
• Operas. If you are interested in the famous italian Operas, they are on play in various cities: Milan, Verona, Parma, Rome, Venice, Spoleto, Florence, Palermo.
• Western Alps. Visiting Western Alps you will have the chance to wander amongst lots of green valleys, as Val Pellice, Val Chisone, Val Po, and many others, in the shade of the highest european peaks. All valleys are full of wandering paths, of any difficulty level, whether you want to softly walk around a mountain lake or try something harder, in the higher valley, inside scenarios of colossal pine woods and space-like high mountain landscapes. People in mountain villages are often quite friendly, as long as you show respect to them and to the place they live in, obviously. The towns you might start your trip from are Cuneo, for the southern valleys;
Pinerolo, for the central ones, Susa and Lanzo for the northern, all easily reachable from Turin.
• Eastern Alps. Eastern Alps include a little known but surprisingly beautiful region, Trentino-Alto Adige. The two provinces comprised in the region are actually quite different, both culturally and geographically.While Alto Adige is mostly German-speaking, Trentino belongs to the Italian cultural area.Trentino is one of the most popular Italian regions. It holds an extraordinary variety of landscapes such as woods, wide valleys, streams, waterfalls and lakes. Its mountains, most importantly the chain of the Dolomites, represent a natural monument recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. But Trentino is also a territory rich in art and culture with its castles which offer a fairy-tale atmosphere and its modern and sophisticated museums such as “The Museum of Contemporary Art – Mart” in Rovereto and the Science Museum “Muse” in Trento. Both in summer and in winter the region offers the opportunity to spend a holiday enjoying nature, practicing sports or simply enjoying the local culture.
• UNESCO World Heritage
• Aeolian Islands,
• Aegadi Islands,
• Pelagie Islands
• Dino Island
Every major city has a number of local museums, but some of them have national and international relevance.
These are some of the most important permanent collections.
• Uffizi Museum in Florence, is one of the greatest museums in the world and a must see. Given the great number of visitors, advance ticket reservation is a good idea, to avoid hour-long queues.
• Brera art gallery in Milan is a prestigious museum held in a fine 17th-century palace, which boasts several paintings, including notable ones from the Renaissance era.
• The Etruscan Academy Museum of the City of Cortona in Cortona, Tuscany.
• Egyptian Museum in Turin, holds the second-largest Egyptian collection in the world, after Egypt’s Cairo Museum collection.
• The Aquarium in Genoa, one of the largest and most beautiful in the world, is in the Porto Antico (ancient port) in an area completely renewed by architect Renzo Piano in 1992.
• Science and Technology Museum in Milan, one of the largest in Europe, holds collections about boats, airplanes, trains, cars, motorcycles, radio and energy. Recently has also acquired the Toti submarine, which is open to visitors.
• Roman Civilization Museum in Rome, hold the world’s largest collection about ancient Rome and a marvellous reproduction (scale 1:250) of the entire Rome area in 325 A.D., the age of Constantine the Great.
• National Cinema Museum in Turin, located inside the wonderful Mole Antonelliana, historical building and symbol of the city.
• Automobile Museum in Turin, one of the largest in the world, with a 170 car collection covering the entire history of automobiles.
• The Vatican Museum. Not, strictly speaking, in Italy as the Vatican is a separate territory. Visit the museum to see the Sistine Chapel, the rooms painted by Raphael, some amazing early maps and much, much more.
• The Etruscan Museum at Villa Giulia, Rome. Amazing collection of Etruscan art.
Discriminatory pricing. Some of the State Museums such as the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti, Accademia and the Medici chapels offer free tickets to European citizens under the age of 18 or over 65. EU citizens between the age of 18 and 25 are eligible for reduced price tickets. BUT remember to bring your passport as a valid form of identity.
Visit the beach. In theory beach access is free to all in Italy but as with a lot of things in this country the practice may be somewhat different to the law. Many stretches of beach, particularly those close to urban areas, are let out to private concessions. In the season they cover almost all the beach with rows and rows of sunbeds (lettini) and umbrellas (ombrelloni). You have the right to pass through these establishments without being charged to get to the sea, and should be able to walk along the sea in front of them. More affordable are the beaches in Calabria, most are free, you will only need to pay for the eventual equipment you want to rent.
South of Rome there are 20km of free beach at the Circeo National Park. This is thank to Dr. Mario Valeriani, who was in charge of that area after WWII and never gave permissions to build anything, in spite of the very generous bribes offered by a multitude of would be investors and private millionaires, as he thought this was a natural marvel that was to remain as it was intended. So today we can all enjoy this stretch of nature. You can bring your own chair and sun cover and you will only be charged a parking fee on the main road.
While renting lettini for the day is not particularly expensive at establishments, they can fill up very quickly. There are some free beaches everywhere: they are easily identifiable by the absence of regimented rows of lettini. They can get very crowded: on a Saturday or Sunday in the summer you won’t find an empty stretch of beach anywhere. Most establishments offer full services including entertainment, bar and restaurant, gym classes, kindergarten and much more. Close to urban areas you will never be far from a fish restaurant on the beach or, at the very least, a bar. On the beach, topless women are more or less accepted everywhere but complete nudity is absolutely not accepted anywhere in Italy and it carries a hefty fine and/or arrest.
Visit the vineyards Italy is famous for its wine. And its vineyards tend to be in the middle of some beautiful scenery. Taking an organized tour is probably your best bet. Day trips can usually be organized through your hotel if you are staying in a major wine area such as Chianti or through the local tourism office. There are several companies offering longer tours that include meals and accommodation. A simple web search for “Italian vineyard tours” or “wine tour Italy” will find them. Note that these longer tours tend to emphasise good food, great wine and a high standard of accommodation and are thus expensive. If you rent a car and want to organize your own trips, a helpful website is that of the Movimento Turismo del Vino.  The Italian page has a link to itinerari which is not available in English. Even if you don’t read Italian you can still find addresses and opening hours of some interesting wine producers. Note that “su prenotazione” means By Appointment Only.
Cycling tours. Italy has a passion for cycling and there is no better way to explore off the tourist path, than by bicycle. The main hub for the bicycle manufacturing industry has always been in Northern Italy. Each region is varied in the style of riding you will encounter and unique and cultural specialities. There are several companies that offer cycling tours throughout Italy. You can either cycle on your own as a self guided tour or a supported tour that provides a guide to help you during your program. You can do destination tours changing cities each day or ride two or three days in one location before moving on, also there are various skill levels. A good way to find out more information is to visit a web site like  or you can google ‘Bike Touring Italy’ and find several companies offer services. Be sure to research well so that you find the right tour that suits your riding experience and fitness level..
Sailing. Sailing is one of the best ways to see the Italian islands such as Sardinia and Sicily. Most charter companies offer many options from bareboat to crewed and cabin charter, with all types of the boats.
Charter a yacht to discover Italy’s numerous islands or to visit hidden coves and beaches that are not accessible otherwise.
Take a Cooking Class. Italy is very famous for good food. A must-do in Italy: cooking classes and food touring. Most cooking classes companies offer many options from fresh pasta making classes to risotto classes or Italian sauces classes or pizza classes. A simple web search for “The Art of Making Pasta Classes” or “Risotto classes” or “Pizza Making Classes” will find them. A helpful and comprehensive website offers a wide range of Cooking Classes and Culinary Experience.
Learn Glass Bead Making
Italy has the euro (€) as its sole currency along with 24 other countries that use this common European money. These 24 countries are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (official euro members which are all European Union member states) as well as Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican which use it without having a say in eurozone affairs and without being European Union members. Together, these countries have a population of more than 330 million.
One euro is divided into 100 cents. While each official euro member (as well as Monaco, San Marino and Vatican) issues its own coins with a unique obverse, the reverse, as well as all bank notes, look the same throughout the eurozone. Every coin is legal tender in any of the eurozone countries.
Be careful as to where to exchange money. Big-branded foreign exchange stalls that you find in train stations and airports, whilst legitimate, may charge a huge commission of approximately 20% on top of the published rates plus a fixed amount of euro. Read the small print first before turning over any foreign currency to the agent. Your USD100 may easily turn into just €50 if you are impulsive. The smaller stalls found in more touristy areas usually offer friendlier rates: you should get something closer to €70 for every USD100 you exchange.
Italy can be quite an expensive country. As everywhere, major cities and central locations have a higher cost of life than suburban and rural places. It is a general rule of thumb that Southern Italy is less expensive than Northern Italy, especially for food; this will, of course, vary by location.
Meals can be had from as cheap as €3 (if you are happy with a sandwich, panini or falafel from a street vendor); restaurant bills are rarely less than €10 (a burger with fries\salad and a soft drink from a pub) and generally go to about €20 (a starter, main course and water from a regular restaurant). Also, for dinner, wine may be served even without ordering, and you will almost certainly be charged.
Service is always included, either in the display price or a coperto line on the bill; tipping is thus not necessary, but neither is it frowned upon. Tipping taxi drivers is not necessary, but a hotel porter may expect a little something. And unless otherwise stated, prices are inclusive of IVA sales tax (same as VAT), which is 21% for most goods, and 10% in restaurants and hotels. On some products, such as books, IVA is 4%. In practice, you can forget about it since it is universally included in the display price. If you’re a non-EU resident, you are entitled to at least a partial VAT refund on purchases of goods that will be exported out of the European Union. Shops offering this scheme have a Tax Free sticker outside. Be sure to ask for your tax-free voucher and have your passport and address (back home) details ready before leaving the store. You need to purchase at least €155 worth of goods (inclusive of IVA) from a particular merchant during the course of one business day (although you can pool together multiple purchases from the same merchant on that day). These goods have to be unused when you pass the customs checkpoint upon leaving the EU.
If you plan to travel through countryside or rural regions you probably should not rely on your credit cards, as in many small towns they’re accepted only by a small number of shops and restaurants.
Remember that in Italy (even during the winter months) it remains very common for shops, offices and banks to close for up to 3 hours during the afternoon (often between 12.30 and 15.30). Banks, especially, have short hours with most only being open to the public for about 4 hours in the morning and barely 1 hour in the afternoon.
What to buy. Italy is a great place for all forms of shopping. Most cities, villages and towns, are crammed to the brim with many different forms of shops, from glitzy boutiques and huge shopping malls, to tiny art galleries, small food stores, antique dealers and general newsagents.
• Food is definitely one of the best souvenir you can get in Italy. There are thousands of different shapes of pasta (not only spaghetti or maccaroni). Then, every Italian region has its typical food like cheese, wine, ham, salami, oil, winegare, etc. Don’t forget to buy Nutella.
• Italian fashion is renowned worldwide. Many of the world’s most famous international brands have their headquarters or were founded in Italy.
Milan is Italy’s fashion and design capital. In the city one can find virtually every major brand in the world, not only Italian, but also French, English, American, Swedish and Spanish. Your main place for the crème de la crème shopping is the Via Montenapoleone, but the Via della Spiga, Via Manzoni, Via Sant’ Andrea and the Corso Vittorio Emanuele are equally luxurious, if not slightly less prominent, high-class shopping streets. The Corso Buenos Aires is the place to go for mass-scale or outlet shopping. And, the beautiful Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in the centre and Via Dante boast some designer boutiques, too. Virtually every street in central Milan does boast at least some clothing stores of some kind.
However, Rome and Florence, are too, serious fashion centres, and boast being the birthplace of some of the oldest fashion and jewelry houses in Italy. When in Rome, the chic and beautiful Via dei Condotti, leading to the Spanish Steps, will be your primary point of shopping reference, with boutiques but subsidary streets such as Via dei Babuino, Via Borgognona, Via Frattina, Via del Corso and the Piazza di Spagna. In Florence, Via de’ Tornabuoni is the main high-fashion shopping street, and there you’ll find loads of designer brands. However, in both cities, you’ll be able to find a plethora of chic boutiques, designer or not, scattered around the centre.
• Jewellery and accessory shops can be found in abundance in Italy. There are loads of jewellery and accessory stores which hail from Italy. Vicenza and Valenza are considered the country’s jewellery capitals, which are also famous for their silverware and goldware shops. All over Italy, notably Vicenza, Milan, Valenza, Rome, Naples, Florence and Venice, but also several other cities, you can find hundreds of different jewellery or silverware boutiques. Apart from the famous ones, there are some great quirky and funky jewellery stores scattered around the country.
• Design and furniture is something Italy is proudly and justifiably famous for. Excellent quality furniture stores can be found all over, but the real place to buy the best deals is Milan. Milan contains amongst the top design rooms and emporia in the world. For the newest design inventions, attend the Fiera di Milano in Rho, where the latest appliances are exhibited. Many Italian cities have great antique furniture stores. So, you can choose between cutting-edge, avant-garde furniture, or old world antiques to buy in this country, which are, by average, of good quality.
• Glassware is something which Venice makes uniquely but which is spread around the whole of the country. In Venice is famously the capital of Murano (not the island), or glassware made in different colours. Here, you can get stunning goblets, crystal chandeliers, candlesticks and decorations made in stunning, multi-coloured blown glass, which can be designed in modern, funky arrangements, or the classical old style.
• Books can be found in bookshops in every small, medium sized or big city. The main book and publishing companies/stores in Italy include Feltrinelli, Giunti, Mondadori, Hoepli or Rizzoli. Most big book stores are found in Milan, Turin and nearby Monza, which are the capitals of Italy’s publishing trade (Turin was made World Book Capital in 2006) however cities such as Rome and more boast loads of book shops. 99% of the books sold are in Italian.
• Art shops can be found all over in Italy, notably the most artistic cities of Florence, Rome and Venice. In Florence, the best place to go for buying art is the Oltrarno, where there are numerous ateliers selling replicas of famous paintings or similar things. Usually, depending in what city you’re in, you get replicas of notable works of art found there, but also, you can find rare art shops, sculpture shops, or funky, modern/old stores in several cities.
How to buy. In a small or medium sized shop, it’s standard to greet the staff as you enter, not when you approach the counter to pay. A friendly ‘Buongiorno’ or ‘Buonasera’ warms the atmosphere. When paying, the staff usually expect you to put coins down on the surface or dish provided, rather than placing money directly into their hands (old money-handling etiquette to avoid messy coin droppings), and they will do the same when giving you your change (‘il resto’). This is normal practice and is not intended to be rude.
Haggling is very rare and only ever takes place when dealing with hawkers. They will generally ask for an initial price that is much higher than what they are willing to sell for, and going for the asking price is a sure way to get ripped off. Be advised that often times hawkers sell counterfeit merchandise (in some cases, very believable counterfeits), and that hoping to buy a Gucci purse for €30 off the street might not be in your best interest.
In all other situations, haggling will get you nowhere.
Cuisine. Italian food inside of Italy is different to what is called “Italian food” in America. Italy’s cuisine is truly one of the most diverse in the world and, in any region, or even city and village you go, there are different specialities. For instance, it could be only misleading to say that Northern Italian cuisine is based on hearty, potato and rice-rich meals, Central Italian cuisine mainly on pastas, roasts and meat, and Southern Italian cuisine on vegetables, pizza, pasta and seafood: there are so many cross-influences that you’d only get confused trying to categorize. And in any case, Italian cuisine, contrary to popular belief, is not just based on pasta and tomato sauce – that’s only a tiny snippet of the nation’s food, as in some parts of Northern Italy, pasta isn’t even used at all, and rice, potatoes, lentils, soups and similar meals are very common in some parts of the country. Italian food is based upon so many ingredients and Italians often have very discriminating tastes that may seem strange to Americans and other visitors.
For instance, a sandwich stand might sell 4 different types of ham sandwiches that in each case contain ham, mayonnaise, and cheese. The only thing that may be different between the sandwiches is the type of ham or cheese used in them. Rustichella and panzerotti are two examples of sandwiches well-liked by Italians and tourists alike. Also, Italian sandwiches are quite different from the traditional Italian-American “hero”, “submarine”, or “hoagie” sandwich (which by the way mean nothing to any Italian). Rather than large sandwiches with a piling of meat, vegetables, and cheese, sandwiches in Italy are often quite small, very flat (made even more so when they are quickly heated and pressed on a panini grill), and contain a few simple ingredients with rarely, if ever, lettuce or mayonnaise. The term panini may be somewhat confusing to travellers from Northern Europe where it has erroneously come to mean a flat, heated sandwich on a grill. In Italy the term is equivalent to “bread rolls” (plural) which can be simple rolls or sometimes with basic filling. However instead of a sandwich why not try piadinas which are a flat folded bread with filling, which are served warm and are typical of the coast of Emilia-Romagna.
Americans will notice that Italian pasta is usually available with a myriad of sauces rather than simply tomato and Alfredo. Also, Italian pasta is often served with much less sauce than in America. This is, in part, because pasta in a restaurant is usually regarded as the first course of a three- or four-course meal, not a meal in itself.
Structure of a traditional meal: despite the stereotype, your average Italian’s meals consist of a small breakfast, a one-dish lunch and a two-dish dinner. Coffee is welcomed at nearly every hour, especially around 10:00 and at the end of a meal (unless that meal is pizza). At the weekends and in restaurants (for other occasions), a meal typically consists of: antipasto(appetizers: marinated vegetables, mixed coldcuts, seafood, etc), primo (pasta or rice dish), secondo (meat or fish course) often with a side-dish known as contorno, and dolce(dessert).
Like the language and culture, food in Italy differs region by region. Generally speaking pasta and olive oil are the staples of Southern Italian food, the Central Italian cuisines rely on pasta, meat and olive oil/butter while northern food focuses on rice and butter (but today there are many, many exceptions). Local ingredients are also very important. In warm Naples, citrus and other fresh fruit play a prominent role in both food and liquor, while in Venice fish is obviously an important traditional ingredient. As a guideline, in the south cuisine is focused on pasta and dessert, while at north meat is king, but this rule can be very different depending on where you are.
A note about breakfast in Italy: this is a very light meal, often just a cappuccino or coffee with a pastry (cappuccino e cornetto) or a piece of bread and fruit jam. You should not expect a large breakfast. In Italy, it is not customary to eat eggs and bacon for breakfast – the very thought of it is revolting to most Italians. Indeed, no salty foods are consumed for breakfast. Additionally, cappuccino is considered something you’d have for breakfast; ordering one after lunch or dinner is considered an oddity and a typical “tourist thing”. An ordinary coffee is considered much more appropriate.
Another enjoyable Italian breakfast item is cornetto (plural: cornetti): a croissant or light pastry often filled with jam, cream or chocolate.
Lunch is seen as the most important part of the day. In the past, many shops used to close down and resume after the two hour break period and to compensate for this, businesses used to stay open later than in most other European towns, often until 20:00. However, this is no longer the case and now the business hours of a typical Italian day are comparable to those in the rest of Western Europe but still a lot shorter than in North America or Asia. Good luck trying to find a place open during the so-called “pausa pranzo” (lunch break), when visiting a small town, but this is not the case in the biggest cities or shopping centres.
Dinner (i.e. the evening meal) is generally taken late, usually around 20:00. In summer, if you are in a restaurant before 20:00 you are likely to be eating on your own, and it is quite normal to see families with young children still dining after 22:00.
Cuisine is considered an art. Great chefs like Gualtiero Marchesi or Gianfranco Vissani are seen as half-way between TV stars and magicians. Italians are extremely proud of their culinary tradition and generally love food and talking about it – however, they are definitelynot so fond of common preconceptions, such as that Italian food is only pizza and spaghetti. They also have a distaste for “bastardized” versions of their dishes that are popular elsewhere, and many Italians have a hard time believing that the average foreigner can’t get even a basic dish “right”.
A note about service: do not expect the kind of dedicated, focused service you will find in American restaurants. In Italy this is considered somewhat annoying and people generally prefer to be left alone when consuming their meal. You should expect the waiter to come and check on you after your first course, maybe to order something as second course.
You should consider that Italy’s most famous dishes like pizza or spaghetti are quite lame for Italians, and eating in different areas can be an interesting opportunity to taste some less well known local speciality. Even for something as simple as pizza there are significant regional variations. The pizza of Naples has a thick, soft crust while that of Rome is considerably thinner and crustier.
When dining out with Italians read the menu and remember that almost every restaurant has a typical dish and some towns have centuries-old traditions that you are invited to learn. People will be most happy when you ask for local specialities and will gladly advise you.
In Northern Italy at around 17:00 most bars will prepare for an aperitivo especially in cosmopolitan Milan, with a series of plates of nibbles, cheese, olives, meat, bruschetta and much more… This is NOT considered a meal and should you indulge yourself in eating as if it was dinner, you would most likely not be very much appreciated. All this food is typically free to anyone who purchases a drink but it is intended to be just a snack before the main meal.
An interesting piece of trivia mostly lost on tourists and locals alike, is that the tomato did not make its way into Italian cuisine until well into the 17th century. The tomato plant is native to South America and as such, was not “discovered” by Europeans until its introduction in the late 1600s and early 1700s. No, Da Vinci didn’t eat pizza with tomato sauce and Michelangelo didn’t dine on it either.
Specialities. Almost every city and region has its own specialities, a brief list of which may include:
• Risotto – Arborio rice that has been sautéed and cooked in a shallow pan with stock. The result is a very creamy and hearty dish. Meat, poultry, seafood, vegetables, and cheeses are almost always added depending on the recipe and the locale. Many restaurants, families, towns, and regions will have a signature risotto or at least style of risotto, in addition or in place of a signature pasta dish (risotto alla Milanese is a famous Italian classic). Risotto is a typical dish in Lombardy and Piedmont.
• Arancina – A deep fried ball of rice with tomato sauce, eggs, and cheese. It’s a southern Italian speciality, though are now quite common all over. It is NOT to be confused with supplì, which are a strictly Roman speciality and are pretty much unheard of in the rest of the peninsula.
• Polenta – Yellow corn meal (yellow grits) that has been cooked with stock. It is normally served either creamy, or allowed to set up and then cut into shapes and fried or roasted. It is a very common dish in northern mountains restaurants, usually eaten with deer or boar meat.
• Gelato This is the Italian word for ice cream. The non-fruit flavours are usually made only with milk. Gelato made with water and without dairy ingredients is also known as sorbetto. It’s fresh as a sorbet, but tastier. There are many flavours, including coffee, chocolate, fruit, and tiramisù. When buying at a gelateria, you have the choice of having it served in a wafer cone or a tub; in northen Italy you’ll pay for every single flavour “ball”, and the panna (the milk cream) counts as a flavour; in Rome you can buy a small wafer cone (around €1.80) a medium one (€2.50) or a large one (€3.00) without limit of flavours, and the panna is free.
• Tiramisù Italian cake made with coffee, mascarpone, and ladyfingers (sometimes rum) with cocoa powder on the top. The name means “pick-me-up”.
Pizza. Pizza is a quick and convenient meal. In most cities there are pizza shops that sell by the gram. Look for a sign Pizza al taglio. When ordering, simply point to the display or tell the attendant the type of pizza you would like (e.g. pizza margherita, pizza con patate (roasted or french fries), pizza al prosciutto (ham), etc.) and how much (“Vorrei (due fette – two slices) or (due etti – two-tenths of a kilogram) or simply say “di più” – more, or “di meno” – less, “per favore”). They will slice it, warm it in the oven, fold it in half, and wrap it in paper. Other food shops also sell pizza by the slice. Remember, getting your meal on the run can save money but some touristy sandwich shops charge an additional fee if you want to sit to eat your meal. Also, in many parts of the country pizzas have a thinner base of bread and less cheese than those found outside Italy. The most authentic, original pizzas is found in Naples – often containing quite a few ingredients (tomato and oregano, or tomato and mozzarella). The Neapolitan one is the only traditional Italian pizza. You can eat it in Naples, of course, but you can also find some few pizzerias in other big cities which make a pizza quite similar to the real Neapolitan pizza.
The traditional, round pizza is found in many restaurants and specialized pizza restaurants (pizzerie). The “Ristorante-Pizzeria” is very common in Italy: it is basically a restaurant that serves also handmade pizza. Until a few years ago, it was rare to find a restaurant that serves pizza at lunchtime, nowadays it is not so and pizza at lunchtime is quite common (sometimes it is better to ask to a waiter if they do that before ordering).
Cheese and sausages. In Italy you can find nearly 800 kinds of cheese, including the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, and over 400 types of sausages. If you want a real kick, then try to find one of the huge open markets, which are always open on Saturdays and usually during other days, except Sunday, as well. You will find all types of cheese and meat on display.
Restaurants and bars. There are numerous restaurants in Italian cities (like this one, in the exclusive Via Veneto, Rome)
Italian bars in the centre of major cities charge more (typically double whatever the final bill is) if you drink or eat seated at a table outside rather than standing at the bar or taking your order to go. This is because bars are charged a very high tax to place tables and chair outside, so since most people do not use tables anyway, they had decided long ago to only charge those who do. The further away you are from the center streets, the less this rule is applied. When calling into a bar for a coffee or other drink you first go to the cash register and pay for what you want. You then give the receipt to the barman, who will serve you.
Restaurants – with the notable exception of Rome and the surrounding Lazio region, where such a charge is forbidden by law – charge a small coperto (cover charge). Some years ago attempts were made to outlaw the practice, with limited success. You can be charged for bread, but if you don’t want to pay for it just send it away.
Some restaurants now levy a service charge, but this is far from common. In Italian restaurants a large tip is never expected. The customary 15% of the United States may cause an Italian waiter to drop dead with a heart attack. Just leave a euro or two and they will be more than happy.
The traditional meal can include (in order) antipasto (starter of cold seafood, gratinated vegetables or ham and salami), primo (first dish – pasta or rice dishes), secondo (second dish – meat or fish dishes), served together with contorno (mostly vegetables), cheeses/fruit, dessert, coffee, and spirits. Upmarket restaurants usually refuse to make changes to proposed dishes (exceptions warmly granted for babies or people on special diets). Mid-range restaurants are usually more accommodating. For example, a simple pasta with tomato sauce may not be on the menu but a restaurant will nearly always be willing to cook one for kids who turn their noses up at everything else on the menu.
If you are in a large group (say four or more) then it is appreciated if you don’t all order a totally different pasta. While the sauces are pre-cooked the pasta is cooked fresh and it is difficult for the restaurant if one person wants spaghetti, another fettuccine, a third rigatoni, a fourth penne and a fifth farfalle (butterfly shaped pasta). If you attempt such an order you will invariably be told that you will have a long wait!
When pizza is ordered, it is served as a primo (even if formally it is not considered as such), together with other primi. If you order a pasta or pizza and your friend has a steak you will get your pasta dish, and probably when you’ve finished eating the steak will arrive. If you want primo and secondo dishes to be brought at the same time you have to ask.
Restaurants which propose diet food, very few, usually write it clearly in menus and even outside; others usually don’t have any dietetic resources. People with coeliac disease may be surprised that many restaurants and shops offer gluten-free (senza glutine) food and the disease is generally well known.
A Gastronomia is a kind of self-service restaurant (normally you tell the staff what you want rather than serving yourself) that also offers take-aways. This can give a good opportunity to sample traditional Italian dishes at fairly low cost. Note that these are not buffet restaurants. You pay according to what you order.
The Cesarine of Home Food, present in many Italian places, spread and enhance the traditional recipes, the peculiarities of the territory of the local products and welcome guests within their houses, preparing for them courses from a menu in which intertwine skills, gastronomic tradition and unforgettable flavours.
The Home Food project, with the patronage of the Ministry of Agriculture and the University of Bologna, stands for the protection and preservation of traditional food culture and typical products of Italy. Through the creation of a virtuous circle and non-profit, Home Food, allows its members to be Guests at the table of Italian families and enjoy the food prepared by the lady of the houses, which are friendly called with the epithet of “Cesarine”, and are the depositories of the ancient culinary know-how.
Drink. Bars, like restaurants, are non-smoking.
Italians enjoy going out during the evenings, so it’s common to have a drink in a bar before dinner. It is called aperitivo. Within the last couple years, started by Milan, a lot of bars have started offering fixed-price cocktails at aperitivo hours (18 – 21) with a free, and often a very good, buffet meal. It’s now widely considered stylish to have this kind of aperitivo (called Happy Hour) instead of a structured meal before going out to dance or whatever.
While safe to drink, the tap water in some parts of Italy (e.g. Sardinia, or parts of the South) can be cloudy with a slight off taste. Some Italians prefer bottled water, which is served in restaurants; make sure you let the waiter/waitress know you want regular water (acqua naturale or acqua liscia) or else you could get water with either natural gas (acqua effervescente) or with added carbonation (acqua frizzante or acqua gassata); usually the waiter will ask which one you want with phrases like “Liscia/naturale o gassata/frizzante?” (Still or sparkling water?). Rome, in particular, has exceptional pride in the quality of its water. This goes right back to the building of aqueducts channeling pure mountain water to every citizen during Roman times. Don’t waste plastic bottles! You can refill your drinking containers and bottles at any of the constant running taps and fountains dotted around the city, safe in the knowledge that you are getting excellent quality cool spring water – try it!
Wine. Italian wine is exported all over the world, and names like Barolo, Brunello and Chianti are well-known. In Italy wine is a substantial topic, a sort of test which can ensure either respect or lack of attention from an entire restaurant staff. Doing your homework ensures that you will get better service, better wine and in the end may even pay less.
DOC, DOCG, IGT? The Denominazione di origine controllata certificate restricts above all the grape blend allowed for the wine, and in itself it is not yet a guarantee of quality. The same applies to the stricter Denominazione di origine controllata e garantita. These two denominations are indications of a traditional wine typical of the region, such as Chianti, and often a good partner for local food. But some of the best Italian wines are labeled with the less strict Indicazione geografica tipica designation, often a sign of a more modern, “international” wine.
So before reaching Italy, try to learn a little about the most important wines of the region you are planning to visit. This will greatly increase you enjoyment. Italian cuisine varies greatly from region to region (sometimes also from town to town), and wine reflects this variety. Italians have a long tradition of matching wines with dishes and often every dish has an appropriate wine. The popular “color rule” (red wines with meat dishes, white wines with fish) can be happily broken when proposed by a sommelier or when you really know what you are doing: Italy has many strong white wines to serve with meat (a Sicilian or Tuscan chardonnay), as well as delicate red wines for fish (perhaps an Alto Adige pinot noir).
Unlike in the UK, for example, the price mark-ups charged by restaurants for wines on their wine list are not usually excessive, giving you a chance to experiment. In the big cities, there are also many wine bars, where you can taste different wines by the glass, at the same time as eating some delicious snacks. Unlike in many other countries it is unusual for restaurants to serve wine by the glass.
The vino della casa (house wine) can be an excellent drinking opportunity in small villages far from towns (especially in Tuscany), where it could be what the patron would really personally drink or could even be the restaurant’s own product. It tends to be a safe choice in decent restaurants in cities as well. Vino della casa may come bottled but in lower-priced restaurants it is still just as likely to be available in a carafe of one quarter, one half or one litre. As a general rule, if the restaurant seems honest and not too geared for tourists, the house wine is usually not too bad. That said, some house wines can be dreadful and give you a nasty headache the next morning. If it doesn’t taste too good it probably won’t do you much good, so send it back and order from the wine list.
Italians are justly proud of their wines and foreign wines are rarely served, but many foreign grapes like cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay are increasingly being used.
Beer. Although wine is a traditional product, beer is very common as well. Beer did not quite belong to the Italian tradition in the way that wine does, but in the last 30-odd years there has been an explosion of Irish-style pubs in every big town, with usually a huge selection of any kind of beer, ale, stout and cider, from every country in the world. Major Italian beers include Peroni and Moretti and these are usually the ones offered by cafés. If you are serious about beer drinking, there are many bars that specialise in serving a wide range of bottled beers (see city articles for more details), as well as Irish pubs and similar establishments. There is an increasing number of micro-breweries around the country. They often are run by local beer enthusiasts turned brewers, running small breweries with a pub attached. Their association is called Unionbirrai.
In the Trieste region it is far more common to drink Slovenian beers and the most popular brands are ‘Union’ and ‘Zlatorag’.
• Limoncello. A liquor made of alcohol, lemon peels, and sugar. Limoncello can be considered a “moonshine” type of product (although usually made with legally obtained alcohol) as every Italian family, especially in the middle-south (near Napoli) and southern part of the country, has its own recipe for limoncello. Because lemon trees adapt so well to the Mediterreanean climate, and they produce a large amount of fruit continually throughout their long fruit-bearing season, it is not unusual to find many villa’s yards filled with lemon trees bending under the weight of their crop. You can make a lot of lemonade, or better yet, brew your own limoncello. It is mainly considered a dessert liquor, served after a heavy meal (similar to amaretto), and used for different celebrations. The taste can be compared to a very strong and slightly thick lemonade flavor with an alcohol tinge to it. Best served chilled in the freezer in small glasses that have been in the freezer. It is better sipped than treated as a shooter.
• Grappa is made by distilling grape skins after the juice has been squeezed from them for winemaking, so you could imagine how it might taste. If you’re going to drink it, then make sure you get a bottle having been distilled multiple times.
Limoncello and grappa and other similar drinks are usually served after a meal as an aid to digestion. If you are a good customer restaurants will offer a drink to you free of charge, and may even leave the bottle on your table for you to help yourself. Beware that these are very strong drinks.
Bars in Italy offer an enormous number of possible permutations for a way of having a cup of coffee. What you won’t get, however, is 100 different types of bean; nor will you find “gourmet” coffees. If you like that kind of stuff, better take your own. A bar will make coffee from a commercial blend of beans supplied by just one roaster. There are many companies who supply roast beans and the brand used is usually prominently displayed both inside and outside of the bar.
There are various kinds of coffee, the most popular of which are:
• Caffè (known to foreign tourists as “espresso”). This is the basic kind of coffee, which is normally consumed at breakfast or after a meal.
• Caffè ristretto. This uses the same amount of coffee powder, but less water, thus making it lighter because less caffeine is extracted.
• Caffè lungo. Like ordinary coffee, but additional water is allowed to go through the coffee beans in the machine.
• Caffè americano. This has much more water and is served in a cappuccino cup. It is more like an American breakfast coffee but the quantity is still far less than you would get in the States.
So far so good. But here the permutations begin. For the same price as a normal coffee, you can ask for a dash of milk to be added to any of the above. This is called macchiato. Hence, caffè lungo macchiato or caffè americano macchiato. But that dash of milk can be either hot (caldo) or cold (freddo). So you can ask, without the barman batting an eye, for a caffè lungo macchiato freddo or a caffè americano macchiato caldo. Any one of these options can also be had decaffeinated. Ask for caffè decaffeinato; The most popular brand is HAG and it is quite usual to ask for caffè HAG even if the bar does not use that particular brand.
If you are really in need of a pick-me-up you can ask for a double dose of coffee, or a doppio. You have to specify this when you pay at the cash register and it costs twice as much as a normal coffee. All the above permutations still apply, although a caffè doppio ristrettomay be a bit strange.
Additionally, if you need a shot of alcohol, you can ask for a caffè corretto. This usually involves adding grappa, brandy or sambuca; “corrected” being the Italian expression corresponding to “spiked”. Normally it is only a plain coffee that is corrected but there is no reason why you should not correct any of the above combinations.
Then there are coffee drinks with milk, as follows:
• Cappuccino. Needs no introduction. If you don’t like the froth you can ask for cappuccino senza schiuma.
• Caffè latte. Often served in a glass, this is a small amount of coffee with the cup/glass filled up with hot milk.
• Latte macchiato. This is a glass of milk with a dash of coffee in the top. The milk can be hot or cold.
Note: latte is the Italian word for milk. If you ask for one, what you’ll be getting is a glass of milk… and a perplexed look.
Finally, in the summer you can have caffè freddo, which is basically plain coffee with ice, “caffè freddo shakerato” (shaked ice coffee) or cappuccino freddo, which is a cold milky coffee without the froth. This list is by no means exhaustive. With a vivid imagination and a desire to experiment you should be able to find many more permutations. Enjoy!
In major cities and touristic areas you can find a good variety of accommodations, from world-class brand hotels to family-managed bed & breakfasts and room rentals, but hostels are really few. Camping is a good way to save money and camping sites are usually well managed, but especially during summer, managers tend not to accept last-minute groups of young people (given the high chance of problems that such groups of Italian guys tend to cause), so you’d better book in advance. Farmstays are an increasingly popular way to experience Italy, particularly in rural areas of Tuscany, Piedmont, Umbria, Abruzzo, Sardinia and Apulia. They provide a great combination of good and healthy food, wonderful sights and not-so-expensive prices. If you prefer self-catering accommodations, it’s quite simple to find them on the wonderful Amalfi Coast or the less commercial and more genuine Calabria coast.
Hotel star ratings can only be taken as a broad indication of what you will get for your money. There are many marvellous 2-star hotels that you will want to return to every year and many 5-star hotels that you will never want to set foot in again. The star rating, as in all countries, is based on a bureaucratic assessment of the facilities provided and does not necessarily relate to comfort. Often the only difference between a 3-star and 4-star hotel is that the latter offers all meals while the former only offers breakfast.
• Electricity. Italy uses 220V, 50Hz. Italy has its own electrical plug design. The standard “European” two-prong plugs will fit, but grounded (three-prong) plugs from other countries will not. German-type “Schuko” sockets can also be found quite often, especially in the north, and you’ll find adapters for that system in virtually all supermarkets. Adapters for other systems (including US plugs) are not that ubiquitous but can be found at airports or in specialised shops.
If you’re using American appliances that were designed for standard US household 110V, 60Hz current, make sure you get a voltageconverter, not just a plug adaptor. The higher voltage will damage or destroy your appliance, and could injure or kill you as well.
Note that if you have a USB plug/charger, it is likely rated for 100V-220V (usually written on the device), so may only need a plug adapter to charge your phone and/or camera. If not, they are cheap, so you may want to pick one up in country rather than lugging around a converter.
Power surges and power failures are virtually unknown in Italy, even less so than in the States; the energy, water and gas systems are state-run and very well equipped and maintained since even before WW2; the electrical system is fully updated to the latest tech specs and every household is required to comply when renovating. That includes the remote villages in the South, too.
For English-speakers looking to study in Italy, there are several options. In Rome, Duquesne University, John Cabot, Loyola University Chicago and Temple University maintain campuses. Right outside of Rome the University of Dallas maintains its own campus in Marino. St. John’s University has a graduate program in Rome for International Relations and MBA. New York University has a study-abroad program in Florence available even to freshmen and maintains its own campus at Villa La Pietra.
It depends on how you want to learn. Are you interested in studying in a huge touristy city like Florence or Rome? Or, are you interested in learning from a small town on the Italian Riviera. The smaller cities have better opportunity to learn Italian because there’s not a lot of English going around. No matter where you decide, Italy is one of the best spots geographically to travel while you’re not studying. However, keep in mind that in many places of Italy people still speak their local dialects. This is particularly true in the South.
Think about learning what the Italians are best at: food, wine, Italian language, architecture, motors (cars and bikes) and interior design.
Work in Italy is not easy to find. Many young adults are without a job. Starting salaries in shops, offices, etc range from €450 to €800 a month. There’s a huge underground black market though, where you’ll find many people working. This doesn’t mean working in some kind of obscure crime syndicate: it simply means not being book-regulated. Most “black” workers can be found in small business such as cafés, pubs and small shops, or as construction workers. Although this kind of job is illegal (but legal consequences fall mostly on the employer’s shoulders) they’re probably the easier thing to find if you’re looking for a temporary job.
If you’re thinking about establishing a small business be sure to get in contact with local Chamber of Commerce and an accountant and they will help you to sort out the Italian laws.
Italy is the main destination for Romanians working abroad. Unofficial statistics reveal that there are approximately one million Romanians in Italy. However these numbers have been dwarfed in recent years by immigration from Africa.
For emergencies, call 112. This phone number works for every type of emergency, as you’ll speak with an operator that will contact the appropriate authority (police, fire department, …)
In case of emergency or inconvenience, the Italian Ministry for Tourism has implemented a multilingual contact centre providing information and assistance to tourists. Easy Italia operates seven days a week, 09.00-22:00, and its telephone number (+39 39 039 039) can be dialled from anywhere in the world from either a landline or a mobile. If you’re currently in Italy, you can also contact them by dialling the toll-free number 800 000 039 from landlines and payphones. The service is also available on Skype (easyitalia) and you can also ask information for free by filling in a web form
Italy is a safe country to travel in like most developed countries. There are few incidents of terrorism/serious violence and these episodes have been almost exclusively motivated by internal politics. Examples include the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence by the Mafia. Almost every major incident is attributed to organized crime or anarchist movements and rarely, if ever, directed at travelers or foreigners.
Crime. Violent crime rates in Italy are low even compared to most European countries. If you’re reasonably careful and use common sense you won’t encounter personal safety risks even in the less affluent neighborhoods of large cities. However, petty crime can be a problem for unwary travelers. Travelers should note that pickpockets often work in pairs or teams, occasionally in conjunction with street vendors; the usual precautions against pickpockets. Instances of rape and robbery are increasing slightly.
You should exercise the usual caution when going out at night alone, although it remains reasonably safe even for single women to walk alone at night. Italians will often offer to accompany female friends back home for safety, even though crime statistics show that sexual violence against women is rare compared to most other Western countries.
Prostitution is rife in the night streets around mid and large towns. Prostitution in Italy is legal though authorities are taking a firmer stance against it than before. Brothels are illegal and pimping is a serious offense, considered by the law similar to slavery. In Italy, it is an offence even to stop your car in front of a prostitute. Due to the ambivalent situation regarding prostitution, a lot of prostitutes fall victim to human trafficking. In general, being the client of a prostitute falls in an area of questionable legality and is inadvisable. Being the client of a prostitute under 18 is a criminal offence, even if you claim to be unaware of the prostitute’s age.
Police Forces. There are four types of police forces a tourist might encounter in Italy. The Polizia di Stato (State Police) is the national police force; they wear blue shirts and grey pants and drive light-blue-painted cars with “POLIZIA” written on the side. The Carabinieri are the national gendarmerie; they wear very dark blue uniforms with fiery red vertical stripes on their pants and drive similarly colored cars. The Guardia di Finanza is a police force charged with border controls and fiscal matters; they dress fully in light grey and drive blue or gray cars with yellow markings. Finally, municipalities have local police, with names such as “Polizia municipale” or “Vigili Urbani”. Their style of dressing varies among the cities, but they will always wear some type of uniform and drive marked cars, which should be easy to spot.
After leaving a restaurant or other commercial facility, it is possible, though unlikely, that you are asked to show your bill and your documents by Guardia di Finanza agents. This is perfectly legitimate (they are checking to see if the facility has printed a proper reciept and will thus pay taxes on what was sold).
For all practical matters, including reporting a crime or asking for information, you may ask any of the aforementioned kinds of police. Recently, the military has been directly tasked with protecting key locations, including some city highlights you may want to visit; in case of emergency you can, by all means, ask them for help, but understand that these are not policemen and will very likely have to call actual police for you to report a crime and so on.
Policemen in Italy are not authorized to collect fines of any kind and have no authority to ask you for money for any reason (unless you are pulled over in your foreign vehicle and fined, see Get around|By car above).
Possession of drugs is always illegal, but it is a criminal offence only above a certain amount.
The main emergency number, handled by the State Police, is 113. The medical emergency number is 118, but personnel of the 113 call centre are trained to handle mistakes and will immediately hook you up with actual medical emergency services.
There are many bars in Italy that cater to tourists and foreigners with “home country” themes, calling themselves such things as “American bars” or “Irish pubs”. In addition to travelers, these bars attract a large number of Italians who, among other reasons, go there specifically to meet travelers and other foreigners.
While the motivation for the vast majority of these Italians is simply to have a good time with new friends, there can be one or two petty criminals who loiter in and out of these establishments hoping to take advantage of travelers who are disoriented or drunk. Traveling to these places in groups is a simple solution to this problem. Alternatively, if you are alone, avoid getting drunk!
When entering with a car into a city, avoid restricted, pedestrian-only areas (ZTL ) or you could be fined about €100.
As in other countries, there are gangs known for tampering with ATMs by placing “skimmers” in front of the card slot and get a clone of your card. Check carefully the machine and, if unsure, use a different one.
Travellers in search of employment in agriculture,either permanent or seasonal,should be aware that abuse in this industry has increased exponentially especially in Southern Italy and Sicily. There are numerous reports of people who had their passsports taken away,forced into slave labour with long hours without pay and even sexual abuse with little or no reaction from the local authorities.
Read up on the legends concerning tourist scams. Most of them occur regularly in bigger cities such as Rome, Milan, or Naples.
A particular scam is when some plainclothes police will approach you, asking to look for “drug money,” or ask to see your passport. This is a scam to take your money. You can scare them by asking for their ID. Guardia di Finanza (the grey uniformed ones) do customs work.
A recent scam involves men approaching you, asking where you are from, and begin to tie bracelets around your wrists. When they are done they will try to charge you upwards of €20 for each bracelet. If anyone makes any attempt to reach for your hand, retract quickly. If you get trapped, you can refuse to pay, but this may not be wise if there are not many people around. Carry small bills or just change, in your wallet, so if you find yourself in cornered to pay for the bracelet, you can convince them that €1 or €2 is all you have.
When taking a taxi, be sure to remember license number written on the card door. In seconds, people have had a taxi bill risen by €10 or even more. When giving money to taxi driver, be careful.
Around popular tourist sites, there are groups mostly of men trying to sell cheap souvenirs. They may also carry roses and say they are giving you a gift because they like you but the minute you take their ‘gift’ they demand money. They are often very insistent and often the only way to get rid of them is to be plain rude. Do the best you can to not take their “gifts” as they will follow you around asking for money. Simply saying “no” or “vai via” (“go away”) will get them off your back until the next vendor comes up to you.
Yet another scam involves being approached by a man, asking you to help break a large bill – usually €20 or €50. Do not give him your money. The bill he is giving you is fake, but at first glance it might seem real.
On train platforms, you may be approached by people who act like train conductors or station personnel, offering to help you find your carriage and seat. The moment you hand over your ticket they will tell you that you are running late, and rush you to your carriage. They usher you to your seat and then help you put your baggage onto the racks; then they ask for an extortionate fee (something like 5 euros per person). There is no way to get rid of them without being extremely rude and causing a scene. Make sure to ignore everyone on the train platforms unless he/she is wearing a station uniform!
The best advice to avoid scams is to get way from anyone that you have never seen before who starts talking to you.
Racism. Unfortunately racism is still present in Italy; the country only started having a significant non-white presence in the last 20 years and, while racially-motivated violence is rare (it does make the news a few times a year), it is generally perpetrated at the expense of immigrants. Some Italians may assume a person with prominent ‘foreign’ features to be an immigrant and, regrettably, treat them with some measure of contempt or condescension. This especially happens towards persons who may look like gypsies or Maghreb Arabs. Tourists can generally expect not to be insulted to their face but, unfortunately, casual racism and bigotry is not absent from conversation (especially bar talk and especially if matches featuring non-white players are on TV).
On the other hand, antisemitism is mostly absent in Italian society and Italy itself never really had a history of it (save for part of the Fascist era).
Italian hospitals are public and offer completely free high-standard treatments for EU travellers, although, as anywhere else, you may have a long wait to be served. Emergency assistance is granted even to non-EU travelers. For non-emergency assistance, non-EU citizens are required to pay out-of-pocket, there is no convention with US health insurances (although some insurance companies might later reimburse these expenses). Nonetheless, a requirement for a Schengen visa is that you have valid travel insurance which includes emergency expenses covering your entire trip anyway.
Water in southern Italy might come from desalination and sometimes may have a strange taste, due to extended droughts. If in doubt use bottled water. Elsewhere tap water is perfectly drinkable and very well maintained. Or else, a “NON POTABILE” warning is posted.
Italy has a reputation for being a welcoming country and Italians are friendly and courteous, as well as very used to interacting with foreigners. The Italian society is however slightly more formal than the Northern European or English-speaking ones, and it can be more sensitive to issues of respect or lack thereof, so it is wrong to assume everyone will be gregarious and laid-back. If you are polite and civilyou should have no problems, but don’t expect that the average Italian speaks or even understands English (except for young people).
Italians greet family and close friends with two light kisses on the cheek. Males do, too. To avoid ending up kissing on the lips note that you first move to the right (kiss the other person on their left cheek) and then to the left. In general, when joining or leaving a group, you will shake hands individually with (or kiss, depending on the level of familiarity) each member of the group. If it is a business related meeting you just shake hands.
To make friends, it’s a good idea to pay some compliments. Most Italians still live in their town of origin and feel far more strongly about their local area than they do about Italy in general. Tell them how beautiful their town/lake/village/church is and possibly add how much you prefer it to Rome/Milan/other Italian towns. Residents can be fonts of knowledge regarding their local monuments and history, and a few questions will often produce interesting stories.
Clothing. Whole essays can be written about the Italians’ relationships with clothes. Three of the most important observations:
1. Some Italians (especially young ones from the upper and upper-middle social classes) can be very appearance-conscious.
2. It’s important, however, not to judge people by their choice of clothing. Styles do not necessarily carry the same connotations in Italy that they would in Britain or some other countries. Some youths lounge about in skin-tight tee-shirts and casually-knotted knitwear (and are very perplexed by the response they get when they take their sense of style and grooming to a less ‘sophisticated’ climate).
3. Sometimes, clothing rules are written. To visit a church or religious site you will need to cover yourself up; no bare backs, chests, shoulders and sometimes no knees. Sometimes museums and other attractions can also be strict; no bathing costumes, for example. If you want to visit a church or religious site it’s a good idea to take something to cover yourself up with; for example a jumper or large scarf. Some churches supply cover-ups, such as sarongs are loaned to men with shorts so that they can modestly conceal their legs. Even where there are no written rules, it’s worth noting that bare chests and large expanses of sunburnt skin are unacceptable away from beaches or sunbathing areas, whatever the temperature is. It’s considered unpolite for a man to wear a hat inside of any Catholic church.
Politics. Italians are usually modest about their country’s role in the world. It should be easy to talk to people about history and politics without provoking arguments. People will listen to your opinion in a polite way as long as you express yourself politely. Fascism is out of the mainstream of Italian politics. Despite this, avoid such topics. Some older people who lived under Benito Mussolini (the Fascist dictator who was killed by the Resistance) could easily get upset. April 25 in Italy is the “Liberation Day”, celebrating the liberation from Nazi-Fascist rule; however, in recent years the holiday has become more and more divisive. You may even find that some people, although not looking like typical thugs, claim to be supporters of Fascism and Mussolini; but this is, as just said, a sensitive topic.
In the South mafia could be a sensitive topic, so it is probably wise not to talk about it.
LGBT rights in Italy. LGBT matters in Italy have changed deeply in the last couple of years.
Once inclined towards a more conservative attitude, in which the Catholic Church played a big role, people in Italy are now more supportive of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights. A further step in this direction has been a long-awaited law passed in 2016 which recognizes same-sex civil partnerships. Nevertheless, public opinion does still vary remarkably, especially across the city / small-town divide, with larger cities being more in the open (although to a lesser degree than their Northern-european counterparts) and small towns and the rural areas of the South being more on the conservative end of the spectrum.
While more information can be found on LGBT-specific websites, a brief summary of the situation could be as follows: while violence is uncommon against openly gay people (it still occurs though…), public displays of affection from same-sex couples will still attract attention and stares are almost guaranteed; most same-sex couples prefer to avoid public attention. As is the case elsewhere, the younger generations tend to be more open minded than older folks, but assumptions should not be made in either direction.
Patriotism. Despite generally being accepting of criticism, Italians are still a proud people and, when talking about their country’s role in history and politics, it is best to do so with respect. Under no circumstances should you mock Italy. Follow this rule: it’s not a good idea to talk much about Italy’s past politics, since many Italians don’t like Berlusconi nor like the international image he gives to Italy; therefore, never make comparisons between Berlusconi’s policies and Italy itself.
Internet access. Wi-Fi There are plenty of public Wi-Fi hotspots in Italy that are free of charge to use. By law, all public-access internet points must keep records of web sites viewed by customers, and even the customer’s ID: expect to be refused access if you don’t provide identification. Hotels providing Internet access are not required to record IDs if the connection is provided in the guest’s room, although if the connection is offered in the main public hall then IDs are required.
Publicly available wireless access without user identification is illegal, so open Wi-Fi hotspots (like the ones you might expect to find in a mall or café) all have some form of (generally one-time) registration.
Certain internet activities are illegal. Beside the obvious (child pornography, trading in illegal products like drugs and weapons), copyright infringement is technically illegal even if no profit is made. However enforcement of copyright laws against P2P users is lax and “cease & desist” letters from providers are unheard of, unless using a University’s Wi-Fi. Certain websites (mostly related to online gambling and copyrighted material) have been blocked in Italy following court rulings.
You can rent a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot (4G/LTE) for short term period at a reasonable price. Some companies such as My Webspot provide unlimited internet for the duration you need in Italy (from 5€ per day). It is delivered to your hotel or at the airport. A good solution to stay connected, and place international calls with your favorite Apps, for cheap.
Mobile. Mobile (3G or HSDPA) internet connectivity is available from all major Italian carriers. Beware though that internet plans are generally much more expensive than in other European countries.
Also, contracts often contain little-publicized usage limitations, eg, a plan that is advertised as 3 GB per month but actually has a daily limit of 100MB.
Retailers will often fail to mention these limitations and quite often are themselves ignorant that they exist, so it is advisable to double check on the carrier’s website.
Also keep in mind that, generally speaking, internet plans only include connectivity when under a specific carrier’s coverage. When roaming, internet costs can be very high. Coverage of major carriers is widespread, but it would be wise to check whether your carrier covers your area.
Telephone. Both the fixed and mobile phone systems are available throughout Italy. Telephone numbers of the fixed system used to have separate prefixes (area codes) and a local number. In the 1990s the numbers were unified and nowadays, when calling Italian phones you should always dial the full number. For example you start numbers for Rome with 06 even if you are calling from Rome. All land line numbers start with 0. Mobile numbers start with 3. Numbers starting with 89 are high-fee services. If you don’t know somebody’s phone number you can dial a variety of recently-established phone services, the most used being 1240, 892424, 892892, but most of them have high fees.
To call abroad from Italy you have to dial 00 + country code + local part where the syntax of the local part depends on the country called.
To call Italy from abroad you have to dial international prefix + 39 + local part. Note that, unlike calls to most countries, you should not skip the starting zero of the local part if you are calling an Italian land line.
Payphones are widely available, especially in stations and airports. However, the number of payphones has consistently been reduced after the introduction of mobile phones. Some payphones work with coins only, some with phone cards only and some with both coins and phone cards. Only a limited number of phones (just a few in main airports) directly accept credit cards.
Italians use mobile phones extensively, some might say excessively. The main networks are TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile, part of Telecom Italia, formerly state controlled), Vodafone, Wind, and 3 (only UMTS cellphones). Note that cellphones from North America will not work in Italy unless they are Tri-band. Nearly all of the country has GSM, GPRS and UMTS/HDSPA coverage. If you arrive from abroad and intend making a lot of calls, buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card (termed prepagato for “prepaid” and ricaricabile for “rechargeable”) and put it in your current mobile (if compatible and if your mobile set is not locked). You need to provide a valid form of identification, such as a passport or other official identity, to be able to purchase the SIM card. Unless you already have one, you will also be required to obtain a Codice Fiscale (a tax number) – the vendor may generate one for you from your form of identification. Subscription-based mobile telephony accounts are subject to a government tax, to which prepaid SIM cards are not subject. Sometimes hotels have mobile phones for customer to borrow or rent.
Call costs vary greatly depending on when, where, from and where to. Each provider offers an array of complex tariffs and it is near impossible to make reliable cost estimates. The cost of calls differs considerably if you call a fixed-line phone or a mobile phone. Usually there is a difference in cost even for incoming calls from abroad. If you can choose, calling the other party’s land line could be even 40% cheaper than mobile. Many companies are shifting their customer service numbers to fixed-rate number (prefix 199). These numbers are at the local rate, no matter where are you calling from.
According to national regulations, hotels cannot apply a surcharge on calls made from the hotel (as the switchboard service should be already included as a service paid in the room cost), but to be sure check it before you use.
Calls between landlines are charged at either the local rate or the national rate depending on the originating and destination area codes; if both are the same then the call will be local rate. Note that local calls are not free.
112 is the pan-European emergency number and is always free to call.
Note: in both Lombardy and the (former) province of Rome 112 – much like 911 or 999 – has replaced the previous emergency numbers which are, however, still in use throughout the rest of the Peninsula!
• ☎ 112 – Carabinieri. This is a general-purpose emergency number: the Carabinieri usually intervene more quickly than the Police.
• ☎ 113 – Police. Another general-purpose emergency number; by dialling 113 you’ll be put in contact with the Police.
• ☎ 115 – Firemen.
• ☎ 117 – Guardia di Finanza. The restaurateur tried to pad your bill? You’ve just been scammed? Shady deals going on? Then call the GdF.
• ☎ 118 – Medical emergency; should you ever need an ambulance, this is the number to call.
• ☎ 1515 – Corpo Forestale dello Stato. The Italian equivalent of park rangers – call them if you see a forest fire, poachers, and whatnot.
• ☎ 1530 – Guardia Costiera. An emergency number specific to the Italian Coast Guard. Is the ship you’re in or do you see one sinking? Then you’d better call them.
• ☎ 803-116 – Automobile Club d’Italia. Your car has broken down and there’s no one in sight? Call this number and assistance will be given. **
** This service is provided for free to subscribers by A.C.I. or other automobile clubs associated with ARC Europe; if you’re not associated to any of these automobile clubs you’ll be asked to pay a fee (approx. €80).
All calls to numbers listed above are free and can be made from payphones without the need to insert coins; these emergency numbers can also be dialled from any mobile phone (even if you have no credit or if you’re in an area covered only by a different network). Always carry with you a note about the address and phone number of your embassy.
Post. If at all possible wait until you leave Italy before posting postcards, greetings cards and other items to friends and family back home. The Italian post was notorious for being slow, expensive and unreliable, but things have improved in the past years. In border towns and cities near the borders with France, Austria and Switzerland it may be best to cross the border to post – postcards from Slovenia to Britain can take just 2 days compared with over a week when posted across the border in Trieste, Italy; it costs less than €1 to post from France to anywhere outside Europe, whereas it costs roughly twice as much to do the same from Italy. Moreover, unlike most other European countries, only cash is accepted to buy postage, hence the little Euro coins/banknotes you have may be drained as they are expensive.
Postboxes are red and can be found very easily.
Avoid using the globepostalservice (GPS) stamps. These are stamps sold by a private owned company through the tobacco shops using black mailboxes (the public ones are red) which charges more than normal and there have been lots of complains of delayed delivery and sometimes failure of delivery. Ask instead for the normal stamps.
Post Offices can be found in every town and most villages – look for the PT symbol. When entering the post office you will usually have to take a ticket and wait for your number to appear on the screen when it’s your turn. There will be different tickets for different services but for posting a parcel look for the yellow symbol with the icon of an envelope. Most post offices close about 13:00 or 14:00 and only a central post office in most towns will re-open in the late afternoon.