Italy is easily one of the world’s most popular destinations. Millions flock to Rome every year to revere the Vatican City. Milan is headquarters for ancient art and modern fashions. The long Mediterranean coastline is dotted with exclusive resorts, and the canals of Venice have long been the inspiration for art and romance.
Clearly, Italy has impressed the world with its history and culture for centuries. And you can also thank the boot-shaped peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea for its contributions to worldwide culture like this list of 20 things Italy is famous for.
Ferarri, Alfa Romero, Lamborghini, and Maserati are coveted by car enthusiasts around the world for outstanding performance and hot looks. For example, the Ferarri company began manufacturing race cars in 1939 and remains the gold standard for high-performance automobiles. Today, the price tag of a Ferarri is higher than the average home in many places. Based in Sant’Agata, Lamborghini manufactures luxury sports cars of which the cheapest is around $200,000. Maserati began manufacturing vehicles in Balogna in 1914. Today’s prices start at $75,000. Alfa Romero was founded in Milan in 1910 by anonymous investors. You can get a “cheap” one for $39,000.
Did you ever know anyone who didn’t like pizza? Probably not since the Neapolitan, a true Italian pizza is number two on the World’s 50 Most Favorite Foods list. Historians tend to credit Greeks rather than Italians with the invention of pizza. This is probably because of their habit of piling different ingredients atop flatbread. The earliest Italian pizzas were either sweet or savory mixtures served on flatbread in 16th-century Naples. A poor man’s dish, it was sold in the streets long before it became a recipe. By the 17th century, the flatbreads in early pizzas were covered with a red sauce that was later replaced with tomatoes and perhaps fish. By 1843 toppings were growing more and more diverse. In the late 18th century, the culinary art of adding tomatoes to yeast flatbread became commonplace in Naples.
Italy has had almost as much influence on the world of building as the world of art. Classical Roman, Baroque, Renaissance, and Neoclassical styles are timeless and have given rise to copycats around the world. And the concept of a basilica, or open court building, comes from Italy. The country is also home to many beautiful and unusual structures like the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
And the Italian countryside is scattered with impressive and elaborate castles such as Valle d’Aosta Fort Bard, the Ussel Castle, and the Verrès Castle. And even if you travel further afield, to somewhere like Sicily, you are still bound to find architectural gems like the Ancient Theatre of Taormina, Magna Graecia, Palermo Cathedral and many more.
Italy has such a rich culture and history that you will almost trip over spectacular architecture no matter where you go!
Pasta is another culinary gift from Italy, and each region has its own way of preparing it. For example, in the piedmont region, agnolotti pasta is square, filled with meat, and crimped. Farfalle is the signature pasta of the Lombardy region. You may know it as bowtie or butterfly pasta. It’s usually served with a concoction of tomato and basil. Gigli is a type of pasta from Tuscany in Central Italy and dates all the way back to the Renaissance. It’s named after Florence’s Gigli lily (no wonder the food there is amazing). Eating pasta in Italy comes with rules. You don’t overcook it, eat it with chicken, or douse it with ketchup.
New York City’s honking yellow cabs are iconic, and no one leaves London without a ride on a red double-decker bus. The motorized iconic equivalency in Italy is a Vespa. If you’ve read any romance novels set in Italy, you’ve heard of them. The stylish little scooters have also been featured many times on the silver screen. Audry Hepburn, scarf flying in the wind, buzzed around with Gregory Peck on one in Roman Holiday. And Anita Ekberg toured Italy’s streets on a Vespa in La Dolch Vita.
The list of Italy’s contributions to the world of art is seemingly infinite, so much so, the words art and Italy are practically synonymous. Italy’s Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Caravaggio, Bernini, and Titian are among the most celebrated artists of all time. The reason? Possibly because during the Renaissance era, everyone was happy and loaded with cash after years of oppression. The wealthy sought promising artists for commissioning to do nothing but paint. So paint they did. And today museums, churches, and other buildings in Italy are filled with their work.
Gelato means ice cream in English, but don’t be fooled. This cold Italian treat is made in a different way. Gelato is not quite as cold as ice cream straight from the freezer; it’s served 10 to 20 degrees warmer. Less air is introduced into the mixture while it’s freezing than ice cream. The result is a softer and silkier frozen desert with more flavor. Gelato is also low in fat and doesn’t use egg yolk in the recipe. The main ingredients are 3.25 percent milk, sugar, and nut or fruit puree. Gelato is available everywhere, but chances are, it won’t taste the same as the authentic version you’ll get at a gelato shop in Italy.
Italy is the epicenter of Roman Catholicism. The Vatican City is the hub of the religion in Rome, and where the pope resides. Cardinals, priests, bishops, monsignors, and members of religious orders are omnipresent. Vatican museums hold ancient religious sculptures, and the Sistine Chapel houses Michelangelo’s famous ceiling with nine scenes from the Book of Genesis including the well-known Creation of Adam and the large fresco The Last Judgement.
The Italians have a flair for style, and designers of haute couture have a loyal following of fashionistas. Milan is known as the fashion capital of the world and the home of famous high-end designer brands like Gucci, Valentino, Prada, Armani, Versace, and Dolce & Gabbana. Shopping in Milan is one of the highlights of visiting the capital of Lombardy. Known around the world and attended by the rich and famous, the Milan Fashion Week is a glitzy annual event. Overall, fashion is Italy’s third-largest industry and contributes’s greatly to the nation’s economy.
The Italian language is lyrical and romantic, but worldwide, it’s spoken much less than Spanish, French, or English. That’s okay. The Italians make up for ranking 20th for the most spoken language with their popularity for hand gesturing or talking with their hands. It’s a sort of stereotype that isn’t exaggerated in the movies. Italians are well-known for the habit and it’s considered quite charming.
People around the world have been familiar with “Three Coins in a Fountain” since the Academy Award-winning song was introduced in the movie of the same name in 1954. The romantic comedy centers around three American secretaries looking for romance while on holiday in Rome. The theme of the movie refers to the tradition of tossing coins in Rome’s Trevi Fountain while making a wish. The wishes do come true but in a different way. An estimated 5,000 euros are collected from the fountain daily and given to charity.
Italy is a beautiful country, and the Italians are warm and friendly. However, the country has long been plagued with problems of corruption and political instability. The Italian mafia is behind much of the crime. They include the Calabrian, Silician, and Apulian mafias. Despite their infamous criminal lifestyles, Italian dons and godfathers have had a huge influence on worldwide culture. They were the inspiration behind a number of novels and movies such as The Sicilian, The Godfather, and the TV series The Sopranos.
Twirling a pirouette on one foot and dancing on pointed toes is associated with France. It’s true, but ballet actually originated in Italy during the 15th and 16th center Italian Renaissance courts. Italian noblewoman Catherine de’Medici is credited with the spread of ballet to France. The French developed the art, added new moves, and gave them Frenchy names.
The art of opera was also born during the Italian Renaissance. The combination of drama with vocals, an orchestra, dance, and visual arts has been delighting spectators around the world for centuries. It all began in Florence when a group of statesmen, musicians, and writers wanted to recreate Greek storytelling through music. Dafne, which many consider being the first opera, was written by Italian singer and composer Jacopo Peri in 1597.
The Italian Borsalino family has been making jaunty fedoras and lovingly crafted hats since 1857. Even Al Capone was a loyal customer. The company was founded by Giuseppe Borsalino who earned the title “master hatter” while studying the art in France. He later brought his skill to Alessandria, a city in Piedmont Italy where he opened a hat shop. Borsalino served as a consultant for the movie Borsalino, a gangster movie that helped connect the family name to luxury fedoras.
In 1948, European designer Sonja de Lennart invented capri pants, cropped pants also known as three quarter leg pants. U.S. beachgoers call them clamdiggers or high-water pants. Sonja was from Prussia, but her passion for the Isle of Capri was the inspiration for her invention, and by the 1960s, capris were wildly popular on the Italian isle. Audrey Hepburn wore them while touring Rome on a Vespa in the movie A Roman Holiday. Mary Tyler Moore’s character as Dick Van Dicks wife, Laura Petri is credited for the capri’s popularity in the U.S. Their popularity died down between the 1970s and 1990s and resurged again in the mid-2000s.
Prettily packaged Pastigle Leone Candies were first created in 1857 by Luigi Leone in Alba, Italy. The intense colors and flavors of the candies are the result of carefully chosen extracts, herbs, and essences. The flavorful tablets are as tasty as they are pretty. The Spritz Italian Aperitif with its explosive orange flavor is a favorite among 40 other original flavors. Pastiglie Leone Candies are available worldwide and can be ordered on-line.
Lambrusco is to Italy what Rioja is to Spain. It might not be the country’s best wine, but it’s certainly the most well-known. Lambrusco wine comes from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region from red grapes of the same name. Lambrusco may be sweet, semi-sweet, or dry. The best way to enjoy Lambrusco is along with regional foods such as prosciutto cheese.
As with many premium Italian wines, Chianti is a product of the Tuscany region. Like Lambrusco, it’s extremely popular in Italy. Unlike Lambrusco, Chianti is popular around the world. It’s a very versatile wine and compliments almost any cuisine. An outstanding feature of Chianti is the iconic straw baskets the squat bottle comes in. However, today, Chianti is mostly packaged in standard bottles. The only drawback is Chianti is a wine that doesn’t age well. Don’t hang on to your Chianti. Drink it up.
The Italian liqueur Limoncello is second only to Campari in popularity. The liqueur is mostly produced in Southern Italy around the coast of Amalfi, the Gulf of Naples, and the islands of Ischia, Procida, and Capri. It’s crafted from the zest (shaved peel) of Femminello St. Teresa lemons, a rectified spirit such as vodka or grappa, and sugar. Enjoy the smooth, sweet intense lemon flavor of Limoncello alone or as a cocktail mixer.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.