The one minute summary on Italy
This is it: one minute to the best info on Italy. This info alone will put you ahead of 99% of foreigners visiting Italy, garner the admiration of the locals who will instantly want to be your friends, and the envy of your fellow travelers. Read on. You’ll make friends faster that way, become a traveler instead of simply being a tourist, and also enjoy your travels a lot more.
Italy became a nation-state in 1861 when the regional states of the peninsula, along with Sardinia and Sicily, were united under King Victor EMMANUEL II. An era of parliamentary government came to a close in the early 1920s when Benito MUSSOLINI established a Fascist dictatorship. His alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy’s defeat in World War II. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946 and economic revival followed. Italy is a charter member of NATO and the European Economic Community (EEC). It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999. Persistent problems include sluggish economic growth, high youth and female unemployment, organized crime, corruption, and economic disparities between southern Italy and the more prosperous north.
That was it. I promised one minute.
For other condensed info check also my other posts on local culture (don’t make the mistakes I made), local food or local drinks. And when you call your friends to tell them you were by far the most knowledgeable at the party, do that with confidence that you’ll not get hit with a 6.99 per minute bill. You’ll also pick the local food from the tray, and order a local drink with confidence.
- Cultural Mistakes To Avoid in Italy
- Does my current phone work in Italy ? Tips to cell phone usage in Italy
- Local food you should try in Italy and No miss drinks in Italy
Now, cheers to the most Italy aware person at the cocktail party.
What are the key history moments for Italy?
Certainly, humans inhabited the Italian peninsula for at least 200,000 years; Neolithic civilizations flourished in prehistoric Italy but were either wiped out, or assimilated, around 2000 BC by a group of Indo-European tribes, which are collectively known as the Italic peoples. These were more or less closely related to each other and comprised tribes such as the Latins, Etruscans, Umbrians, Samnites, Sicels, Ligures, Oscans, just to name a few.
The Etruscan civilisation was among the first to rise in the 6th century BC and lasted until the late Republican period; it flourished in what are now northern Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Greek colonies were established in Sicily and the southern part of Italy: the Etruscan culture rapidly became influenced by that of Greece.
This is well illustrated at some excellent Etruscan museums; Etruscan burial sites are also well worth visiting. Rome itself was dominated by Etruscan kings until 509 BC, when the last of them – Tarquinius Superbus – was ousted from power and the Roman Republic was founded. After a series of wars, the Romans sacked the nearby Etruscan city of Veii in 396 BC; this triggered the collapse of the Etruscan confederation and the Etruscan people themselves began to be assimilated. The Celts settled in what is now Northern Italy, where their civilisation flourished, in the 1st millennium BC and began expanding further south; they made the mistake of sacking Rome in 390 BC and the Romans, hell-bent on revenge, waged wars against them until they were conquered and their people assimilated. Ancient Rome was at first a small village founded around the 8th century BC.
In time, its primitive kingdom grew into a republic – which would later evolve into an empire – covering the whole Merranean and expanding as far north as Scotland. Its steady decline began in the 2nd century AD, and the empire finally broke into two parts in 285 AD: the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in the East. The western part came under attack from various Germanic tribes; Visigoths sacked Rome in 410AD and their Vandal fellows would follow in 455AD.
The Western Roman Empire finally collapsed in 476AD, and the barbarian chiefs divided the Italian peninsula among themselves; after this, Italy plunged into the so-called Dark Ages. Following a lengthy, and bloody, reconquest by the Byzantines (the so-called “Gothic Wars”), much of Italy was controlled by the Eastern Roman Empire. Needless to say, this wouldn’t last long – as a Germanic tribe, the Lombards, invaded Italy once more in 572; hence the present-day northern region of Lombardy. Like their predecessors, they divided the land among themselves; however, due to their numerical inferiority, they were eventually assimilated by the native populace. Only parts of southern Italy – which were under Byzantine control – and what would later become the Papal States (that is, Rome and the surrounding region, which were under the authority of the Pope) survived as relatively independent entities: indeed, the Church was so independent that it saw fit to call other barbarians, the Franks, in order to get rid of their (now almost-completely romanised) violent, unstable, nosy Lombard neighbors. These were defeated in 774 by the aforementioned Franks and subsequently lost their kingdom.
Meanwhile, the Veneto was being devastated by the barbarians: a part of its inhabitants thought they’d been safe on the islands in the Venetian lagoon and thus founded a city there: Venice was born. The first evidence of what would become the Italian language dates back to this century and more precisely to 960. Sicily remained in Byzantine hands until the late 8th century, when it was conquered by the Arabs whose reign, however, was short-lived: in 1092 the Normans – after having kicked out the Byzantines from the rest of Southern Italy – proceeded to invade Sicily.
They created the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples (which would later become the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, as a result of the unification of these two realms in 1442, and had its capital in Naples). In the north, Italy was a collection of small, independent city-states and kingdoms which were under the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor. However, they revolted against the then-Emperor – Frederick Barbarossa – in 1176 and beat the Imperial army at Legnano, thus gaining their independence.
The so-called repubbliche marinare (maritime republics) of Genoa, Venice, Pisa and Amalfi remained relativey authonomous and competed against each other for the control of the seas and for that of the lucrative trade routes with the Far East. This was also the era of the comuni, independent city-states which were governed by what must have been a close approximation of democracy (that is, they were what we’d call today a “oligarchies” in which the most powerful, or prestigious, families in town were called to cooperate – at least nominally – for the “public good”). Meanwhile, the Hohenstaufens ruled the south and, under Frederick II – who was a patron of the art – gave birth to a rich culture.
From the 13th century onwards, Florence became the main cultural hotspot of the peninsula: not only it was home to poets such as Dante Alighieri and Petrarch but hosted also writers of the calibre of Boccaccio. Indeed, their works formed the basis of a standard form of the Italian language (which is itself a mixture of Florentine grammar and Roman pronunciation). People looked to strong men who could bring order to the cities and this is how dynasties such as the Medici in Florence developed. In turn, these families became patrons of the arts, allowing Italy to become the birthplace of the Renaissance, with the emergence of men of genius such as Leonardo da Vinci, Bramante, Tiziano, Raffaello, Michelangelo and many others.
After the heir of Frederick II was killed in battle in 1268, the French ruled the south; they were however expelled from Sicily in 1282 after a popular uprising, the vespri siciliani, during which thousands of Frenchmen were slain (opera buffs will certainly recognise one of their favorite operas!).
In the late 14th and 15th centuries, Italy was home to some of the richest states in Europe; however, they were often at war with each other and only the diplomatic skills of Lorenzo il Magnifico prevented the many petty kingdoms from warring each other. Predictably, when Lorenzo died in 1492, the Italian states plunged into chaos; the King of France took advantage of the situation, crossed the Alps and reclaimed the Kingdom of Naples for himself. He succeeded, but was forced to return to France. Only then did the Italian majors realise the danger, but it was too late: after a futile victory at the battle of Fornovo, in 1495, the peninsula came to the attention of its European neighbours and suffered a series of invasions from the French and the Spanish. The north eventually became dominated by the Austrians. The discovery of the New World damaged the already declining Italian economies and most of Italy’s states came under foreign domination: and despite the artistic, architectonic and literary developments, life in post-Reinassance Italy became pretty miserable.
The Counter-Reformation, while it did succeed in restraining most of the clergy’s “earthly” excesses, further plunged the peninsula into a not-so-happy era. This situation, further aggravated by the Italian Wars of 1494-59 (during which Rome itself was sacked by the German mercenaries of Emperor Charles V) became even worse in the 17th centuries, when the foreign powers fought each other in a series of mostly useless wars over the dynastic rights on the Italian states.
The 18th century, while (relatively) more peaceful than the one that preceded it, was, culturally speaking, not-so-grand; on top of that, the Austrians ruled the North with an iron fist and the once-prosperous South had the misfortune of being governed by a particularly backward and obscurantist ruling class.
The one minute summary for Italy geography
Best places to see in Italy
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. Assisi. This ancient city is filled with narrow cobblestone streets, beautiful churches, and refreshing fountains. The Basilica di San Francesco, filled with breathtaking frescos, is the main attraction of a leisurely day spent in Assisi. 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. Roman bikinis. Mosaic from the Villa Romana at Piazza Armerina, Sicily.
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. Florence’s cathedral; bell tower by Giotto to the left and the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio in front 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; Lago Lungo and Monte Granero (3171 mt – 10404 ft), Val Pellice Pinerolo, for the central ones, Susa and Lanzo for the northern, all easily reachable from Turin. Monuments UNESCO World Heritage Islands Sicily, Sardinia, Capri, Ischia, Elba, Procida, Aeolian Islands, Tremiti, Ustica, Pantelleria, Aegadi Islands, Pelagie Islands Dino Island Museums The Uffizi gallery in Florence, regarded as being one of the most prestigious art museums in the world. 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.