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Ciao! A common greeting in Italy, the country of romance and history. What is Italy famous for? As a relatively new country, officially uniting in 1861, Italy has a rich, deep history and culture.
So, what is Italy known for? Foods like pasta and pizza, artwork like Michelangelo’s Statue of David, landmarks like the Colosseum are amongst the most famous things Italy is known for. But Italy’s culture has also worked its way into an abundance of modern movies, art and fashion, too. I’m talking about The Godfather, Gladiator and Eat Pray Love.
Here’s a comprehensive list of famous things about Italy. If you think I missed something, feel free to add it in the comments.
What is Italy Known For?
Things Associated with Italy: Italian Food + Drink
The coffee culture in Italy is known worldwide. Saddle up to the bar and order yourself an espresso, a small shot-sized cup of concentrated coffee. Espresso, taken from the word ‘express’ means coffee is prepared quickly for your enjoyment.
Originally brought to Europe through Italy’s ports in Venice in the 16th century, sipping on espresso quickly became an activity many congregated for. Italian coffee dictates a specific daily ritual: a cappuccino with breakfast, a macchiato in the afternoon and espresso after dinner.
Cappuccino: Equal parts espresso, milk and foam
Macchiato: A shot of espresso with a splash of milk
You can’t picture a trip to Italy without a glass of red wine in hand. With a deep history of winemaking in Italy (we are talking 4,000 years!), it’s no doubt that they are amongst the best winemakers in the world. Wine, one the main things Italy is known for is made from fermented grapes and held in wooden casks all over the country.
Wine in Italy is regional, from Barolo in the Piedmont region to the Chianti from Tuscany and Montepulciano wine from Abruzzo.
Pizza is an indulgent meal of flat round dough covered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese then quickly cooked in a pizza oven at 800 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the main things associated with Italy has got to me the tasty pizza slice.
Pizza has been enjoyed worldwide and new renditions have been created, like the flat, crispy and square Roman style or American style with many toppings. But, the traditional recipe comes from Napoli, just south of Rome. It was invented in 1889 by Neopolitan pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito, and is traditionally served with tomato sauce made from Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and dotted with basil leaves. The dough is soft and chewy, thin in the middle and puffy at the crust.
If you decide to make it from scratch at home, don’t forget the iconic flip in the air of the pizza dough!
Pasta, the noodle dish with sauce is a classic in many countries. Originating in Italy by rolling out dough made of 00 durum wheat flour, eggs and water, pasta can be made in many different ways. Spaghetti, the long thin round noodle, or penne, with short hollow tubes, are common pasta types. You can also have ravioli which is some pillows of thin dough filled with yummy ingredients like ricotta cheese, pumpkin and slow-cooked meat.
When travelling throughout Italy, you will find different regional dishes using different types of noodles and sauces. But one thing is clear, always cook your noodles to al dente, when the noodle is still firm when bitten.
Risotto, originating in the Lombard region of Italy, is a tasty rice dish. Usually cooked with ingredients like cheese, mushrooms, vegetables and meat. It is slow-cooked with rice called Arborio, which is short-grained, absorbed less water and becomes smooth and sticky when cooked.
You can’t think of famous Italian food and ingredients without cheese coming to mind. From hard, sharp-tasting and aged varieties like parmesan and pecorino to soft, creamy varieties like mozzarella, mascarpone and ricotta, and ‘stinky’ cheese like gorgonzola and blue, Italy have over 300 types of cheeses.
Originally dating back to Roman Empire, cheese has been a huge part of Italian culture and is responsible for the export and adoption of cheese to the rest of the world.
Growing in harmony with a tree, the truffle is a type of mushroom or fungi. The way that truffle gets its distinct flavour is by taking in phosphorus from the tree in return for sugar.
Truffle comes in two different kinds, white and black. Black is easier to come by, while white is rare and sought after by leading Italian chefs. The small morsel can come in at exorbitant prices, and is usually mixed into a sauce or shaved fresh on top of pasta or meat dishes.
Dating back to the 17th century, the creamy dense version of ice cream can be found on every street corner of Italy. Traditional flavours like pistachio, hazelnut and stracciatella (simple milk with chocolate shavings) are common. The recipe uses dairy milk, cream, eggs and sugar. It differs from regular ice cream by being made softer and with less fat content and is definitely one of the famous things about Italy.
Gelato is produced in a more artisan way, with smaller gelato shops with fewer flavours available being the norm. Usually made fresh daily.
Famous Things about Italy: Cities + Places
Rome, the Eternal City, is renowned for being the seat of the Roman Empire. Dating as far back as 753 B.C., legend says that Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Mars (the god of war), were rescued by a she-wolf after being left in the Tiber river. The brothers then founded a city on the river banks. Romulus went on to kill his brother and become the first king of Rome (named after himself).
The first laws of the roman empire were created in 450 B.C. and made public in the Roman Forum, which you can still see the ruins of today. Power was held in the senate with emperors like Nero, Caesar and Hadrian. The Roman military held power through the regions, including western Europe, The Balkans, Greece, Middle East and North Africa for many years.
Today, Rome is the capital city of Italy and has a population of 3 million people and is comprised of 22 districts and many ancient Roman ruins. The Tiber River flows through the centre of the city.
READ | 4 Day Rome Itinerary: The highlights and hidden gems of the Eternal City
Venice, the city built on water, is a well-known Italian city. Winding cobblestone alleyways, canals with gondolas, Venetian masks and opulent architecture are things associated with Italy and Venice itself.
Originally occupied by fishermen and salt workers, the Lombard hordes drove large numbers of mainlanders to the islands of the lagoon after the Roman Empire fell. The Port of Venice was then created and acted as a major trading route for spices and goods coming from Asia and beyond, making the city quite affluent.
In the 16th century, Venice was the seat of much power and wealth, evident through the architecture found around the city.
Florence, the capital of Tuscany in central Italy, is well known for being a hub of art, and in particular Italian Renaissance art. Florence was also home to famous painter and sculptor Michelangelo and inventor Leonardo Di Vinci. In addition to art, Florence’s Medici family founded the first bank in Europe (the Medici Bank) and was a hub for commerce through the 14th to 16th centuries.
Today, you can find works by Michelangelo and Di Vinci in the world-renowned Uffizi Gallery. Florence is also home to the Statue of David, one of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures.
At the centre of Florence’s charming alleyways, the UNESCO World Heritage site Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore sits (more commonly known as Il Duomo).
A quintessential Italian coastal city, the Amalfi coast consist of a group of smaller towns along the Mediterranean sea. Located south of Rome, just outside of Naples, the Amalfi Coast is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in Italy. What is Italy famous for? Amalfi Coast has to make the list. It’s also the gateway to the famous island of Capri. Colourful buildings layered onto the coastal mountains, with pebble-strewn beaches below have become synonymous with the perfect European summer vacation.
Once a major trading port in the Mediterranean, it eventually became a hotspot for British holidays in the 1900s. Amalfi is known for lemon products like limoncello, an Italian lemon-flavoured liqueur.
Centrally located in the heart of Italy, the region of Tuscany is home to rolling green hills, thin pine trees and picturesque winding roads. Florence, the capital of Tuscany is the hub of Renaissance art, with famous sculpture Michelangelo and inventor Leonardo Di Vinci calling it home.
Many vineyards and agricultural farms are located here as the terrain is rich and great for growing produce like wheat, olives and grapes, as well as farming.
Cinque Terre consists of a group of centuries-old towns perched along the northern coastline of the Italian Riviera. The five towns consist of colourful houses layered onto the hillside, steep terraces and rocky harbours. Due to its proximity to the sea, regional specialties include many seafood dishes and its famous sauce, pesto.
The five towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are linked by a cliffside hiking trail with sweeping views of the coastline.
Considered the Italian Alps, the Dolomites are located in the northeastern region of Italy. Tall, sharp and jagged snow-capped peaks are complimented by green rolling hills. Popular destinations here include Lago di Braies Lake, Cortina D’Ampezzo and the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
The Dolomites can be visited in summer for horseback riding, hiking and climbing. In the winter, the Dolomites are a well-known skiing locale.
Pompeii + Mount Vesuvius
The city of Pompeii, located on the central west coast of Italy is famous for being destroyed in 79 CE when the nearby Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted, covering the city with metres of ash and debris.
Due to the solidification of the lava, Pompeii was well preserved for centuries, and when the city’s ruins were discovered in the late 16th century, it was a great look inside the life of settlers in the historic Pompeii.
Things Italy is known for: Historic Landmarks
What is Italy known for? The Colosseum, of course. The iconic oval-shaped half crumpled building in central Rome, the Colosseum is infamous with Italy and the Roman Empire. Originally built to revitalize Rome after the tumultuous year of the four emperors in 69 AD, it is now one of the most famous Italian landmarks in the world. Synonymous with the enslaved gladiator fighters, the amphitheatre was meant to be an entertainment venue. Events that took place here were animal hunts, mock naval battles, executions as well as gladiator contests.
The Colosseum itself measures 189 metres long, 156 metres wide and 50 metres high and is the largest amphitheatre in the world, seating 50,000 people.
As one of the most famous things about Italy and Rome in particular, the Trevi Fountain captures masses of tourists yearly attempting to toss a coin in the turquoise waters for good luck. The Trevi Fountain was built in 1732 by Nicola Salvi, winner of a design competition to replace an earlier demolished fountain in the Palazzo Poli. The fountain takes its name from the district in which its located, the Trevi district.
The fountain stands 26 metres high and 49 metres wide and is the largest Baroque fountain in the city. Chiselled from white Italian Carrara marble, a scene of Taming the Waters is depicted. A statue of Oceanus in the middle with statues of Abundance and Salubrity on the sides, balanced out with Tritons and horses for symmetry.
The Vatican + St Peter’s Basilica
Located in the sovereign city-state of Vatican City, across the Tiber River from ancient Rome, the Vatican was the seat of the Catholic Church in Europe for centuries. Home to the beautiful St. Peter’s Basilica, which was built in the intricate Renaissance design to cover the tomb of Saint Peter and built spanning a century starting in 1506.
Next to St. Peter’s Basilica is the Vatican Museums which houses over 20,000 pieces of renaissance and ancient art. The highlight here is the Sistine Chapel in which artist Michelangelo painted the famous ceiling to depict incidents and personages of the Old Testament. The basilica was built to represent a cross with a dome from an aerial view. It is common to see white smoke raised from the Sistine Chapel to indicate that the cardinals have selected a new pope.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
The leaning tower of Pisa must come to mind when you think, what is Italy famous for? Made popular by photos of tourists ‘holding up’ the tower, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has become a famous landmark and architecture marvel. Originally built in 1173, the tower was meant to house a large bell. After about 5 years, and the addition of a 3rd floor, the tower began to lean.
The leaning tower of Pisa is still standing today due to a method called soil extraction, where engineers dig a series of tunnels on the north side of the tower and remove small amounts of earth. Steel cables are attached to help it maintain its position. The leaning tower of Pisa is safe to visit.
What is Italy best known for: Culture
A great revival of interest in the classical learning and values of Greece and Rome followed the tumultuous Middle Ages in Europe. This period of time between the 14th and 16th centuries is called the Renaissance. Italy, in particular, made strides in philosophy, literature and especially art. Well-known painters, sculptors and decorative artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael were prominent during this time.
Famous Italian Renaissance Art:
Statue of David – Michelangelo
Sistine Chapel Frescoes – Michelangelo
The Mona Lisa – Leonardo da Vinci
The Last Supper – Leonardo da Vinci
Vitruvian Man – Leonardo di VinciThe Birth of Venus – Sandro Botticelli
You’ve likely seen it in Hollywood movies, Italians are known for speaking with their hands. Throwing their hands into the air in different ways with different gestures while they talk is a part of Italian expression and each gesture means something different. Thought to originate with the ancient Romans who used chironomia (a combination of speech and hand gestures) to fully express themselves.
Today, most hand gestures used by Italians are meant to be unsavoury and express their dissatisfaction or annoyance.
Italians are world-renowned as a pretty well-dressed society. Originating in the 11th century, Italian fashion is synonymous with high=quality craftsmanship, sharp tailoring and luxury designs. During this time, the manufacturing and export of fashionable items was an important part of the country’s economy.
Designers such as Bulgari, Prada, Gucci and Ferragamo opened shops in the late 19th century and the popularity of Italian fashion increased in the 1950s and 60s. Fashion houses like Valentino, Versace, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana are all prominent, well-respected fashion brands today.
In a nutshell, Italian fashion can be described as understated luxury, glamour, sensuality and modernism.
Italian is known as a romance language, meaning it derives from Vulgar Latin. On par with languages like French and Spanish, the Italian language is constructed by poets and artists. Poets say the language is supposed to seduce, enchant, charm and beguile the listener. Common romantic Italian phrases include:
Sei Bellissima – You are beautiful
Ti Amo – I love you
Italian film made its debut on the world stage with Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita in 1960, meaning ‘the sweet life’. The film depicted the darker side of Rome, including politics, showbusiness and aristocracy and was banned by the Vatican thereafter.
Characterized by a combination of comedy, art and drama, Italian film is responsible for star sensations such as Sophia Loren and filmmakers such as Martin Scorcese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Federico Fellini.
The popular western film genre produced in Hollywood can also be credited to Italian films called Spaghetti westerns, originating in the 1960s.
Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
Although the poet Shakespeare himself is English, the famous love story of Romeo and Juliet features Italian characters and is based in the charming town of Verona, Italy. What was once an unremarkable town was made famous by Shakespeare and is now one of the most romantic destinations in the world.
The story follows Romeo and Juliet, children of rival families Montague and Capulet with an age-old vendetta. A group of masked Montagues (including Romeo), risk further conflict by crashing a Capulet party. Romeo instantly falls in love with Juliet Capulet, who is due to marry the County Paris, her father’s choice. After a secret marriage, tragedy ensues.
Mussolini + Italian Fascism
Originally a revolutionary socialist, Benito Mussolini forged the paramilitary fascist movement in 1919 in Italy and became prime minister in 1922. The fascist dictator ruled Italy from 1925 to 1945, a full 20 year period. In general, Fascism is the idea that democracy is a failed system, and liberty of expression was a hoax.
In 1940, Mussolini joined Hitler in World War II, before his execution in 1945.
Made world-renowned by movies like The Godfather, which depicts the Italian mafia’s rule in New York City in the 1940s. In reality, the mafia is a network of organized-crime groups based and originating on the Italian island of Sicily and developed over centuries. Sicily itself was ruled until the mid-19th century by a long line of foreign invaders, causing groups of Sicilians to band together and carry out their own justice.
Once the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini took hold of the country in the 1920s, many fled to America, joining the mafia to escape a life of poverty.
Famous Things about Italy: Transportation
The Vespa, a small motorized scooter, has become famous all over the world and is near the top of the list of things Italy is known for. Romanticized with advertisements of road trips along the Italian Riviera, and gaining fame from notable movies like Roman Holiday (1953) and La Dolce Vita (1960), the Vespa is a great way to commute in large cities like Rome, where car traffic can get really bad.
Vespa means wasp in Italian, giving a vision of the vehicle buzzing through streets and cars. First manufactured in 1946 by Piaggio & Co of Pontedera, Italy.
Luxury sports cars have become synonymous with Italy, producing high-end brands like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati.
The headquarters of all three luxury sports car brands are located in the city of Modena, with only 15 minutes between them. Due to producing and selling just over a third of sports cars worldwide, the city has taken on the nickname International Capital of Sports Cars.
So what is Italy known for? Well fancy sports cars aren’t isn’t the only things associated with Italy, more economical, yet well built, cars like Alfa Romeo and Fiat make the bill.