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Facts About Italy
Part 1


The emblem of the Republic of Italy is a white, five-pointed star with a red border.  The star is placed on a cog wheel and framed by an olive branch and an oak branch.  The star is referred to as la Stella d'Italia.  

The words REPVBBLICA ITALIANA are displayed on a red tape.

Italy emblem.png

1a.   Italy is divided into twenty regions known as le regioni.  The regions are:
Valle d'Aosta, Piemonte, Liguria, Lombardia, Trentino-Alto-Adige, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia,
Emilia-Romagna, Toscana, Umbria, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata,
Calabria, Sicilia, Sardegna. 
The capital city, Rome, belongs to the region of Lazio.

Each region is further divided into areas called le province.  Each provincia has a main town (rather like a capital city for the area).  Post codes and car number plates indicate the provincia to which they belong by using two letters, for example:

PI belongs to the provincia of Pisa.
SI belongs to Siena.
VR belongs to Verona.

There are also 14 province that are classed as Italian Metropolitan Cities - le Città Metropolitane d'Italia.  These province include the major cities of Italy.  They are: Bari (BA), Bologna (BO), Cagliari (CA), Catania (CT),  Firenze (FI), Genova (GE), Messina (ME), Milano (MI), Napoli (NA), Palermo (PA), Reggio Calabria (RC),
Roma (RM), Torino (TO), Venezia (VE).

Flag of Italy

2.  The Italian flag consists of three vertical stripes of equal proportion in the colours: verde bianco rosso. 

It is known as la bandiera d'Italia and also as il Tricolore.

St. Francis of Assisi

3.   The patron saint of Italy is Saint Francis of Assisi - San Francesco d'Assisi.  His real name was Giovanni, but he loved the French language so much that he was nicknamed Francesco (meaning - Frenchy.)  He is also the patron saint of nature and animals.

4.  The Italian language - la lingua italiana - is the official language of Italy, however, there are many regional dialects and languages in Italy such as il sardo in Sardinia, il napoletano in the area of Naples, il siciliano in the area of Sicily, etc.


5.  The Italian national anthem is called Il Canto degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians.)  It is also called Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy) and l'Inno di Mameli (Mameli's Hymn) because the lyrics were written by Goffredo Mameli.

6.  Italy is quite a 'new country'.  It became one unified country in 1861 under a king called Vittorio Emanuele II.  Before this date, it was divided into independent regions. The period of unification of Italy during the 19th. century is known as Il Risorgimento.

The date of the unification of Italy - 17 March 1861 - is celebrated every year.  The 17 March is called la Festa dell'Unità d'Italia.

Vittorio Emanuele II

Vittorio Emanuele II reigned as King of a united Italy from 17 March 1861 till his death on 9 January 1878.

He was known as il Padre della Patria - The Father of the Country.  

His title was Re d'Italia - King of Italy.

The last king of Italy was Umberto II in 1946 and he reigned for just over one month (most of the month of May) and for that reason he has the nickname 'il Re di Maggio' - the May King.  During 1946, Italy held a referendum and voted that the country should become a republic with no monarchy.  King Umberto went into exile.

7.  The Italian way to say the following places and cities is-
Italia (Italy), Roma (Rome), Milano (Milan), Firenze (Florence), Napoli (Naples), Torino (Turin), Genova (Genoa), Venezia (Venice), Sicilia (Sicily), Sardegna (Sardinia),
Toscana (Tuscany), Livorno (Leghorn), Padova (Padua), Mantova (Mantua).

The capital city of Italy is Rome - Roma and its nickname is la Città Eterna, meaning 'the eternal city.'  It is considered 'eternal' because it is so ancient and seems to live forever.  There is also a saying: Tutte le strade portano a Roma,  meaning 'All roads lead to Rome.'   This is because the main roads of the ancient Roman Empire all led to Rome.

Emblem of Rome Stemma di Roma

The emblem of Rome (la stemma di Roma) is a red shield with a golden crown on top.  On the shield there is a golden cross and the letters SPQR which stand for the Latin words: Senatus PopulusQue Romanus.  In Italian these words mean: il Senato e il Popolo Romano (Senate and People of Rome).

Some more nicknames for Italian cities
a.  la Superba (the superb one) for Genova
b.  Venice - Venezia is known as la Serenissima (the very serene one) and also as la Regina dell'Adriatico (the queen of the Adriatic).
c.  Turin - Torino - is known as the magic city - la
Città Magica.

un soprannome = a nickname


8.  In Italy, people celebrate their name day.  If you have the same name as a Christian saint or a name that is associated with a Christian saint or event, you will have a name day.  The Italian word for 'the name day' is l' onomastico

On every day of the year at least one saint's name or an event is celebrated, for example -
a.  San Giovanni Battista (St. John the Baptist) on 24 June. 
Some related names are: Giovanni, Giovanna, Battistina.
b.  Sant'Antonio di Padova (St. Anthony of Padua) on 13 June.
Some related names are:  Antonio, Antonia, Antonella, Antonino.
c.  Natale (Christmas Day) on 25 December.
Some related names are:  Natale, Natalia, Natalino, Natalina.
On special occasions like name days and birthdays, people say Auguri!  (Best wishes.)

9.  When Italians wish somebody 'good luck' they say 'in the wolf's mouth' - in bocca al lupo.  
This is rather like saying 'Break a leg!' before someone performs on stage.  In other words - you are wishing something bad rather than good so as not to 'tempt fate.'

The usual way to reply is to say "Crepi il lupo" meaning - May the wolf die.


There is a famous Italian story about a wolf.  It is the legend of Romulus and Remus (born in 771 B.C.) - the twin brothers who founded Rome.   In Italian they are known as Romolo e Remo.

Their great-uncle, King Amulius, ordered that the new-born twins should be killed as he feared that one day they would overthrow him.  The babies were taken from their mother and abandoned in a basket on the banks of the River Tiber - il Tevere.  

The baby boys were very lucky because a she-wolf found them and looked after them as if she was their mother.  She took the twins to a cave called la Grotta del Lupercale and fed them with her milk.  Eventually, a shepherd and his wife found the baby boys and raised them in their home.


 According to the legend, when the boys grew up, Romulus killed his brother in a quarrel over where their new city should be situated.  Romulus became the first King of Rome in 753 B.C., naming the city after himself and establishing it on the Palatine Hill.

The famous statue of the baby boys drinking the wolf's milk can be seen in the museum in Rome called Musei Capitolini.    In Italy this statue is known as La Lupa Capitolina.

The statue is a symbol of Rome and of the city's foundation.

The foundation of Rome is celebrated in the city each year on 21 April.  This has been calculated to be the day in the year 753 B.C. on which Romulus founded it.  The annual celebration is known as il Natale di Roma.  There are lots of activities throughout the day in Rome, such as processions with participants dressed as soldiers and citizens of Ancient Rome.

Rome was built on seven hills called i sette colli di Roma but the first hill in the city's foundation was the Palatine Hill - il Palatino.  The other hills are:
Aventine Hill - l'Aventino
Capitoline Hill - il Monte Capitolino
Esquiline Hill - l'Esquilino
Caelian Hill - il Celio
Quirinal Hill - il Quirinale
 Viminal Hill - il Viminale

11.  The 15th. of August is a very important Italian holiday known as Ferragosto.  It was, originally, an ancient Roman celebration.  It began around 18 B.C. when the Emperor Augustus declared that the month of August should be a time for resting, parties and celebration of the goddess Diana and the harvest. 

When Italy became Christian, the celebrations continued.  Italians still try to rest as much as possible during the month of August by taking long holidays and enjoying themselves, but instead of celebrating the goddess Diana, they now celebrate when the Virgin Mary went to Heaven - also known as The Assumption of Mary into Heaven. 

Firework displays take place on the night of 15 August and people say  'Auguri di buon Ferragosto!' or 'Buone feste!' to each other.   

There are many volcanoes in Italy but most of them are not active. The word 'volcano' comes from the name of the ancient Roman god of fire (Vulcanus).

The most famous Italian volcanoes are still active:-  they are Etna, Vesuvio and Stromboli.  

Vesuvio is the volcano that destroyed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. 

In Italian, these towns are called Pompei Antica and Ercolano.   (Image below: Vesuvio)


A young Roman called Pliny the Younger wrote a very detailed description of the eruption of Vesuvio in 79 A.D.  He was 17 years old when he observed the eruption and this is what he wrote:  

"I cannot give you a more exact description of its appearance than by comparing it to a pine tree; for it shot up to a great height in the form of a tall trunk, which spread out at the top as though into branches.  Occasionally it was brighter, occasionally darker and spotted, as it was filled with earth and cinders." 
(Sixth Book of Letters, Letter 16.) 

The excavation of the area allows us to see everyday Roman life around 2000 years ago.  It is like a time capsule.  Below you can see an excavated road of Pompei Antica and how the pedestrians crossed the roads using stepping stones. The gaps between the stones allowed the wheels of carriages to pass through.  You can also see an image of pillars and brickwork of Pompeii, with the volcano in the background.


Pompei vesuvio.jpg

Stromboli is both a volcano and an island.   It belongs to the Aeolian Islands - in Italian: le Isole Eolie.  These islands lie in the area of the Mediterranean Sea called the Tyrrhenian Sea - il Mar Tirreno.  The island of Stromboli  lies thirty-five miles north of Sicily.  In fact, it is part of the region of Sicily.  

Image by Erwan Hesry

Stromboli is a very interesting volcano because it is erupting continually.  It has been erupting every day for at least the last 2000 years.  The eruptions are small and quick and they take place during every hour of every day.  Each hour there are several eruptions or more!

At night, you can see the red glow of the lava.  For this reason, Stromboli is known as the oldest lighthouse in the world.  Unlike other active volcanoes, Stromboli is 'friendly' because it helps and guides sailors at night. 

At one side, the slopes are black and smooth because this is where the lava and ash flow and fall.  These slopes are known as 'the flow of fire' (la Sciara del Fuoco) and you can even watch the flowing lava and ash from a boat at the foot of the slopes! 

The volcano Etna is larger than Stromboli and Vesuvio:  in fact it is the highest volcano in Europe.  It is situated on the Italian island of Sicily and is considered to be one of the most active volcanoes in the world.  It erupts frequently - and thousands of people live on its slopes!

Etna has four main craters and several hundred small vents. 
Below are photos of Mount Etna and dead trees (from a lava flow) on its slopes. 


13.    On the night of 10 August (Saint Lawrence's night) Italians look up at the sky, hoping to see a shooting-star.  To see one is believed to bring good luck.  The way to say 'shooting star in Italian is 'stella cadente' which literally means 'falling star.' 

Shooting stars are commonly seen at this time of year.  According to legend and superstition, the shooting stars that are seen on the night of Saint Lawrence are believed to be the saint's tears.

Saint Lawrence is called San Lorenzo in Italian.  He is the patron saint of Rome.  


This painting is the work of artist Fra Angelico, also known as Il Beato Angelico, c.1385-1455.  

The painting portrays the trial of Saint Lawrence which took place in the 3rd. century A.D.  He is standing before the Emperor Valerian. 


14.    In Rome, there is a church called Santa Maria in Cosmedin.  At the entrance to the church, there is an ancient marble sculpture called la Bocca della Verità (the Mouth of Truth).

It is believed that it was originally an ancient drain cover or part of a fountain.  

In the Middle Ages, it became the tradition to use this sculpture as a lie-detector!  A person accused of lying would be forced to answer questions whilst placing their hand inside the open mouth of the sculpture.  They were told that if they did not speak the truth, the sculpture would bite off their hand!  

For that reason,  people made sure that they told the truth!

15.    The smallest country in the world is the Vatican City - La Città del Vaticano, within Rome.   It is an independent city-state.   A city within a city!   It is an area covering just 108.7 acres, surrounded by a wall.  Its ruler is the Bishop of Rome, also known as the Pope - il Papa.  This little city is the home and base of the Roman Catholic Church.

Image by Kévin Langlais
Image by Ashwin Vaswani

The current pope is Pope Francis.  In Italian he is called Papa Francesco.  He is the head of the Catholic Church.  

The Vatican City is guarded by the smallest and oldest army in the world, the Swiss Guard.  In Italian, they are called la Guardia Svizzera. 

Below is the flag of the Vatican City, a photo of the Swiss Guard and the Vatican coat of arms.


The colours of the uniform are blue, red, orange and yellow.

The guards must be aged between 19 and 30 years, unmarried and be Swiss Catholics.

They must have trained with the Swiss Army.

They act as bodyguards to the Pope.

16.   Opera music began in Italy.  Un' opera actually means 'a work.'   In Italian,  opera music is called l'opera lirica.  The first opera was called Dafne, composed by Jacopo Peri in 1598. 

The first great composer of opera was Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) and his works are still performed today.  Nowadays, the most well-known Italian composers of opera are Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini.  Other Italian opera composers are Mascagni, Bellini, Donizetti and Leoncavallo.

Two of the most important opera houses in Italy are il Teatro alla Scala in Milan and l'Arena di Verona which is an open-air arena ideal for summer performances.  


Photos:  Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini, the most famous Italian composers of opera.

17.    Some of the most well-known Italian newspapers are - La Stampa (The Press), Il Corriere della Sera (The Evening Post), La Repubblica (The Republic), Il Sole 24 Ore (The Sun 24 Hours), Il Messaggero (The Messenger).  The word for 'the newspaper' is il giornale.

The most well-known Italian television and radio channel is RAI.  This stands for Radiotelevisione Italiana.  Originally, the letters stood for Radio Audizioni Italiane.


18.    The national football team of Italy wears a blue shirt and is nicknamed 'the Blues' - gli Azzurri.  They have won the football world cup four times: the last time being in 2006.  They are also the current winners of the UEFA Cup.  To cheer for the Italian team, you can shout "Forza Italia!" or "Forza Azzurri!"  The word 'forza' means - strength.

A very popular football team is Juventus (often abbreviated to la Juve) - they play for the city of Turin (Torino).  They wear a black and white strip and use the symbol of a zebra called Jay as their lucky mascot!  Their players and supporters are called juventini.  The word juventus is Latin for 'youth.'

il calcio = football      la squadra = the team

19.    Here are some words that are used in everyday situations in Italy:
a.  Pronto! (meaning 'ready').  This is the first word spoken by both sides when making / receiving a telephone call.
b.  Permesso!  (meaning 'permission').  This is the first word spoken when entering a property / a room, etc.
c.  Salute! (meaning'health').  This word is spoken in two different situations: 1.  Salute! is said to a person who has just sneezed.   2.  Salute! is said when drinking a toast.
d.  Ciao!  means both 'hello' and 'goodbye'.
e.  Auguri! is used to express congratulations on a happy occasion.  This could be a birthday, wedding, new baby, new job, exam result, purchase of an item such as a car or house, etc......

20.    Many of Shakespeare's plays are based on Italian stories.  'Romeo and Juliet' is a story from the city of Verona.  In Italian, the characters are called Romeo e Giulietta.

In Verona there stands an ancient house called la Casa di Giulietta - Juliet's House.  It is believed to be the real house that belonged to the family of Juliet, situated in a road called Via Cappello.   The two families in Shakespeare's play (the Montagues and the Capulets) really did exist in Verona.  Their surnames were Montecchi and Cappelletti.   



1.  The balcony that is said to be the real balcony and window of Juliet's House (where Romeo and Juliet would secretly meet each other). 

2.  The ancient tomb in Verona believed to have been the resting place of Juliet.  It is called la Tomba di Giulietta.


Facts About Italy
A Booklet of Worksheets + Teachers' Notes

Facts About Italy Book Cover.jpg

For use with our website. 

Ideal for web quests and quizzes in class.  

The teachers' notes provide all the answers and indicate where they can be found in our Italian Zone. 

The material is suitable for upper Key Stage 2 & Key Stage 3.

1.  Italy is officially called La Repubblica Italiana - The Italian Republic.   

It is also referred to as:
a.   La Penisola Italiana (the Italian Peninsula).
b.   Il Bel Paese -  (the Beautiful Country).
c.   Lo Stivale (the Boot) because of its shape.

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