Facts About Italy and Italians
21. There are many Italian islands. The largest is Sicily (Sicilia in Italian). It has a famous flag with a red and yellow background. In the centre of the flag is a three-legged figure called La Trinacria. This figure has the head of Medusa and is surrounded by three ears of wheat. It is believed that the three legs represent the three corners of Sicily - as the island is triangular in shape. The wheat represents the fertility of the land and the head of Medusa protects Sicily.
The capital city of Sicily is Palermo.
The second largest Italian island is Sardinia (Sardegna in Italian). The capital city is Cagliari. Sardinia has a very interesting flag, consisting of the cross of St. George - a red cross on a white background. In each white corner of the flag there is the head of a Moor wearing a white bandana. The four Moors are called I Quattro Mori and they are the symbol of Sardinia. Read more about Sardinia.
The island of Sardinia lies in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea - il Mar Mediterraneo - just south of the French island Corsica.
The north-east coast of Sardinia is called la Costa Smeralda - the Emerald Coast. It is a very expensive holiday destination. In the summer months, it is visited by the yachts of royal families, and famous people.
The third largest Italian island is Elba. It is called l'Isola d'Elba in Italian and belongs to the Italian region of Tuscany - Toscana. The island of Elba is famous because the French emperor Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) lived there for about ten months when he was sent into exile from France in 1814.
The flag of Elba consists of a white background, a red stripe and three golden bees. It was designed by Napoleon.
Some smaller islands of Italy are: Capri, Ischia, Procida, Favignana and Lampedusa. The island of Capri is very famous for its breathtaking landscape. It is situated in the Bay of Naples and it is high and rocky. One of the most visited places in Capri is the Blue Grotto - la Grotta Azzurra. The grotto is a sea cave where the effects of sunlight give the water a beautiful, blue colour.
22. Venice is a city in north-east Italy. In Italian, it is called Venezia and it is the capital city of the region of Veneto. It is built on around 120 little islands in a lagoon of the Adriatic Sea - il Mar Adriatico. The lagoon is called la Laguna di Venezia (the Venetian Lagoon). The little islands are connected by over 400 bridges. The roads are canals filled with a mixture of salt water and fresh water.
Here you can see St. Mark's bell tower. It belongs to la Basilica di San Marco - St. Mark's Basilica, situated in the main square of Venice: la Piazza San Marco.
In Italian the bell tower is called il Campanile di San Marco. It stands almost 100 metres high and is the tallest building in Venice.
St. Mark (San Marco) is the patron saint of Venice.
At the top of the bell tower's spire there is a statue of the Archangel Gabriel. In Italian, he is called San Gabriele Arcangelo.
The bell tower is considered to be the symbol of Venice. For that reason, it has a nickname: il Padrone di Casa, meaning 'the owner of the house'.
Two interesting facts:
1. Originally, the bell tower was used as a lighthouse and watch tower.
2. In 1902, the bell tower collapsed and was reduced to rubble. It was re-built according to its original design.
Below is an old photo showing the rubble after the collapse of the bell tower in 1902.
Due to the fact that the roads are canals, Venice is the largest car-free residential area in the world! This proves that it is possible for a modern city to function without the existence of cars and lorries! The main canal of Venice is called il Canal Grande - the Grand Canal (below).
The traditional way to travel in Venice is by a boat called una gondola. The person who rows una gondola is called un gondoliere.
La gondola is made of wood, painted black and is hand-made. The reason why they are black is because the original method to preserve the wood involved coating it in black pitch or tar. This substance is called la pece in Italian.
One of the most famous bridges in Venice is called the Bridge of Sighs. In Italian - Il Ponte dei Sospiri. It is believed that the bridge was given this name because it led to a prison and the prisoners would 'sigh' as they walked across it.
According to a tradition and belief of Venice, if two partners kiss as they pass under the Bridge of Sighs in a gondola at sunset whilst the bells of San Marco are ringing, they will have eternal love and happiness together!
Images: The Bridge of Sighs. In Italian - Il Ponte dei Sospiri.
Image: the Rialto Bridge. In Italian it is called il Ponte di Rialto and it crosses the Grand Canal - il Canal Grande.
Venice produces beautiful, coloured glass. It is made in the part of the city called Murano.
This glass is world-famous and is called Murano glass - il vetro di Murano. All kinds of items are made with it: vases, beads, ornaments, chandeliers, etc.
There is a museum dedicated to the local glass. The museum is called il Museo del Vetro.
Image: a street monument in Venice made from Murano glass. It has been made to look like fire.
The city of Venice is also famous for its Carnevale celebrations each year. This is a festival that takes place in the period just before Lent. People dress up in costumes and masks.
In this image, you can see a woman dressed for Carnevale, standing in front of la Basilica di San Marco.
The Venetian Lagoon and the historic centre of Venice are both listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Italian, this status is called: un Sito Patrimonio Mondiale dell'Umanità.
Read more about Venice.
23. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a famous bell tower in the city of Pisa. In Italian it is called la Torre Pendente di Pisa. It was built over a period of around 200 years. Construction began in 1173 and finished around 1373.
It is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Pisa and it is made of white marble. During the building of the third level, the tower began to sink and to lean to one side.
Inside the Cathedral of Pisa are the relics of San Ranieri, the patron saint of Pisa. One of the bells of the Leaning Tower is named after the saint and it is called - la campana di San Ranieri.
The tower stands with the cathedral, a baptistry and a cemetery in an area called la Piazza del Duomo which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
il duomo = the cathedral
Read more about the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
24. Italians tend to be quite superstitious and they share some of the commonly-known beliefs such as not to open an umbrella indoors, a broken mirror bringing seven years of bad luck and to avoid walking under a ladder, etc. But there are some commonly-practised Italian superstitions. Here are just a few. (A longer list can be found on our Italian Superstitions page.)
a. The number 17 is considered unlucky. If given the choice, many Italians will avoid having a room number, ticket, etc. with the number 17 on it.
b. In Italy, it is considered unlucky to make big decisions on Tuesdays or Fridays.
c. It is considered unlucky to place bread loaves and bread rolls 'upside down' on the table.
d. If you spill salt, you must throw some backwards over your shoulder in order to avoid bad luck. It is also considered unlucky to spill oil.
e. It is considered lucky to eat lentils and to wear the colour red on the first day of the new year.
f. It is considered unlucky to receive a comb or a brooch as a gift. In order to make the bad luck go away, you should give a coin to the person who has given you the comb / brooch.
g. In Italy, a black cat - un gatto nero - is considered unlucky, including if it crosses the road in front of you. This is the opposite of the superstition in the United Kingdom that a black cat is lucky!
h. An Italian symbol of good luck is the ladybird - la coccinella.
25. At special occasions such as a wedding (un matrimonio), a christening (un battesimo), First Communion (una prima comunione) and Confirmation (una cresima), it is the tradition in Italy to give a keepsake to the guests. This item is called una bomboniera.
Usually la bomboniera consists of five sugared almonds called confetti wrapped in a decorative pouch or box and accompanied with a trinket. The five sugared almonds represent:
health (la salute), wealth (la ricchezza), happiness (la felicità), fertility (la fertilità) and long life (la longevità).
26. Italy is famous for producing cars. Some of the most famous makes are Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and FIAT.
Originally, Lamborghini was a maker of tractors with powerful engines. Their symbol is 'a charging bull', representing 'power.'
The Ferrari symbol is 'a horse'. The sports car called Ferrari Testarossa actually means - Ferrari Redhead.
The Maserati logo is 'a trident'.
The symbol of Alfa Romeo is a red cross and a crowned viper.
The letters FIAT represent the words Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, meaning 'Italian Automobile Factory Turin.'
Italy is also famous for producing motorbikes and scooters. Two famous makes of Italian motorcycles are Ducati and Moto Guzzi.
Ducati was founded in Bologna in 1926 by an engineer called Antonio Cavalieri Ducati. The company now belongs to Lamborghini.
Moto Guzzi is the oldest European make of motorcycle, founded in Genova in 1921 by Carlo Guzzi. The company logo portrays an eagle in flight.
Italian teenagers love to ride i motorini (scooters). In Italy, you can obtain a driving licence for a scooter at sixteen years of age. A famous Italian scooter is called Vespa - meaning 'wasp.' It was originally designed in 1946 by the Piaggio company.
Enrico Piaggio thought that the scooter looked and sounded like a wasp, so it was named 'Vespa.'
la vespa = the wasp
Another famous Italian scooter is called la Lambretta. (Below). It is named after the River Lambro which flows near to the scooter factory in an area of Milan called Lambrate. The Lambretta scooter was launched in 1947 by the Innocenti family.
27. It is usual for Italian babies to be named after their grandparents rather than their parents. In Italy, there is also a Grandparents' Day (La Festa dei Nonni) on 2 October.
In Italy, Fathers' Day - la Festa del Papà - is celebrated on Saint Joseph's Day (San Giuseppe) on 19 March.
Mothers' Day - La Festa della Mamma - is celebrated on the second Sunday of May.
La Festa della Donna - Women's Day - is celebrated on 8 March and in Italy it is the tradition to give women the yellow flowering plant called la mimosa. These yellow flowers are the official Italian symbol for this day.
28. In Italy, there is usually a 'tooth mouse' - il topolino dei denti - rather than a 'tooth fairy.'
On Christmas Day in Italy, some children receive gifts from Gesù Bambino (Baby Jesus) and other children receive their gifts from Babbo Natale - Father Christmas. It all depends upon the tradition in the family.
There is also a Christmas witch called la Befana who brings gifts to children on 6 January (the Epiphany).
Read about Christmas in Italy.
29. There are different types of police in Italy, for example -
La Polizia di Stato (the general police force),
L'Arma dei Carabinieri (the Italian army police),
La Guardia di Finanza (police who check that everyone is paying the correct taxes and that businesses are operating with correct licences, etc.),
la Capitaneria di Porto - the Coast Guard authority that checks that boats and ships (and their owners) have their documents in order and are navigating according to marine rules.
If you visit an Italian port or marina, you will see that they all work in boats too, keeping
an eye on activities at sea.
The boats belonging to la Guardia di Finanza are grey in colour. (Image above).
30. Italy is famous for its art. Some famous Italian artists are:
Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Giotto, Raffaello Sanzio, Caravaggio, Bernini.
A famous period in the history of Italian art was the Renaissance which lasted from the 14th. century till the 17th century. In Italian, it is called il Rinascimento (literally meaning: the rebirth). The main city of the Italian Renaissance was Florence (Firenze). The ruling family of Florence was the de'Medici Family and they were great patrons of art, architecture and culture. They sponsored and promoted the greatest artists, architects and intellects.