When you hear about Italy you imagine culture, tasty food, and breathtaking views. Italy is everywhere: in the so-called frozen Italian pizza you buy, in funny television programs about cliché Italian people, and in the dreams of many holidaymakers. Therefore, especially if you are a lover of this country, you might think that you know everything there is to know about it. However, there are some interesting facts about Italy that you have probably never heard and that will certainly surprise you.
In Italy people speak Italian, right? Partially right! In fact, countless of dialects — or languages as debated by many — are spoken on the peninsula. These dialects are different from the standard Italian language, to the point that if you only speak standard Italian you may not understand most of them. Counting them is very hard, if not impossible, as it is difficult to trace the line between one dialect and the other. As a matter of fact each village and each city has a different one, with characteristics that differentiate it from the one of the neighbor village. People speaking solely standard Italian in familiar situations (informal situations) make up 44,6% of the population, the ones mostly using a dialect represent 23,6% of Italians, and 28,3% alternate standard Italian with a dialect. These different dialects might make communication challenging — especially for foreigners who speak only standard Italian — but they are a true cultural heritage which deserves to be protected.
What does a typical Italian look like? According to the stereotype he or she is rather tanned with generally dark features. In reality Italians are the most genetically diverse population on the European continent. There is more difference between an Italian from the region of Sardinia and one from Friuli, than between a Portuguese and a Hungarian. Therefore there is no such thing as a typical Italian. But where does this diversity come from? It was born and developed through centuries because Italy has always been land of arrivals and departures. All different peoples have crossed it for multiple reasons: commerce, conquering, political reasons in order to get to Rome the center of Christianity, and continuing to other places.
Obviously these cities should not be missed when visiting the boot-shaped country; however there are other astonishing landmarks worth visiting or at least knowing about. For instance, did you know that in the region of Abruzzo there is the most southern glacier of Europe? Even if recently there has been literature discussing other glacial apparatuses which are even more at south, this remains the most famous one. It is inside the massif of Grand Sasso d’Italia in the central Apennines. It has a height which goes between the 2650 and 2850 meters. A bit more south we find another astonishing fact, or to better say, an astonishing volcano: Etna. With a diameter of 40 km and a height of 3340 m, this volcano is the highest active one in Europe. If we move to the Adriatic coast we find a very peculiar landmark: la costa dei trabocchi; this coast is characterized by the diffusion of the trabocchi, which are ancient fishing machines which became monumental heritage. It is difficult to describe these machines without a representation in front, but it is possible to say they are strange and complex, held up by pilings and supported — almost miraculously — by a spin of cables and axes. As these fascinating apparatuses are on the sea, many of them are now used as restaurants where the most amazing fresh fish is served.
Of course we know about pizza and pasta, the most famous Italian dishes; but is this everything Italy has to offer food-wise? Absolutely not! In fact Italy has 20 regions and each region has plenty of specialties. An analysis of 2013 which was based on a census of the traditional agricultural products has shown that Italy has the biggest number of food specialties, which reached the number of 4698 different dishes. This makes Italy the global leader in food tourism. Therefore, next time you visit Italy, make sure not to go in touristic restaurants where they serve only “touristic food”, but where everyone turns right, turn left.
Anna Patti is a student at The Hague University in the Netherlands, studying European Studies. She has lived in different countries and enjoys discovering new cultures by making new friends. After an internship with InterNations she has returned to the Netherlands to start a next chapter of her life.