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35 Cool and Interesting Facts about Italy and Italians

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Whether you’re planning to visit, or just curious about one of Europe’s most beautiful countries, these cool and interesting facts about Italy and Italians – featuring insights from a local – may intrigue you, surprise you, delight you, or a combination of all three.

Learning more about Italy will not only help you navigate the environment, people, and culture better on a trip, but can also give you a little Italian-themed trivia to impress an Italian friend or throw into conversation with family, friends, or coworkers.

Cool and Interesting Facts about Italy and Italians

Interesting Facts About Italy (list of ideas 1-8)

Facts About Italian Food

1. Pizza was invented in Naples

This one may be well-known to many, but some still think pizza is an American invention. The United States did help in making this dish popular, but pizza was born in the heart of Naples.

Back in the 18th century, pizza was served as a quick meal for Neapolitans to eat on the go. However, as Neapolitans traveled to the United States in the early 20th century, pizza became all the rage across the Atlantic, and soon worldwide.

2. Cappuccino is just for breakfast

You read that right. In Italy, you are expected to order a cappuccino more or less until midday. After that, it may be frowned upon. For Italians, a cappuccino is a typical breakfast drink, not something you would have mid-afternoon.

It may also be worth mentioning that cappuccino is not just any other drink you should have with your meal. Ordering a plate of spaghetti and a cappuccino at lunch is a big no-no.

3. Italy has roughly 350 types of pasta

Italy is the land of pasta, so you can expect to find a great variety of pasta types. From traditional pasta such as penne and spaghetti to fresh pasta like tagliatelle and regional varieties like orecchiette, the choice is endless.

Well, almost! You can choose between roughly 350 types of pasta. In fact, you could almost eat a different pasta type every day for a year.

4. Italy has nearly 500 types of cheese

Similar to pasta, cheese also comes in many varieties. Italy has the highest cheese variety in the world, with 487 different types.

You may have heard of the famous Parmigiano Reggiano, Grana Padano, and Mozzarella di Bufala, but there’s a lot more where that came from. Each region has its cheese types, from fresh to seasoned and cream cheeses.

Read more: 20 Italian Cheeses You Need in Your Life

5. Water is usually served with coffee

If you order a coffee in Italy, especially an espresso or macchiato (espresso with a splash of milk), you’ll notice they give you a small glass of water. Traditionally, water was served to drink before coffee to clean the mouth from any aftertaste and prepare it for the coffee taste.

6. Italians rarely sit for coffee

There’s a reason why Starbucks took so long to get to Italy. The country doesn’t have the tradition of sitting down for a cup of coffee. Italian coffee par excellence is a short espresso drank in a sip at the bar counter on your way to work. That’s it.

7. Fettuccine Alfredo is Italian… but not eaten in Italy

Fettuccine Alfredo is one of the most popular pasta dishes in the US, but if you ask for it in Italy, you’ll likely get a confused look. The dish is almost unknown in Italy, despite being born in its capital city.

Alfredo di Lelio invented fettuccine with butter and parmesan in Rome in 1907. After the First World War, the dish became popular in the US after two movie stars dined at Alfredo’s restaurant in Rome. Meanwhile, the recipe slowly faded into oblivion in Italy.

Related: 16 Traditional Italian Foods and Where Best To Try Them

8. Never break spaghetti before cooking them

If an Italian sees you break spaghetti to throw them in the pot, they will act as if you committed a crime. You should place spaghetti whole in the pot and wait for them to soften and sink in the boiling water.

If you break spaghetti, you take away its main characteristic, which is that it must be twirled around your fork. Never break spaghetti in the presence of an Italian.

9. Don’t use a spoon to eat spaghetti

Just like you are not supposed to break spaghetti, you shouldn’t use a spoon to eat them. This is not as serious an offense, but some Italians may still look down on you. Practice the art of twirling your spaghetti around your fork before your next trip to Italy.

10. Italy is the home country of Nutella

The beloved spread popular worldwide was born in Italy, more specifically in the town of Alba, in the Piedmont region. The inventor of Nutella is Pietro Ferrero, the founder of the confectionary giant Ferrero.

The first spread was called Supercrema gianduja but was later modified and marketed as Nutella. The hazelnut and cocoa spread was an instant success.

11. If you order a Latte, you get… a glass of milk

You may be used to ordering a Latte in a café in the US or most other countries. However, if you do that in Italy, you’ll be served a glass of milk, as latte in Italian means ‘milk’. What you want to order is a Latte Macchiato, which is milk with a shot of espresso.

Related: 16 Most Popular Italian Street Foods to Try in Italy

Fun Facts About Italy

12. Gesticulating is inevitable for Italians

If there’s one distinctive feature about Italians is that they gesticulate a lot. You’ll even see people talking on the phone gesticulating. They just can’t help it.

One of the most typically Italian gestures consists of touching all five fingertips of your right hand and moving the hand back and forth from the wrist. If someone does that in front of you, they are telling you that you’re saying nonsense.

13. An average of €3000 gets thrown in the Trevi Fountain each day

Yes, you read that right. An average of three thousand euros land into Trevi Fountain each day. I’ll spare you the effort of calculating how much that is per year – it’s over 1 million euros! The tradition of throwing a coin in the fountain for good luck is still going on strong.

If you’re wondering what happens to all that money, the coins are collected and donated to the Catholic charity Caritas.

14. You can find a free wine fountain in Italy

There’s a free red wine fountain in the small town of Villa Caldari, in the province of Chieti. The fountain is active 24/7, so you can fill up your glass and serve yourself some red wine any time.

The fountain belongs to the Dora Sarchese winery. The idea was born during a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela when Dina and Luigi, the creators of this fountain, came across a similar free wine fountain. They decided to create this wine fountain on the Cammino di San Tommaso, a pilgrimage trail connecting Rome to Ortona.

15. Dropping salt brings bad luck

If you’re passing someone salt at a table and accidentally drop it, you may be in big trouble. That is unless you quickly grab three pinches and throw them back over your left shoulder. This ritual should keep you safe.

16. Always look people in the eye when toasting

In Italy, it’s bad luck not to look someone in the eye when you toast. This rumor dates back to Medieval times when the reason for looking people in the eye during a toast was slightly different. Back then, one had to make sure nobody was poisoning their drink.

17. In Italy, you’ll find the smallest restaurant in the world

Solo per Due, as the name suggests, is a restaurant only for two guests. That’s right, this restaurant in the small village of Vacone, province of Rieti, only has one table that accommodates two guests.

As you may imagine, the place is really romantic and mainly targeted at couples. You can choose the menu, the music, and the flowers. If you want to celebrate a special occasion, this is a unique place, but be prepared to spend upwards of €500.

18. You should never walk under a ladder

Another fun fact is that Italians will avoid walking under a ladder because it brings bad luck. The reason for this superstition is religious.

A ladder leaning on a wall forms a triangle, a sacred Christian symbol. Therefore, walking through this triangle would be a lack of respect towards God and religion, which can bring extremely bad luck.

19. “Making the horns” is an anti-jinx gesture, but not only

When an Italian hears someone mention a potentially bad thing happening, you’ll likely see them “making the horns” with the right hand. The index and little fingers are extended, while the other three are folded.

However, this ani-jinx gesture also has another meaning. If someone is showing this gesture when talking about a person, they likely mean that said person “has the horns”, which means they are being cheated on.

20. Italy observes the “academic quarter”

The “academic quarter” is a 15-minute delay at the beginning of university classes. Though an old tradition, the academic quarter is very much alive in Italy, even outside the academic setting.

The origins of the academic quarter date to when watches did not exist, and students had to rely on the church bell to know the time. From the moment the bell rang, they had 15 minutes to reach their class.

When in Italy, expect the academic quarter to apply to anything, from work meetings to friends gatherings. Nearly everybody will be 15 minutes late.

Facts About Italian Culture

21. Italy is home to the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world

With 53 cultural sites and 5 natural sites, Italy holds the record for the country with the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. Add this to the list of reasons to visit the beautiful Mediterranean country.

Related: 30 Best Places to Visit in Italy for an Unforgettable Vacation

22. Two of the 6 European microstates are enclaved within Italy

Two of Europe’s six microstates, Vatican City and San Marino, are enclaved within Italy. Vatican City is in the heart of Rome and is the smallest state in the world by area. San Marino, meanwhile, is perched on a hilltop near the coastal city of Rimini.

23. Italy is home to the largest amphitheater ever built

It may not come as a surprise that the Colosseum is the largest amphitheater ever built. Anfiteatro Flavio – its original name – could hold up to 80.000 spectators. The Colosseum is one of the world’s most popular monuments and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

24. 31 dialects are spoken in Italy

Regional dialects are still very much alive in Italy, with 31 recognized in the whole country. However, even within each dialect, there are many variations. Tuscan, Neapolitan, Sicilian, and Venetian are a few of the most popular dialects, and Neapolitan was actually recognized as a language.

25. Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world

The Mediterranean country is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Only France, Spain, the US, and China are more visited than Italy. There’s a good reason for that, as Italy is home to spectacular natural and cultural sites, and has one of the most well-known cuisines in the world.

26. The West’s oldest university is in Italy

The University of Bologna is the oldest university in the Western World in continuous operation. Founded in 1088, the university is still one of the most important in Italy. The University of Bologna is now the second-largest university in Italy after La Sapienza in Rome.

27. Many of the world’s most renowned artists were Italian

Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Titian are just a few of so many world-renowned Italian artists that have left their mark on human history.

Their work, be it sculptures, paintings, architecture, and so much more, can be seen, celebrated, and marveled at throughout the country.

28. Italy is one of Europe’s youngest countries

Rome may be over 2000 years old, but Italy as a nation is one of the youngest in Europe. The kingdom of united Italy was proclaimed in 1861, and Victor Emmanuel became Italy’s first king. And, Italy didn’t become a parliamentary republic until 1946.

Some More Interesting Facts

29. The number 17 is bad luck

Most countries consider the number 13 as an unlucky number, but not Italy. For Italians, the bad luck number is 17. The worse combination ever is Friday the 17th – you might as well just lock yourself in for the day!

One explanation for this combination refers to the Roman number 17, written as XVII, which is the anagram of the word VIXI, meaning “I lived” – hence I am dead. VIXI was a common inscription on tombs in Ancient Rome.

Another explanation refers to the Great Flood that, according to Genesis Book, started on the 17th day of the second month of Noah’s six hundredth year of life.

As for Friday being an unlucky day, that has biblical origins, too. Jesus died on a Friday; hence, Friday the 17th brings bad luck.

30. You’re supposed to eat lentils for New Year’s

Of the many foods you could eat on New Year’s Eve, I bet you didn’t think about lentils. Yet the tradition says that you’ll get as much money in the new year as many lentils you eat on New Year’s Eve.

The tradition dates back to ancient Rome when sacks of lentils were given as a good luck charm. The reason for this is believed to be the fact that the shape of lentils resembles that of coins.

31. In Naples, people would leave a “suspended coffee”

The tradition of “suspended coffee” started in Naples during World War II. People would buy a coffee for themselves and a second one for whoever could not afford it. This act of kindness towards strangers soon spread all over Italy.

The caffé sospeso is no longer as widespread as it used to be. However, this tradition made a comeback in 2020 as a way to help people dealing with the hardships caused by the pandemic.

32. Constant archaeological findings make it hard to build subway lines in Rome

If you’ve ever been to Rome, you probably noticed that there are only three metro lines. That’s not a lot for such a big city. One of the reasons why it’s so hard to build new metro lines is that digging the tunnels consistently leads to archaeological findings that slow down the work.

In case you didn’t know, Rome as you see it today was built on top of Ancient Rome’s ruins. There’s a whole city underneath the city, and its remains keep being discovered whenever they start digging.

33. Italians tend to live with their parents for a long time

It’s not uncommon for Italians to live with their parents well beyond their thirties. There may be many reasons for this, the increasing cost of living in the most important cities being one of them. Buying a house is nearly impossible for young people nowadays, and rent is expensive too.

34. Italy is home to one of the world’s Blue Zones

Italy’s second-largest island, Sardinia, is a Blue Zone. If you’re not familiar with the term, Blue Zones are areas of the world where people tend to live longer on average. Other Blue Zones are in Japan, Costa Rica, California, and Greece.

A village in Sardinia, Seulo, is famous for being the place where people live the longest in the world, holding a record of 20 centenaries between 1996 and 2016.

35. Italy has the oldest population in Europe

Sardinia may be a Blue Zone, but the entire country is known for its aging population. Italy has the oldest population in Europe., and according to a 2021 Statista survey, 23.5% of Italy’s population is over 65. Throughout the rest of the world, only Japan has an older population.

While this fact may prove Italians on average live longer than average lives, this current reality is not without its challenges. The country could benefit from a younger, working population.

Summary

From its delicious, world-renowned food, to its fascinating ancient Roman history, Italy is a country that will continue to awe and intrigue, no matter how many times you visit.

These cool and interesting facts are just the tip of the iceberg but will give you some unique insight into the cuisine, culture, and history of Italy that you may not have been aware of previously.

Hopefully, these facts will inspire you want to learn more about Italy, and even book your next trip there to see the beauty, immerse in the culture, and gorge on the food until your heart’s (and stomach’s) content!

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Interesting Facts About Italy (list of ideas 1-8)

Contributor: Roxana Fanaru is a Rome-based journalist and writer. Passionate about Italian travel and culture, she has a wealth of experience writing in the travel and lifestyle spaces.

Author

  • Hey there! We are Dale and Doina, the founders of Nomad Paradise. We traveled full-time for over three years, and while we now have a home base in the U.K., continue to take trips abroad to visit new places and try new cuisines and foods. Our food guides are curated with the guidance of local foodies, and their contribution is indicated under each article. We also cook the foods we try abroad, and you can discover how to make them in our 'recipes from around the world' category.

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