When you ask people where they would go if they could visit any place in the world, Italy is usually near the top of the list. Panoramic scenes, stunning architecture, cities steeped in culture, and a rich history are no doubt contributing factors. These are a few of the reasons that Italy is one of the most popular destinations with our empty nest moms as well.
So, how much do you really know about Italy’s history and culture? Keep reading for 10 of the most intriguing facts you may not have known about this scenic country and its fascinating culture:
1. All Roads Lead to Rome
You know the popular saying that “All roads lead to Rome?” Well, it turns out that it is more than just a saying. By the fourth century, Rome had built a network of roads of more than 53,000 miles. That was quite a feat in those times!
Each mile measured approximately 4800 feet and was marked by a milestone. Perhaps this is where modern day highway mile markers originated.
2. The Vatican City Is and Is Not in Rome
Wait, what? That’s a bit confusing, right? While it is true that the Vatican City is in Rome, it’s not actually a part of Rome. Measuring a mere .19 square miles with a population of only 800 people, the Vatican City is an independent state. It’s also the smallest country in the world.
3. There Are No Cars in Venice
This makes sense since there are 177 winding canals in the picturesque “City of Canals”. The largest of these canals is the S-shaped Grand canal which splits the city into two parts. So, while you can reach the city by car, you must leave your vehicle in a garage or car lot to enjoy the city’s history and striking architecture via the waterways.
4. Florence Was the First European City to Pave Its Streets
It’s true that the Roman empire had paved roads in ancient times, but after the fall of the empire, pavement was not used anymore. However, Florence resurrected the practice in 1339 after receiving money from local banks and merchants. In this way, Florence became the first European city to pave its streets. The trend soon caught on all over Europe.
5. Venice Was an Independent Empire for More Than 1000 Years
Venice was once the Independent Republic of Venice. From 697 AD until 1797 AD, Venice’s expansive rule extended from Crete to along much of the Balkan coast. Venice controlled ports in modern-day places we know as Montenegro, Croatia and Kotor, and Zadar during its height in the 14th century.
6. Florence Was Once the Capital of Italy
Florence took the place of Turin as the capital of Italy in 1865 after Tuscany officially joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. However, Florence’s reign as the capital of Italy only lasted 5 years. In 1870, Rome became the capital of Italy.
7. The Left Arm of the David Statue was Once Broken
The left arm of the David statue was broken during a riot against the Medici family in 1527. Someone threw a chair at the statue, and the statue’s left arm was broken in 3 pieces. After the incident, the statue was repaired and moved to a safer location. This is one of the little known facts about Florence, Italy. Today, most people are none the wiser.
8. The Masks of Venice Are Not Just a Tourist Souvenir
Masks are an integral part of local Venetian culture. Visiting Venice during carnival is a memorable experience! Masks have been a part of Venetian culture for more than 1000 years. In the past, Venetian citizens used masks as a part of daily life to conceal their identities – especially during the Middle Ages.
9. Only around 400 Gondolas float through Venice’s Canals Today
Though 400 gondolas may seem like a lot, consider that at one point, there were around 10,000 gondolas traveling the canals! In the past, wealthy Venetians used gondolas much like their wealthy counterparts in Rome and Paris used horse and carriage. Gondolas were also one of the main ways to transport goods.
Today, motorboats perform much of the work gondolas did in the past. The remaining 400 gondolas in existence are used primarily for tourism.
10. Florence Gave the World Gelato
Fun food fact about Florence, Italy – it is the birthplace of the wonderful treat we know as gelato!
Today, people around the globe enjoy the delicious, frozen dessert we know as gelato. It was first invented by Cosimo Ruggieri in Florence during the 16th century. Since then, many people have contributed to developing and sharing the dessert with the world. If you are ever in Florence, trying the local gelato should definitely be at the top of your list.