Culture of Italy

Culture of Italy
A collage of Italian culture showing: the original statue of David, found in the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence in the centre, then the Venice Carnival on the top right, followed by the Trevi Fountain, a panorama of Naples, a dish of Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, a believed portrait of polymath and genius Leonardo da Vinci, and finally the Greek Theatre in Taormina.

From antiquity until the 16th century, Italy was at the centre of Western culture, fulcrum or origin of the Etruscan civilization, Ancient Rome, the Roman Catholic Church, Humanism and the Renaissance.[1]

Etruscan and Samnite cultures flourished in Italy before the emergence of the Roman Empire, which conquered and incorporated them. Phoenicians and Greeks established settlements in Italy beginning several centuries before the birth of Jesus, and the Greek settlements in particular developed into thriving classical civilizations. The Greek ruins in southern Italy are perhaps the most spectacular and best preserved anywhere. With Emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity in 312, Rome became the open and official seat of the Catholic Church, and Italy has had a profound effect on the development of Christianity and of Western concepts of faith and morality ever since.[2]

The Medieval communes were Europe's first bourgeois societies;[3] associations of townsmen that arose during the 11th century to overthrow the rule of the local bishop or feudal magnates. The communal experience of medieval Italy was somehow salient for the origins of modern democracy.[4][nb 1]

Italy became also a seat of great formal learning in 1088 with the establishment of the University of Bologna, the first university in Europe.[5] Other Italian universities soon followed. For example, the Schola Medica Salernitana, in southern Italy, was the first medical school of medieval Europe.[6] These great centers of learning presaged the Renaissance, as did innovative works by Italy's great late-Gothic artists. The European Renaissance began in Italy and was fueled throughout Europe by Italian painting, sculpture, architecture, science, literature, and music. Italy continued its leading cultural role through the Baroque period and into the Romantic period, when its dominance in painting and sculpture diminished and it reestablished a strong presence in music.

Italian artists have been quite influential in the 20th century, and some of the Italian exponents of Modernism in the 1920s and 1930s continue to have a strong presence in the international contemporary art market. Following World War II, Italian neorealism became an important force in motion pictures, and by the 1960s, Italy had established itself as one of a handful of great European film cultures. Today Italy is one of the international leaders in fashion and design. Both the internal and external facets of Western Civilization were born on the Italian Peninsula, whether one looks at the history of the Christian faith, civil institutions (such as the Senate), philosophy, law,[7] art, science, or social customs and culture.

Italy did not exist as a political state until its unification in 1861.[8] Due to this comparatively late unification, and the historical autonomy of the regions that comprise the Italian peninsula, many traditions and customs that are now recognized as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin. Despite the political and social isolation of these regions, Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe remain immense. Famous elements of Italian culture are its opera and music, its iconic gastronomy and food, which are commonly regarded as amongst the most popular in the world,[9] its cinema (with classic films such as La Dolce Vita, Life is Beautiful, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly etc.), its collections of priceless works of art and its fashion (Milan is regarded as one of the fashion capitals of the world).

Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (47) to date,[10] and one estimate says that the country is home to half the world's great art treasures.[11]




The Florence Cathedral, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi.

Architectural ruins from antiquity throughout Italy testify to the greatness of cultures past. The history of architecture in Italy is one that begins with the ancient styles of the Etruscans and Greeks, progressing to classical Roman,[12] then to the revival of the classical Roman era during the Renaissance and evolving into the Baroque era. During the period of the Italian Renaissance it had been customary for students of architecture to travel to Rome to study the ancient ruins and buildings as an essential part of their education.

Old St. Peter's Church (begun about A.D. 330) was probably the first significant early Christian basilica, a style of church architecture that came to dominate the early Middle Ages. Old St. Peter's stood on the site of the present St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. The first significant buildings in the medieval Romanesque style were churches built in Italy during the 800's. Several outstanding examples of the Byzantine architectural style of the Middle East also were built in Italy. The most famous Byzantine structure is the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice.

The greatest flowering of Italian architecture took place during the Renaissance. Filippo Brunelleschi made great contributions to architectural design with his dome for the Cathedral of Florence. Leon Battista Alberti was another early Renaissance architect whose theories and designs had an enormous influence on later architects.[13]

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Italian Renaissance architecture was St. Peter's Basilica, originally designed by Donato Bramante in the early 1500s. Andrea Palladio influenced architects throughout western Europe with the villas and palaces he designed in the middle and late 1500s.

The Baroque period produced several outstanding Italian architects in the 1600s especially known for their churches. The most important architects included Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini. Numerous modern Italian architects, such as Renzo Piano, are famous worldwide.[14]


The first form of televised media in Italy was introduced in 1939, when the first experimental broadcasting began. However, this lasted for a very short time: when fascist Italy entered World War II in 1940 all the transmission were interrupted, and were resumed in earnest only nine years after the end of the conflict, in 1954. There are two main national television networks responsible for most viewing: state-owned RAI, funded by a yearly mandatory licence fee and Mediaset, commercial network founded by current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. While many other networks are also present, both nationally and locally, these two together reach 80% of the TV ratings, as detailed further below.

As with all the other media of Italy, the Italian television industry is widely considered both inside and outside the country to be overtly politicized.[15] The public broadcaster RAI is, unlike the BBC which is controlled by an independent trust, under direct control of the government; the most important commercial stations in the country are, in turn, owned by the current prime minister. According to a December 2008 poll, only 24% of Italians trust television news programmes, compared unfavourably to the British rate of 38%, making Italy one of only three examined countries where online sources are considered more reliable than television ones for information.[16][17] Also, along with Turkey, Italy has one of the lowest levels of press freedom in Europe, even falling behind some ex-communist countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic.[18]

Cinema and theatre

Commedia dell'arte troupe Gelosi in a late 16th-century Flemish painting (Musée Carnavalet, Paris).

Italian theatre can be traced back into the Roman which was heavily influenced by the Greek tradition, and, as with many other literary genres, Roman dramatists tended to adapt and translate from the Greek. For example, Seneca's Phaedra was based on that of Euripides, and many of the comedies of Plautus were direct translations of works by Menander. During the 16th century and on into the 18th century Commedia dell'arte was a form of improvisational theatre, although it is still performed today. Travelling teams of players would set up an outdoor stage and provide amusement in the form of juggling, acrobatics, and, more typically, humorous plays based on a repertoire of established characters with a rough storyline, called Canovaccio.

The early Italian film industry became internationally known for its historical spectacles, most made from 1905 to 1914. Few major motion pictures were produced during the 1920s and 1930s, but a renaissance of Italian filmmaking developed in the 1940s. At that time, a new generation of directors emerged. They included Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, and Luchino Visconti. After the end of World War II in 1945, several of these directors became leaders in a movement called Neorealism, which portrayed the daily life of ordinary people with almost documentary realism.

During the 1950s and 1960s, earthy comedies gained international success, due partly to the popularity of Italian movie stars Gina Lollobrigida, Sophia Loren, and Marcello Mastroianni. At the same time, a new group of directors won praise. The most significant were Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fellini. Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luchino Visconti also continued to film major works. During the late 1900s, the leading Italian directors included Roberto Benigni, Marco Bellocchio, Bernardo Bertolucci, and the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.


Italy is prominent in the field of design, notably interior design, architectural design, industrial design and urban design. The Italian style is known globally for its interior design, and has produced some well-known furniture designers, such as Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass, and Italian phrases such as Bel Disegno and Linea Italiana have entered the vocabulary of furniture design.[19] Examples of classic pieces of Italian white goods and pieces of furniture include Zanussi's washing machines and fridges,[20] the "New Tone" sofas by Atrium,[20] and the post-modern bookcase by Ettore Sottsass, inspired by Bob Dylan's song Memphis Blues.

The particular bookcase became a cultural and design icon of the 1980s.[20] Today, Milan and Turin are the nation's leaders in architectural design and industrial design. The city of Milan hosts the FieraMilano, Europe's biggest design fair.[21] Milan also hosts major design and architecture-related events and venues, such as the Fuori Salone and the Salone del Mobile, and has also been home to the designers Bruno Munari, Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni.[22]


Today, Italy is one of the world centers of modern high fashion clothing. Fashion houses such as Armani, Benetton, Fendi, Gucci, Versace and Prada have become household words.

The city of Milan takes its place amongst the most important centers of fashion in the world. Accessory and jewelry labels, such as Bulgari and Luxottica are also internationally acclaimed, and Luxottica is the world's largest eyewear company.

Currently, Milan, (Italy's center of design) and Rome annually compete with other major international centres, such as Paris, New York, London and Tokyo. Also, the fashion magazine Vogue Italia is considered[by whom?] the most prestigious fashion magazine in the world.[23]


Dante Alighieri, one of the greatest poets of the Middle Ages. His epic poem The Divine Comedy ranks among the finest works of world literature.

Italian literature began after the founding of Rome in 753 BC. Roman, or Latin literature, was and still is highly influential in the world, with numerous writers, poets, philosophers, and historians, such as Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, Virgil, Horace, Propertius, Ovid and Livy. The Romans were also famous for their oral tradition, poetry, drama and epigrams.

The basis of the modern Italian Literature in the Italian language was shaped by three great writers of the 1300s — Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio. Their language and their works were imitated by Italian writers for hundreds of years. Dante's The Divine Comedy is a masterpiece of world poetry. Boccaccio's Decameron is one of the most popular collections of short stories ever written. Petrarch's love poetry served as a model for centuries.

Italian Renaissance authors produced a number of important works. Among the best known is The Prince, a political science essay written by Niccolò Machiavelli in 1513 and published in 1532. Italian drama developed in the 1600s, especially in the style called commedia dell'arte. These comedies were based on the improvisation of certain characters and became very popular. An outstanding writer of the Baroque period was Metastasio, and Carlo Goldoni was the most prominent playwright of the 18th century.

The time of Italy's rebirth was heralded by the poets Vittorio Alfieri, Ugo Foscolo, and Giacomo Leopardi. Alessandro Manzoni was the principal Italian novelist of the 19th century, and Francesco de Sanctis the greatest literary critic. Among the Italian literary figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Giosuè Carducci, Giovanni Verga, Gabriele d'Annunzio, Luigi Pirandello, and Grazia Deledda achieved international renown. Leading writers of the postwar era are Ignazio Silone, Alberto Moravia, Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Dario Fo, and the poets Salvatore Quasimodo and Eugenio Montale.


Giuseppe Verdi, one of Italy's greatest opera composers. Portrait by Giovanni Boldini.

From folk to classical, music has always played an important role in Italian culture. Having given birth to opera, for example, Italy provides many of the very foundations of the classical music tradition. Some of the instruments that are often associated with classical music, including the piano and violin, were invented in Italy, and many of the existing classical music forms can trace their roots back to innovations of 16th and 17th century Italian music (such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata).

Italian composers have played a major role in music since the Middle Ages. In the 1000s, Guido of Arezzo, an Italian monk, developed a revolutionary system of notation and method of sight-singing.

During the Renaissance, Giovanni Palestrina composed masterpieces of choral music for use in church services. The first operas were composed in Florence in the 1590s. Opera emerged as an art form during the Baroque period. Claudio Monteverdi was the first great composer of Baroque opera in the early 1600s. Important composers of the late 1600s and early 1700s included Alessandro Scarlatti, his son Domenico, and Antonio Vivaldi. Alessandro became best known for his operas, Domenico for his keyboard compositions, and Vivaldi for his works for violin. During the 1800s and early 1900s, popular operas were composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioacchino Rossini.

Today, the entire infrastructure that supports music as a profession is extensive in Italy, including conservatories, opera houses, radio and television stations, recording studios, music festivals, and important centers of musicological research. Musical life in Italy remains extremely active, but very Italian-centered and hardly international. The only main international Italian pop-singers include 1970s pop-diva Mina, who sold 76 million records worldwide in her lifetime,[24] and singer Laura Pausini, who has sold 45 million albums.[25][26]

La Scala operahouse in Milan is also renowned as one of the best in the world. Famous Italian opera singers include Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli, to name a few.

Italy has also seen the birth and development of several modern musical genres, including progressive rock, experimental, and electronic music, most notably disco (or Italo disco). Italo disco is a subgenre of disco music which is regarded as the first proper electronic dance genre, evolving in Italy in the 1970s and also from composer/producer Giorgio Moroder's electronic-disco creations.


Galileo Galilei, the founder of modern experimental science.

The still-standing aqueducts, bathhouses, and other public works of both ancient republic and empire testify to the engineering and architectural skills of the Romans. The rebirth of science during the Renaissance brought the daring speculations of Leonardo da Vinci (including discoveries in anatomy, meteorology, geology and hydrology) advances in physics and astronomy by Galileo Galilei, and the development of the barometer by Evangelista Torricelli.

At the turn of the century, Guglielmo Marconi carried out experiments in electricity and developed the wireless, but he was preceded by Count Alessandro Volta, one of the pioneers of electricity, over 100 years earlier. By the end of the Second World War, Enrico Fermi's work in nuclear physics led to the development of both the atomic bomb and peaceful atomic applications. On September 25, 2001, US Congress passed a resolution that officially recognized the Florentine immigrant to the United States, Antonio Meucci, as the inventor of the telephone.[27][28]

A brief overview of some other notable figures includes the astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who made many important discoveries about the Solar System; the mathematicians Lagrange, Fibonacci, and Gerolamo Cardano, whose Ars Magna is generally recognized as the first modern treatment on mathematics, made fundamental advances to the field; Marcello Malpighi, a doctor and founder of microscopic anatomy; the biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani, who conducted important research in bodily functions, animal reproduction, and cellular theory; the physician, pathologist, scientist, and Nobel laureate Camillo Golgi, whose many achievements include the discovery of the Golgi complex, and his role in paving the way to the acceptance of the Neuron doctrine.

The Italians love of automobiles and speed has made Italy famous for its production of many of the world's most famous sports cars and the industry that flourishes there. Some of the world's most elite vehicles were developed in Italy: Lamborghini, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati are but a few of the well-known luxury cars that originated in Italy.

Visual art

The Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, possibly one of the most famous and iconic examples of Italian art.

The history and development of art in western culture is grounded in hundreds of years of Italian history. No land has made a greater contribution to the visual arts.[29] In Ancient Rome, Italy was the centre for art and architecture. There were many Italian artists during the Gothic and Medieval periods, and the arts flourished during the Italian Renaissance. Later styles in Italy included Mannerism, Baroque and Macchiaioli. Futurism developed in Italy in the 20th century. Florence, Venice and Rome, in particular, are brimming with art treasures in museums, churches, and public buildings.

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo.

The Italian Renaissance produced many of the greatest painters and sculptors in art history. They were all influenced by the work of Giotto di Bondone in the late 1200s. One of the most influential artists who ever lived,[30] Giotto changed the course of Western art by painting in a new realistic style.

Florence became the center of early Renaissance art. The great Florentine masters of painting included Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Andrea Mantegna, Sandro Botticelli, and Paolo Uccello. The greatest artist of the 1400s was probably Leonardo da Vinci. His portrait Mona Lisa and his religious scene The Last Supper are among the most famous paintings in history.

Early Renaissance sculptors equaled the painters in achievement. The major sculptors included Donatello, Antonio del Pollaiolo, and Andrea del Verrocchio.

The later Renaissance was dominated by Raphael and Michelangelo. Raphael painted balanced, harmonious pictures that expressed a calm, noble way of life. Michelangelo achieved greatness both as a painter and sculptor. In Venice, a number of artists were painting richly colored works during the 1500s. The most famous Venetian masters included Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto.

Italian painters and sculptors dominated the Baroque period. Annibale Caracci and Caravaggio were the most important early Baroque painters. Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the greatest master of European sculpture of the Baroque period.[31]

In the 1900s, many Italians played leading roles in the development of modern art. Umberto Boccioni was a founder and the leading sculptor of the Futurism movement. Giorgio de Chirico gained fame for his haunting paintings of empty city squares. Amedeo Modigliani won renown with a series of portraits.


Risotto, an iconic dish in Italian cuisine.

Italian cuisine as a national cuisine known today has evolved through centuries of social and political changes, with its roots traced back to 4th century BC. Significant change occurred with discovery of the New World which helped shape much of what is known as Italian cuisine today with the introduction of items such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell pepper and maize, which are all central parts of the cuisine but not introduced in scale until the 18th century.[32]

Ingredients and dishes vary by region. There are many significant regional dishes that have become both national and regional. Many dishes that were once regional, however, have proliferated in different variations across the country in the present day. Cheese and wine are also a major part of the cuisine, playing different roles both regionally and nationally with their many variations and Denominazione di origine controllata (regulated appellation) laws.

Italy's cuisine is widely regarded as amongst the most popular in the world, and is mainly made up of traditional dishes, meals and deserts, such as pasta, spaghetti, pizza, focaccia, bruschetta, arancini, granita, lasagna, risotto, gnocchi, polenta, and zampone, to name a few. Basil, mozzarella, garlic, olive oil and tomatoes are examples of ingredients which are used frequently in Italian cuisine.

Also, Italy exports and produces the highest level of wine,[33][34] exporting over 1,793 tonnes. Italy currently is responsible for producing approximately one-fifth of world wine production in 2005.[35] Some parts of the country are home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world. Etruscans and Greek settlers produced wine in the country long before the Romans started developing their own vineyards in the 2nd century BC. Roman grape-growing and winemaking was prolific and well-organized, pioneering large-scale production and storage techniques like barrel-making and bottling.[36]

The famous Neapolitan pizza.

Famous and traditional Italian wines include Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello di Montalcino, Barbera, Dolcetto, Corvina, Nero d'Avola, Pinot Grigio and Moscato, to name a few.

Italy is also famous for its gelato, or traditional ice-cream often known as Italian ice cream abroad. There are gelaterias or ice-cream vendors and shops all around Italian cities, and it is a very popular dessert or snack, especially during the summer. Sicilian granitas, or a frozen dessert of flavored crushed ice, more or less similar to a sorbet or a snow cone, are popular desserts not only in Sicily or their native town of Catania, but all over Italy (even though the Northern and Central Italian equivalent, the gratta checca, commonly found in Rome or Milan is slightly different to the traditional granita Siciliana). Italy also boasts an assortion of several different desserts. The Christmas cakes pandoro and panettone are popular in the North (pandoro is from Verona, whilst panettone is Milanese), however, they have also become popular desserts in other parts of Italy and abroad. The Colomba Pasquale, or the Italian Easter cake is eaten all over the country on Easter day, and is a more traditional option to chocolate Easter eggs. Tiramisu is, on addition, a very popular and symbolic Italian dessert from Veneto which has become famous worldwide. Other Italian cakes and sweets include cannoli, the cassata Siciliana, fruit-shaped marzipans and the panna cotta.

Tiramisu, a famous Italian dessert.

Coffee, and more specifically espresso, has become highly important to the cultural cuisine of Italy. Espresso is a highly drunk coffee-drink in Italy, and a good number of Italians drink it in the morning before going to work, or starting the day in general. Espresso is served in small cups and has a dark, almost black appearance, and a strong, sour taste. Cappucino is also a famous Italian coffee drink, which is usually sweeter and less dark than espresso, and can be served with foam or cream on top, in which chocolate powder and sugar is usually sprinkled. Cappucino is, today, not only common in Italian cafes, or caffes, but also in restaurants and bars abroad. Caffelatte coffee is a mixture of coffee and milk (latte = milk), and is usually drunk at breakfast time (unlike most other Italian coffee-types, children and adults drink it alike, since it is lighter and more milky than normal coffee). Caffè macchiato is a stronger form of caffelatte, which, unlike caffelatte, which has an equal amount of coffee and milk, only contains a tiny portion of milk or whipped cream (latte macchiato is the lighter version of caffè macchiato, which is often drunk by children as well, which instead, only has a small addition of coffee or espresso to give it a slight coffee-like taste). The Bicerin is Turin's own coffee. It is a mix between cappucino and normal hot chocolate, and is made with equal amounts of drinking chocolate, coffee and a slight addition of milk and creamy foam.


Italy's public education is free and compulsory from 6–14 years of age.[37] It has a five-year primary stage and an eight-year secondary stage, divided into first-grade secondary school (middle school) and second-grade secondary school (or high school). Italy has both public and private education systems.

Primary school lasts five years. Until middle school, the normal educational curriculum is uniform for all: although one can attend a private or state-funded school, the subjects studied are the same, except in special schools for pupils with different care requirements.

Secondary education (Scuole medie) is further divided in two stages: Medie Inferiori, which correspond to the Middle School grades, and Medie Superiori, which correspond to the High School level. The lower tier of Scuole Medie corresponds to Middle School, lasts three years, and involves an exam at the end of the third year; Scuole Superiori usually last five years (even though Istituti Professionali might offer a diploma after only three years). Every tier involves an exam at the end of the final year required to access the following tier.

The secondary school situation varies, since there are several types of schools differentiated by subjects and activities. The main types are the Liceo, the Istituto Tecnico and the Istituto Professionale. Any kind of secondary school that lasts 5 years grants access to the final exam, called Esame di Stato conclusivo del corso di studio di Istruzione Secondaria Superiore or Esame di Maturità. This exam takes place every year in June and July and grants access to any faculty at any University.

Italy hosts a broad variety of universities, colleges and academies. Milan's Bocconi University, has been ranked among the top 20 best business schools in the world by The Wall Street Journal international rankings, especially thanks to its Master of Business Administration program, which in 2007 placed it no. 17 in the world in terms of graduate recruitment preference by major multinational companies.[38] Also, Forbes has ranked Bocconi no. 1 worldwide in the specific category Value for Money.[39] In May 2008, Bocconi overtook several traditionally top global business schools in the Financial Times executive education ranking, reaching no. 5 in Europe and no. 15 in the world.[40] Other top universities and polytechnics include the Polytechnic University of Turin and Politecnico di Milano.

In 2009 an Italian research ranked it as the best in Italy (over indicators such as scientific production, attraction of foreign students, and others),[41] the Sapienza University of Rome and the University of Milan whose research and teaching activities have developed over the years and have received important international recognitions. The University is the only Italian member of the League of European Research Universities, a prestigious group of twenty research-intensive European Universities.

Italian people

Italy is a wellspring of Western civilization and has been a world crossroads for over 2,000 years.[42] As the founders of the first civilization of western Europe, the Etruscans were the most influential people of pre-Roman Italy. Both the Etruscans in the north and the Greeks in the south had a major influence on the development of Rome.[43]

Important poets of the Roman republic and empire were Lucretius, Catullus, Virgil, Horace and Ovid. Also prominent in Latin literature were the orator and rhetorician Cicero; the satirists Petronius and Juvenal; the prose writers Pliny the Elder, his nephew Pliny the Younger; and the historians Sallust, Livy and Suetonius. Julius Caesar, renowned as a historian and prose stylist, is even more famous as a military[44] and political leader. The first of the Roman emperors was Octavian, better known by the honorific Augustus. Noteworthy among later emperors are the tyrants Caligula and Nero, the philosopher and statesman Marcus Aurelius, and Constantine the Great, who was the first to accept Christianity. No history of the Christian Church during the medieval period would be complete without mention of such men of Italian birth as St. Benedict of Nursia, Pope Gregory I, St. Francis of Assisi, and the philosopher and theologians St. Anselm of Canterbury and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Leonardo da Vinci, one of history's greatest geniuses.

In the 13th and 14th centuries there were the sculptors Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni; the painters Cimabue, Duccio, and Giotto di Bondone; and, later in the period, the sculptor Andrea Pisano. Among the many great artists of the 15th century — the golden age of Florence and Venice — were the architects Filippo Brunelleschi, Lorenzo Ghiberti, and Leon Battista Alberti; the sculptors Donatello, Luca della Robbia, Desiderio da Settignano, and Andrea del Verrocchio; and the painters Fra Angelico, Stefano di Giovanni, Paolo Uccello, Masaccio, Filippo Lippi, Piero della Francesca, Giovanni Bellini, Andrea Mantegna, Antonio del Pollaiolo, Luca Signorelli, Pietro Perugino, Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Vittore Carpaccio.

During the 16th century, the High Renaissance, Rome shared with Florence the leading position in the world of the arts. Major masters included the architects Bramante and Andrea Palladio; the sculptor Benvenuto Cellini; the painter, designer, and inventor Leonardo da Vinci; the painter, sculptor and architect Michelangelo Buonarroti; and the painters Titian, Giorgione, Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, and Antonio da Correggio. Among the great painters of the late Renaissance were Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese. Giorgio Vasari was a painter, architect, art historian, and critic.

Among the leading artists of the Baroque period were the sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini and the painters Caravaggio, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Canaletto, Pietro Longhi, and Francesco Guardi. Leading figures in modern painting were Umberto Boccioni, Amedeo Modigliani, Giorgio de Chirico, and Giorgio Morandi. A noted contemporary architect was Pier Luigi Nervi.

In philosophy, exploration, and statesmanship, Italy has produced many world-renowned figures: the traveler Marco Polo; the statesman and patron of the arts Cosimo de' Medici; the statesman, clergyman, and artistic patron Rodrigo Borgia, who became Pope Alexander VI; the soldier, statesman, and artistic patron Lorenzo de' Medici, the son of Cosimo; the explorer John Cabot; the explorer Christopher Columbus; the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, after whom the Americas are named; the admiral and statesman Andrea Doria; Niccolò Machiavelli, author of The Prince and the outstanding political theorist of the Renaissance; the statesman and clergyman Cesare Borgia, the son of Rodrigo; the explorer Sebastian Cabot, the son of John; Baldassare Castiglione, author of The Book of the Courtier; the historian Francesco Guicciardini; the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano; the philosopher Giordano Bruno; the imperial field marshal and statesman Prince Eugene of Savoy; the political philosopher Giambattista Vico; the noted jurist Cesare Beccaria; Giuseppe Mazzini, the leading spirit of the Risorgimento; Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, its prime statesman; and Giuseppe Garibaldi, its foremost soldier and man of action.


Italian is a Romance language spoken by about 60 million people in Italy, and by a total of around 70 million in the world.[45] In Switzerland, Italian is one of four official languages. It is also the official language of San Marino, as well as the primary language of Vatican City.[46] Standard Italian, adopted by the state after the unification of Italy, is based on Tuscan and is somewhat intermediate between the Italo-Dalmatian languages of the South and the Gallo-Italic languages of the North. Its development was also influenced by the other Italian dialects and by the Germanic language of post-Roman invaders. Italian is also spoken in parts of Slovenia, Malta, Monaco, Luxembourg, Croatia and Corsica. The language is also used in Eritrea, Libya and Somalia, all ex-Italian colonies, and is also spoken in some emigrants' communities, especially in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

Italian derives diachronically from Latin and is one of the closest languages to Latin. Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian has retained the contrast between short and long consonants which existed in Latin. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive. In particular, among the Romance languages, Italian is considered to be the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary.[47] Lexical similarity is 89% with French, 87% with Catalan, 85% with Sardinian, 82% with Spanish, 78% with Rhaeto-Romance and 77% with Romanian.[45]

Museums and libraries

Italy is one of the world's greatest centers of architecture, art, and books. Many of its art museums rank among the most famous in the world. Several of Italy's museums are the former palaces of kings or the houses of royal families. These museums include the Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi Palace in Florence. National archaeological museums in Cagliari, Naples, and Palermo contain artifacts from the earliest history of Italy. Displays in the national galleries in Naples, Palermo, and Urbino include paintings by Italian masters.

All large Italian cities have public libraries. The largest libraries in the country are the national central libraries in Florence and Rome. In Italy, people visit libraries primarily for serious study. Local libraries have little in the way of popular books for general readers, and children's libraries are rare.[48]


Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Italian Republic elected on May 10, 2006.

Italy set up its present form of government in 1946. That year, the people voted to change their nation from a monarchy ruled by a king to a republic headed by a president. King Umberto II immediately left the throne. The voters elected a group of 556 members, called a Constituent Assembly, to write a constitution. The Constitution was approved in 1947 and became effective on Jan. 1, 1948. The Constitution established a governing system made up of a president, a cabinet called the Council of Ministers headed by a prime minister, and a Parliament made up of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies.

The president of Italy is elected to a seven-year term by both houses of Parliament and a small number of regional representatives. The president must be at least 50 years old. He or she appoints the prime minister, who forms a government. The president has the power to dissolve Parliament and call new elections. The president is the commander of the Italian armed forces, and can declare war. The current President of the Italian Republic is Giorgio Napolitano.

Italy has no vice president. If the president of Italy becomes ill, the president of the Italian Senate takes over the office. If the president dies, a presidential election is held.

The prime minister determines national policy and is the most important person in the Italian government. The prime minister is selected by the president — usually from the members of Parliament — and must be approved by Parliament. The prime minister has no fixed term of office and can be voted out of office by Parliament at any time. The current Italian Prime Minister is Silvio Berlusconi.

Members of the Cabinet are chosen by the prime minister, and they are usually selected from the members of Parliament. They are then appointed by the president and must be approved by Parliament. The Italian prime minister and the cabinet are officially called the government.

Italy was a founding member of the European Community — now the European Union. Italy was admitted to the United Nations in 1955 and is a member and strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Council of Europe. Its recent turns in the rotating Presidency of international organisations include the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the forerunner of the OSCE, in 1994; G8; and the EU in 2001 and from July to December 2003.


Roman Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the country. Although the Roman Catholic Church has been separated from the state, it still plays a role in the nation's political affairs partly due to Holy See's location in Vatican City, within Rome itself. Some 98% of Italians are Roman Catholic[49] of which one-third are active members. Most baptisms, weddings, and funeral services are held in church.

An agreement called a concordat governs the relationship between Italy and the Roman Catholic Church. For instance, the agreement exempts priests and other members of religious orders from military service and gives tax exemptions to Catholic organizations.

Even though the main Christian denomination in Italy is Roman Catholicism, there are some minorities of Protestant, Waldensian, Eastern Orthodox and other Christian churches. In the past two decades, Italy has received several waves of immigrants and as a result, some 825,000 Muslims (1.4%) live in Italy,[50] although other estimates indicate that there are up to one million Muslims[51] as well as, 75,000 Hindus,[52] 50,000 Buddhists,[53] and a historical community of 30,000 Jewish members.


Football is a popular spectator and participation sport. The Italian national team is among the very best in the world and has won the World Cup on four different occasions: 1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006. Only Brazil has a better record. Major Italian clubs frequently compete at a high level of European competitions.

FIGC logo.svg

Rugby union is very popular in Italy; clubs compete domestically in the Super 10, as well as the European Heineken Cup tournament. The national team competes in the Six Nations Championship, and is a regular at the Rugby World Cup.

Cycling is also a well represented sport in Italy. Italians are second only to Belgium in winning the most World Cycling Championships. The Giro d'Italia is a world famous long distance bicycle race held every May and constitutes one of the three Grand Tours along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, each of which last approximately three weeks.

Scuderia Ferrari is the oldest surviving team in Grand Prix racing, having competed since 1948, and statistically the most successful Formula One team in history with a record of 15 drivers' championships and 16 constructors' championships. Other very popular sports in Italy are basketball, volleyball, and boxing.

See also

  • List of cultural icons of Italy


  1. ^ See also Robert D. Putnam, " Bowling Alone: America's Declining Social Capital, " Journal of Democracy 6 (1995): 65-78. Web. 06 Nov. 2011.


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