Italy has a long and complicated history, but has only actually been a unified country since the latter portion of the 19th Century, making it one of Europe’s youngest countries. The Italian peninsula had many states, such as Milan, Florence, Venice, and Sicily, and after many revolutions and wars, Italy was mostly unified in 1861 with the King of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel II, becoming the King of Italy. Wars continued however, and Italy joined World War I as a way to complete national unity. After World War II, Italy became a republic in 1946. Italians celebrate Republic Day on June 2nd. Pictured is the Victor Emmanuel II Monument in Rome, inaugurated in 1911 for the 50th anniversary of the unification.
San Valentino in Abruzzo Citeriore, Italy is a hilltop town in the Abruzzo region of central Italy, named after St. Valentine & is nestled in the Appennine mountains, located on the northern edge of the National Park of Majella.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean & its Sicilian language has been influenced by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Moors, Normans & many more! It has more than 9 dialects!
Roasted chestnuts, more popularly known as castagne or marroni in Italian, are a delightful luxury here in the United States, but in Italy they were considered poor man’s food, and was the backbone of the diet of the working man, not just in Italy, but all of Europe and Britain in medieval times, since the Romans planted chestnuts wherever it would grow. The oldest and largest chestnut tree, a sweet chestnut called the “Hundred-Horse Chestnut,” is possibly 4000 years old. It lives on the slopes of Mt. Etna in Sicily, only 5 miles from the volcano’s crater!
Autumn, especially, October and November, are the most popular months in Italy to indulge in this amazing food. Roasted on street corners and served in paper cones, ground into naturally gluten-free flour for bread, pasta, polenta, or cakes such as the wonderful Castagnaccio, added to soups, made into fried dough, or candied, the Italians have a love affair with chestnuts.
The opera La bohème, written by famous Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, is one of the most frequently performed operas worldwide. The story in four acts is about a seamstress and her bohemian artist friends in Paris around 1830. First performed in 1896 in Turin, Italy, this unforgettable Italian opera is beloved by millions. Learn more: click here.
Spumoni is a classic Italian 3-layered gelato dessert. Well-beloved by Americans who usually make it with three flavors of ice cream, learn more about Spumoni and how to make your own: Click here.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, known as the “Jesuits,” died in 1556 at 64 years old & is buried, not in the country of his heritage in Spain, but in Rome, Italy, in the Church of the Gesù. He wanted to be buried in a church not dedicated to him, but dedicated to Christ. St. Ignatius is famous for writing the “Spiritual Exercises” and also the “Discernment of Spirits” on evaluating your spiritual life and making decisions. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope. St. Ignatius’ feast day is July 31st. Here’s an excellent video about the House of Gesù in Rome, where St. Ignatius lived the last years of his life.
Prosecco is a youthful but elegant white Italian sparkling wine from the Veneto Region of NE Italy, made mostly from the Glera grape. With aromas of fruit & flowers, its frothy bubbles pair well with fruity appetizers, cured meats, antipasto & almonds. 500 million bottles of Prosecco are produced in Italy each year. Here’s everything you need to know about this lovely sparkling wine, and some wonderful cocktails you can make with it.
Toscanini, Verdi, Puccini – just some of the great names of conductors & composers associated with Milan’s famous Opera House, Teatro alla Scala. Most of the greatest singers in the past 200 years, such as Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas, have performed here, as well as some of the greatest ballet dancers. Built in 1778 it is arguably the most prestigious opera house in the world. It has a rich history, learn more here!
Anisette. The famous licorice flavored liqueur has a rich and interesting Italian history, both for drinking and adding to mixed drinks and espresso. National Anisette Day is July 2nd.
National Spaghetti Day is January 4th. Pasta arrived in Italy before 1295 when Marco Polo brought it from China. He called it “lasagne,” which then meant “noodles.” Tomatoes weren’t added until the 1800’s. Here are some very interesting tidbits on the history of spaghetti, its friend the meatball, and where that glorious tomato sauce first appeared!
The Sistine Chapel & Michelangelo. Interesting and surprising facts about the history and artist of one of the world’s most famous paintings.
Ponte Vecchio: Florence, Italy’s Fascinating Bridge Over The Arno River. The only bridge on the Arno river in Florence not destroyed by the German army in World War II. And you’ll be surprised why.
The Feast of All Saints Day, on November 1st, commemorates all those in Heaven, not just those officially recognized as saints.
White Truffles are a very rare type of mushroom mostly found near Alba, Italy. Sniffed out by dogs, and even pigs, their sublime taste makes them worth thousands of dollars. They are so rare and precious you need a special license just to hunt for them!
Panattone is the tall, rich Italian bread baked especially for the holidays has been made in Milan since the early 1400’s. Made with wheat flour (then an expensive rarity), candied citron or orange peel, butter, and eggs, many of its ingredients came from far away. It is now a world favorite for Christmas.
Olive Oil. Did you know that the region of Puglia, the heel of the boot, is Italy’s top olive oil producer with some 40% of total output. Next is Calabria or the toe area of Italy with about 27%.
For Fun Facts On Italy’s Beloved Saints Click Here.