22 Dec 4 Surprising Things I Didn’t Know About Italy
My knowledge of Italy before I visited was limited to Italian food. I knew that Italy is the country where pizza, pasta, and gelato come from. I also love the movies Cinema Paradiso and Life is Beautiful, and I’ve watched every episode of Anthony Bourdain’s visits to Italy.
But what are Italians like in person? What are Italian attitudes and values?What is the daily lifestyle in Italy like?What do Italians think of Americans?
I loved Italy because of its food and I think most of the world can probably relate. It still amazes me that I can find pizza and pasta in just about every country in the world.
For six weeks, we lived with an Italian woman named Chicca (pronounced key-ka) who taught cooking classes to tourists from her home in Tuscany. It was a great opportunity to learn more about Italian culture and to eat amazing Italian food.
But of course, Italy is so much more than it’s food, and I wasn’t prepared for the way I would fall in love with the lifestyle in Italy. The pandora’s box has been opened. I want to go back. I want to know more.
You might also like this post: A Self Guided Tour of Tuscany’s Etruscan Coast
Here’s what I’ve learned about Italy so far:
Italy is a contrast of old and young
I’ve been obsessed with Europe because of its beautiful historical sites. I love the medieval castles, the ancient ruins, and learning about civilizations that once existed long ago. Italy being the center of the Roman empire is a perfect place to see lots of amazing historical sites.
From walking around Florence to visiting all the touristy sites in Rome, it’s incredible to see first-hand the size and beauty of some of these structures, trying to imagine how it was all built, and marvel of what life might have been like back then.
It’s also strange.
Modern day cities are built around – and, sometimes, on top of – these historical sites. Surrounding the epic Pantheon are more modern style buildings filled with clothing shops, grocery stores, and cafes. Cars zip over the cobble stones and people hurry by buildings and structures that existed before Christ. I couldn’t help but to wonder how different and similar ancient Rome and the Rome of today was.
Ancient civilizations are mind blowing
I didn’t even realize a world before the Romans existed. One of our tour guides in Rome shared with us that the ancient Romans looked to the ancient Egyptians for inspiration in many ways. To them, the Egyptian civilization was ancient and interesting – the way we feel about the Roman empire today. It made me appreciate and want to know more about ancient Egypt. It reminded me that there is so much history that I’m not aware of.
On another occasion during our time in Tuscany, our host Chicca took us on a day trip to a medieval castle town that sat on the hill on the coast. We went to a museum that showcased artifacts from a civilization that existed before the Romans established themselves.
What was life like before the Roman empire even existed? Google the “Etruscans” — a civilization that can be dated back to 768 BC and was conquered by the Romans in 264 BC. It made me wonder: what does it mean to be Italian? Where do Italian people really come from?
Italy as we know it is younger than the U.S.
During her cooking classes, Chicca likes to share stories and facts that her guests might not have known about Italy. The one thing that I was very unaware of was how young the unified republic of Italy was.
Did you know that Italy has only been a unified country since 1861? In other words, the establishment of the United State of America is technically older than unified Italy. This is important because – though I like to think of Italy being a unified country with a unified culture – it’s actually extremely diverse.
Italy is incredibly diverse
Similar to how we know Texas to be different from New York, and Alabama to be different from Hawaii, Italy also has its own states with their own geographical highlights, differences in food, accents, culture etc. It means that though we spent some time in Tuscany, we have no idea what it’s like in Sicily, Napoli, or the island of Sardinia. Though there would be some things that these regions have in common, they are also very different.
In the small town of Castagneto Carducci, where we stayed for most of our time in Italy, we were blown away by the diverse landscapes we came across. In just this one small area of Tuscany, you have the beautiful Italian coast, farmlands of grapes and olives, and then the beautiful rolling hills. It’s a perfect sample of how diverse the entire country of Italy is.
Being long and stretching out into the sea like a giant peninsula, Italy is made up of a huge mountain range, surrounded by the ocean on three different sides of the country (with vast coast lines), and features rolling hills and flats of the inland. It also has major islands all around its perimeter. In other words, there’s a lot of the country to explore.
A good example — Italian bread.
One of Chicca’s favorite lessons to share in her cooking classes is about the Tuscan bread. Why? Because it’s bland and saltless. There is, of course, a historical reason dating back to a war between two Italian nation states, which led to an embargo on salt imposed on Florence. They learned to eat bread without salt and still do today. So you can tell where you are in Italy, based on what the bread tastes like. That’s amazing.
Each region of Italy has their own history, climate, accent, culture, special regional products, and traditional dishes, and yet they all identify as Italian. You could easily spend a lifetime just trying to learn, understand, and eat through this entire country.
What I’ll Take Away From the Experience
Even though I can say that I’ve been to Italy now and have learned a lot of new things, I still don’t feel comfortable saying that I know a lot about this country. I want to go back and learn more!
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