The history and society of Italy

The history of Italy is extensive to say the least!  You’ll find a brief overview here so you’re armed with a bit of knowledge before you travel.

Etruscan Civilization: 750-500BC
Italy has arguably the most incredible history of any country in Europe, perhaps any country in the world.  There is evidence that there were people in parts of Italy around 200,000 years ago, but the first group of pre-Roman people that you’ll need to pay attention to are called the Etruscans. At the height of the Etruscan civilization (roughly 750-500 BC), their territory spread from present-day Tuscany - north almost to Venice and south into the Campania region. Not a lot is known about the Etruscans but you’ll see and hear about Etruscan ruins throughout central Italy.  You’ll also find ruins of the Greeks who also inhabited Italy before the Romans took over.

The Roman Empire
Roman invasion began a trend that would continue into neighbouring continents over the next 12 centuries, resulting in the Roman Empire.  This is why, even though you’ll marvel at the Colosseum in Rome, you don’t have to go to Italy to see Roman ruins.  It wasn’t until the 3rd century that the Roman Empire began to fall – leaving Italy as a series of city-states which no one empire could bring together.

The Renaissance
Following this dark period came the Renaissance, or ‘rebirth’.  Originating in Florence in the 13th century the Renaissance saw artists, scholars and philosophers return to classic ideas and ways of thinking from earlier centuries.  Names we all recognize from the Renaissance - like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo - came later, after the groundwork was laid by people like Dante Alighieri, but from the 13th through the 16th centuries, art and thinking flourished in a way it hadn’t for a very long time. The result is that many of the most famous works of Italian art and scholarship come from this period and are what hoards of visitors now flock to see.

Invasion and unification
Following the years of the Renaissance, a few foreign governments (like France and Spain) decided they wanted what Italy had - so began fighting over dominion of the country.  Because the country still existed as city-states at this time, and with no real leadership, there was no banding together to fight off the invaders.  Not at least, until the 1840’s when unification began and Italy became finally became a country in 1866.  Rome was joined with Italy in 1871 and became the capital.

The monarchy lasted until the Second World War, when Mussolini and his Fascist party involved Italy on the side of Germany. After the downfall of Mussolini and the end of the war, Italy was ready for a change, and in 1948 the Republic of Italy was established.

Society and culture
Italy is famous for its art, culture, food, wine, lifestyle, theater, music, design and of course style.  The arts especially have had influence on Western culture – music, poetry, painting, sculpture and architecture, with some of the names in these fields famous the world over.  Visitors line up to see the creations of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to name just two of many!

Family is very important to Italians – in the North the nuclear family lives together but in the South often the extended family resides together in one house.  The family is the center of the social structure and provides a stabilizing influence for its members.

Clothing in Italy is also very important and Italians will judge each other (and you!) on clothing, shoes and accessories often within seconds of meeting.  Clothing is often used to judge social status, education level and your family’s background.

In terms of religion, Italy is predominantly Christian and 88% belong to the Roman Catholic church.  Over 2,000 years of Christianity is embodied in the buildings, art, and history of the country, in fact every facet of life.  The Vatican city – home to the government of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope – is contained within the city of Rome, and with a population of 900 is also the world’s smallest sovereign state.

*The small print
We’ve tried to make this destination guide as accurate as possible but please double check the essentials like visas, health and safety, airport information etc with the relevant authorities before you travel.  STA Travel takes no responsibility for loss, injury or inconvenience caused as a result of this guide.  All prices listed are in the currency of the destination, unless otherwise stated.

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