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Italy is the home of culture, some of soccer's finest teams, the Roman Catholic church and quality food and dishes. Quite simply, this is a place of such diversity that the only thing that will stop you spending the rest of your days here is an empty wallet. Museums display some of the most beautiful art works ever made; but the living, breathing Italy that operates outside museum doors has enough beauty to suffice the average visitor. Stroll down the streets of Rome, Florence, Naples or Venice, and you will be struck by the wealth of history and culture tied up in the cobbled streets, baroque styled buildings, or beautiful chapels.
Natural beauty abounds, too: gorgeous stretches of coastline; the Alps sealing off the northern border; and the people, of course. Best of all, Italy is home of pizza, pasta and cappuccino, so expect a culinary experience superior to any Pizza Hut meal you've ever had. Many have flocked to Tuscany and Umbria to find the real Italy. But much to be explored are the Le Marche and latterly the Abruzzo - where property prices are beginning to soar! Each region has its own particular choice of dishes
main article: History of Italy
The history of the Italian peninsula can be divided quite neatly in seven distinct periods, spanning almost three millennia of human civilisation.
The earliest evidence of human presence on the Italian peninsula dates back to 16,000 BC, although nothing much can be said of the period before the late Iron Age (approximately 800 BC) when early Greeks founded colonies on the southeast of the peninsula and Sicily. Etruscan presence in central Italy dates back to the same period, who were to rule these lands as a kingdom that prospered almost 700 years. The principal remains of Etruscan civilisation can still be visited near Cerveteri; much of the Greek remains can be seen in Campania and on Sicily.
The Roman period consists of three main eras. The era of (Etruscan) kings (753 BC - 509 BC), during this time Rome did not extended beyond present day Italy. During the Etruscan era there was very little Greek influence. The Roman Republic, which went from 509 BC to 31 BC, this was the time that the senate ruled Rome and it eventually became more and more corrupt. This lead to Julius Caesar's storming into Rome with his soldiers and making himself dictator. After the Senate organized an assassination which made Rome descend into chaos. Augustus Caesar came to power starting the Roman Empire, which went from 31 BC to 476 AD. With the rise of Christianity the empire changed greatly and started to deteriorate. The empire was split in 286 and at roughly the same time christianity was legalized.
In 476 AD due to great corruption and inability even to protect the city of Rome the western empire fell. Although most areas continued to keep Roman laws and legal systems and the legacy of the Catholic Church can be felt to this day. After 476 AD, the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, remained together until 1453 AD with its capital in current day Istanbul. Several times it tried to retake the western empire but was never successful because of cultural difference between Catholics and Orthodox beliefs, also the identity of tribes had grown so strong that rebuilding a larger Roman identity could not be done.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy existed of many smaller states and city states, and was invaded many times by foreign forces. Slowly out of this patchwork of states, some bigger more dominant states emerged in the late Middle Ages. The kingdom of Naples controlled the south, the Republic of Florence, the Republic of Siena and the Papal States the centre, the Genoese and the Milanese the north and west, and the Venetians the east. Sicily and Sardinia were controled by the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon.
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The Renaissance was an extremely important period in Italian history, and in European history, and brought along numerous political, philosophical, literary, cultural, social and religious reforms. The Renaissance was so called because it was a "rebirth" of many classical ideas that had long been buried in the chapters of classical Antiquity. During the Renaissance Florence became the most important city in the region, and many of the most famous artists, like Botticelli, Da Vinci and Michelangelo worked there. This all happened under the rule of the Medici family which was almighty for some centuries, and had family members elected as Pope. During the Renaissance some of the most famous pieces of arts were created, including the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci and the most important one: The paintings at the Sistine Chappel by Michelangelo.
From the late 15th century France and Spain, competed to conquer the several kingdoms. Spain succeeded in this and took firm control over the country. In the south this control was the thoughest, and is the cause for the economical division between the north and the south today. After the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, it was Austria which were the dominant force in Italy, after it acquired the State of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples.
The French revolution, and other revolutions taking place in Europe, sparked the idea that a united Italy could be possible on the peninsula. It took three wars to achieve an independent and unified Italy, but that goal was finally realised in 1870, when the French, which controlled the Papal States, abandoned their positions in Rome during the Franco-Prussian War. Soon after that Rome became the capital of the Kingdom of Italy. In the last decades of the 19th century Italy developed into a colonial power by adding the colonies of Somalia, Eritrea and later Libya and the Dodecanese (a group of what are now Greek Islands, but where conquered from Turkey). In all cases these colonies were taken by force.
Until 1915 Italy was neutral in World War I, but became involved with the signing of the treaty of London. As a result of that Italy received obtained just Bolzano-Bozen, Trento, Trieste and Istria after the war, as compensation. This however was less than what was promised when signing the treaty. In the years after the war the power struggle that took place in the whole of Europe between liberals, communists and fascists also reached Italy. With the liberals supporting the fascists to prevent a socialist state, Mussolini could rise to power in Italy, leading Italy into World War II on the side of Nazi-Germany. During the war Italy lost all of its colonies, was invaded in june 1943 and remained a battleground for the remaining years of the war. After the war, the Kingdom became a republic, and became a member of NATO, and a founding member of the E.E.C. (later the E.U.).
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Italy is located in Southern Europe and is sometimes also called the boot of Europe, which describes best the shape of the peninsula. It lies between latitudes 35° and 47° N, and longitudes 6° and 19° E. In the north of the peninsula you can find the the Alps. The Apennine mountains streche far to the south and form the backbone of the country. Of the total surface area of Italy, 75% is covered by hills and mountains. Italy's highest point is located on Mont Blanc (4,810 metres. In Italy there are a number of vulcano's of which Mount Vesuvius, Mount Etna, Vulcano and the Stromboli are active. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe and is most famous for the destruction of Pompeii and Herculanum. Several islands and hills have been created by volcanic activity, and there is still a large active caldera, the Campi Flegrei north-west of Naples. The Po, Italy's longest river (652 kilometres0), flows from the Alps on the western border with France and crosses the Padan plain on its way to the Adriatic Sea. The five largest lakes are Garda, Maggiore, Como, Trasimeno and Bolsena. The largest flat area is the Po valley in the north. Besides the peninsula the territory of Italy also comprises several islands, of which the islands of Sicily and Sardinia are the largests. Italy has international borders with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia in the north. Inside of Italy, it has borders with the two small states of San Marino and Vatican City.
Italy is divided into 20 regions, which fall into the following areas.
|Northern||Aosta Valley (Val d'Aosta), Piedmont (Piemonte), Lombardy (Lombardia), Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Liguria, Emilia-Romagna,|
|Central||Tuscany (Toscana), Umbria, Marche, Latium (Lazio), Abruzzo, Molise|
|Southern||Campania, Apulia (Puglia), Basilicata, Calabria, Sicily (Sicilia), Sardinia (Sardegna)|
Florence was the birth place of the renaissance and the home to some of the world's greatest minds and artists. Amazing churches with works of art designed by some of the most renowned artists in the world to museums that have paintings and sculptures that the entire world knows like The David. Any trip to Florence is not complete without wine, cheese or seeing the tombs of some of the world's most well known minds.
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Milan is located in the north of the country and is mainly known as a major international fashion city. Apart from this, the city has many cultural monuments to visit, like the Duomo, one of the largest Gothic churches in the world. The city has almost 4 million inhabitants, making it one of the largest cities in Italy. The canal district is one of the best places for outdoor eats and great Italian cuisine!
All roads lead to Rome and this city is a great place to visit. From amazing Roman ruins to Catholic churches that can shock and inspire any first time travellers to the veterans, this is a place where history and culture come alive in stunning ways. Rome is a city that can consume an entire vacation and where anyone can find something to love.
Canals, romance and a former world power, Venice is completely amazing. Built on a series of islands and reclaimed land Venice grew into a naval super power that controlled the Mediterranean world for several centuries. Today it is known for romance, amazing seafood, churches and being a truly unique city in the world. No trip to Venice is complete without a stroll in Saint Marks Square.
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Pompeii is a Roman city, near current day Naples, that was buried in ash by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The ash from this eruption blanketed the city and killing everyone that lived there. A nice side affect of the ash was that is preserved the city in perfect shape, like a snap shot taken in time. Although not the biggest or most important city in the Roman Empire it was large city and gives people a chance to see hoe regular and wealthy Romans lived their lives. This is a great sight and one of the best ruins in the world.
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The Colosseum is the largest Roman amphitheater every built. Its construction was completed in 80 AD and it has been attracting spectators ever since. At its heigh it could hold over fifty thousand blood thirsty people. Although the current day visitor just wants to marvel in its awe and wonder the average Roman citizen wanted to see battles to the death between gladiators. Today the Colosseum is one of the most popular sights in Rome.
To many the Roman Forum may just look like a huge field littered with rocks, but you have to remember that this once was the focal point of an empire that lasted a thousand years. The Forum was layed out along side the Via Sacra, which leads from the Colosseum to Capitol Hill. In the forum you will find the ruins of many temples and buildings, but also some buildings that survived.
Venice is a truly amazing city. Little buildings built on little islands that slowly grew together with narrow alleys and little canals linking them. One can spend days wandering the streets of Venice taking in all the beauty and glory. The Grand Canal of Venice runs through the city in a S-shape pattern and links the city. Like all major highways it is constantly busy with traffic, but unlike the highways of the modern world the Grand Canal is teaming with the hustle and bustle of thousands of boats. Standing on one of the few bridges that crosses the Grand Canal a traveller can enjoy the activity below.
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The UNESCO listed Aeolian Islands are a volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily, named after the demigod of the winds Aeolus. The locals residing on the islands are known as Aeolians. The Aeolian Islands are a popular tourist destination in the summer, and attract up to 200,000 visitors annually.
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Because the largest island is Lipari, the islands are sometimes referred to as the Lipari Islands or Lipari group. The other islands include Vulcano, Salina, Stromboli, Filicudi, Alicudi, Panarea and Basiluzzo.
Mount Vesuvius is a volcano that earned its place in the history books in 79 AD, when an eruption covered the town of Pompeii under a layer of lava. It also caused huge destruction to the town of Hercalaneum. The stratovolcano, considered one of the most dangerous in its class, could do a lot of harm to the city of Naples. The last eruption of the mountain was in 1944. Today, the volcano and its slopes are a national park. There are a number of paths leading up the mountain, and there is even parking space at 200 metres below the summit. The rest of the climb has to be done by foot.
Mount Etna is the largest of the three active volcanoes in Italy, and also one of the most active in the world. It is situated on the eastern part of the island of Sicily, near the city of Catania. The mountain is almost always in a state of eruption the last couple of years.
The best way to get onto the mountain is from the south, via a road that leads up to the mountain. At an altitude of 1900 metres, there is a parking lot. There used to be a cable-car going up the mountain, but this was destroyed and hasn't yet been rebuilt. From the parking lot most trails lead to the Valley of Oxes (Valle del Bove). The first of the four active craters is not that far away. There are buses going up the mountain until the parking lot, and there are a couple of tour agencies in Taormina offering tours to the mountain.
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Cinque Terre (literally meaning five lands) are 5 villages on the Italian Riviera. They are located in the Liguria region, west of the city of La Spezia. The five villages (in order, from north to south) are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
Italy is an excellent country for treks. The infrastructure is outstanding, and detailed maps are available for most regions. Trekking.it is the web portal for Italian trekking. Itineraries, accommodation, and general information. In Italian.
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The traditional pre-Lent festival of Carnevale takes place all over Italy on Shrove Tuesday in February, 40 days before the start of Easter week. Venice is famous for its masked parades and balls and, in Ivrea, the festival ends with an orange-throwing contest. Across the land Carnevale celebrations include eating, drinking, dancing, singing, street performances and loads of food and wine.
The Festa della Donna in March is the celebration of women’s day, taking place all over Italy with men bringing gifts of yellow mimosa flowers to their mothers, wives or other family members. Concerts and local events are held around town and most restaurants offer special Festa della Donna menus.
Also known as Fathers’ Day, this March festival celebrates St Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary. Bonfires, pageants depicting scenes from the saint’s life, special food and gifts from children to their dads are commonplace. The Spring Festival often coincides with Fathers’ Day.
Easter week in Italy falls either in late March or early April and is a combination of solemn processions, traditions and rituals followed by joyous celebration on Easter Sunday. With Rome at the heartland, the Pope gives his Easter Message to millions assembled in St Peter’s Square.
Saint Mark is Venice’s patron saint, who is celebrated in late April in St Mark’s Square and the magnificent basilica. Processions, fireworks, concerts, street entertainers and other events mark the day, and Venetians give a red rose to their lovers in true Italian fashion.
If Assisi is on the vacation agenda, the best time to arrive is in May for the spectacular Calendimaggio festival. It’s a costumed recreation of medieval and Renaissance Italian life, with two ancient city wards competing to offer the best concerts, shows, processions, archery and crossbow displays and singing. Glorious floral displays, flags, torches and candles adorn the streets.
This week-long cultural event takes place in Florence and is a program of music, art, wine and cuisine attracting well-known artists, as well as many thousands of visitors. Exhibitions, performances, pre-concert dinners and receptions, displays of Tuscan wines and food and even cooking demonstrations are found around town.
The birthday of Santa Rosalia is one of Sicily’s largest festivals, and takes place in July all over Palermo, the island’s capital. Music and feasts are highlights, along with a massive procession led by a 50 ft. float containing a band and an image of the saint.
The second week in November sees top-class horses and famous riders arrive in the ancient Italian city of Verona for its International Horse Show. The event opens with a grand parade through the city that features costumed riders and decorated animals.
December’s Christmas festivities begin late in November with Florence’s Noel Week aimed at kids, hosting a Nativity Village, games and Santa Claus. Parades, feasts, bonfires and music adorn Immaculate Conception day, while four other saint’s days are celebrated in December. Christmas Day events in Italy are family-oriented, and the 12th day of Christmas concludes with elaborate gift-giving. On December 31, the entire country celebrates the start of the New Year.
Italy stretches from the Alps to Africa and differences regarding the weather can be huge. Summers are generally warm everywhere, except high up in the mountains. Temperatures average 30 °C or more in large parts of the country from June to September with the highest temperatures recorded in the south, sometimes over 45 °C. Nights are warm, around or even above 20 °C, lower though in the northern parts. In the north, winters can be very cold and snowfall is common in the mountains. The central parts along the coast are mild this time of year, between 10 °C and 15 °C during the day and above 0 °C at night. In the south, days of over 20 °C are possible even in winter though nights can be chilly. Winters in the north can be bitterly cold, even during the day and especially high up in the mountains where metres of snow can fall and temperatures can drop below -20 °C.
One of the most convenient ways to get to Italy is by plane. The two airports with flights to and from North America and Asia are Rome Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO) in Rome and Malpensa International Airport (MXP) in Milan. These airports are served by almost all major international airlines and European airlines. Milan Linate Airport has flights to Milan as well and Orio al Serio Airport near Bergamo (45 kilometres from Milan) is one of the biggest budget airline airport in the country. Rome Ciampino Airport provides the same function for the capital.
The cities of Venice (Venice Marco Polo Airport and Venice Treviso Airport), Bologna (Bologna Airport), Verona, Turin (Turin Caselle Airport), Florence and Naples (Naples Airport) have good airports with flights to most major European and Italian cities. The national airline is Alitalia.
Meridiana is one of several lowcost airlines and has hubs in Florence and Verona its base at Venice Marco Polo Airport. It flies to major cities in Europe, like Paris, London and Amsterdam among other cities. Ryanair, as usual uses a couple out of the way airports, like Pisa Galileo Galilei Airport, Venice Treviso Airport, Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport and Olbia, although out of the way, connections in general are pretty good. Other budget airlines with flights to mainly European destinations are My Air and Volare Airlines.
The main islands of Sardinia and Sicily both have quite a few direct connections from places throughout Europe. One of the biggest is Catania-Fontanarossa Airport in the west of Sicily, although also Palermo Airport receives a significant number of flights from places throughout Europe. The largest one on Sardinia is the Cagliari-Elmas Airport, although Alghero Airport and Olbia-Costa Smeralda Airport have flights as well.
From France, Italy can be reached by the EC train via the coast (Nice - Ventimiglia - Genoa) or by TGV via the Fréjus tunnel (Chambéry - Bardonecchia - Turin). From Switzerland, there are frequent EC trains between Basel and Milan, calling at Chiasso. From Austria, there are nightly and daily trains between Vienna and Venice, calling at the border town of Villach. Between Italy and Slovenia, there is a connection in the north at Nova Gorica/Gorizia, and one in the south near Sežana, on the route of the Euronight train between Budapest and Venice.
International tickets can be booked through Trenitalia or one of the other national carriers involved, or via a travel agency. Note that the online payment facility of the Trenitalia website is known to cause frequent problems when used with non-Italian credit cards. For more information, see the international trains article.
From France, Italy can be reached by A5 via the Mont Blanc tunnel, by A32 via the Fréjus tunnel, and by A10 via Nice. From Switzerland, there is A9 via Chiasso. From Austria, the A22 enters Italy via Brennero, and A23 in the east near Tarvisio. From Slovenia, there are no highways into Italy, but there are several provincial routes that you can take.
Italy being a peninsula, there are many possible entry points for those wanting to arrive by water. For bookings on most ferries, you can use Ferriesonline or Viamare. Off-season, you can get much better deals just showing up at the harbour, although this typically requires some flexibility in your travel plans, as many routes don't have daily service.
Italy can be reached across the Adriatic from Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro. Across the Ionean Sea lie Greece, Albania and Malta (no direct connections with Turkey exist). Across the Mediterranean proper lie Spain, France, Tunisia and Morocco (no direct connections exist with Libya, Egypt and Algeria, nor with Israel, Lebanon and Syria).
Of course you can fly around Italy, but why should you? It is quite expensive, and most local airfields are difficult to reach without a car. Basically, flying is only a feasible means of transport if you want to get from northern Italy (Milan or further up north) to the region south of Naples, including Sicily. On all other itineraries, the train will be about as fast and much cheaper.
Short of driving a car, going by train is the best way to explore Italy. The Italian railroad network is amazingly widespread, and even remote areas in central and southern Italy have several connections daily to the outside world. On a downside, Italy's national railway carrier Ferrovie dello Stato (FS), is the country's finest example of mismanagement and bureaucracy in state-owned companies, and is excruciatingly slow and inefficient, especially to the 'western' eye. Still, service is cheap, and with a bit of patience and perseverance, gets you everywhere. Just allow for plenty (really, plenty: 4-6 hours is not exaggerated) of extra time when you need to make some kind of deadline.
FS operates the following train types on national connections:
A map of the Italian railroad network can be downloaded here. Booking and buying tickets can be done at the counter at any FS station, or at ticket machines on larger stations. Personnel operating the counters can be slow and, outside major tourist destinations, not proficient in English, but is usually friendly and patient. Best pay with cash, since foreign debit and credit cards are known to slow down the purchasing even further. Try to avoid the international counters at Roma Termini station; going to another station, for instance Roma Tiburtina, will save you time. Don't bother trying to book tickets over the internet: although the FS website offers that facility, it does not work with foreign accounts.
If you want to go to out-of-the-way places, exploring Italy by car is your best option. The roads are of good overall quality, ranging from outstanding in the north to average in central Italy, to acceptable in the south and on the islands (Sicily and Sardinia). In the deep south, expect to encounter a lot of potholes and very few gas stations off the highway (E45/A3 south of Salerno; E55/A14 south of Foggia). If you bring a vehicle running on LPG instead of petrol or diesel, consult your local AAA beforehand, since availability tends to be seasonal.
The Italians drive assertively, but nothing as crazy as countryside Portugal or South America. Their main issues appear to be the observance of speed limits and lending priority. You need to be over 18 and in the possession of an international driver's licence in order to operate a vehicle. The use of seatbelts is compulsory, as is using your headlights on all highways. Using a cell phone is forbidden while driving. The usual European traffic rules apply. Watch out for cyclists, who can use all roads except national highways. Needless to say, Italy has right-side driving.
Rentals are widely available, mostly at airports but also in downtown areas. In addition to a valid ID, international driver's license and a credit card, a collision damage waiver and theft protection are mandatory when renting a vehicle; check with your travel insurance in advance. Additional protection in case of accidents etc. can usually be purchased locally. Most agencies, including those that operate internationally, do not allow you to cross the border with your rental; drop-off in other cities is usually possible. Easyterra offers a decent comparison between companies, although booking directly is obviously cheaper. During European school holidays, best book in advance, especially for pick-up locations in the triangle Turin - Venice - Rome.
In the unlikely event you want to go where trains can't take you, there's always the option of going by bus. Buses in Italy roughly come in two types: suburban transportation under the supervision of local government, and regional transportation under supervision of regional and/or provincial authorities. The frequency of service can vary tremendously according to region and season, but you can generally count on each route being serviced 3 or 4 times a day. In addition, Eurolines operates a number of long-distance services in Italy.
Bus terminals tend to be located in the outskirts of large cities, or near train stations. The main bus terminal of Rome is Anagnina, which can be reached by subway.
Except when visiting Sicily, Sardinia or one of the smaller islands, taking a ferry is not a feasible way to save time or money. Ferries are an excellent option for international travel, though; more information is given above. The main Mediterranean ports in Italy are Civitavecchia near Rome, and Genoa; the main Adriatic ports are Ancona and Brindisi. Possible ferries to take include Moby Lines andGrimaldi Lines. There are also numerous ferries that ply the routes to smaller islands off the coast of mainland Italy, like Elba and Capri. It is beyond the scope of this article to mention all of them but a good idea of the possibilities can be found on this ferry website.
To and from Sicily
Mainland Italy and Sardinia
Neighbouring smaller islands
To and from Sardinia
See also: Schengen Visa
If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen, you might need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.
See also: Money Matters
Italy has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone. The image for the Italy coin is the Colosseum in Rome.
Work in Italy is not easy to find. Many young adults, especially women, are without a job. There's a huge underground black market though, where you'll find many people working not being book-regulated. Most "black" workers can be found in small business such as bars, pubs and small shops, or as construction workers. Although this kind of job is illegal (but legal consequences are most on the employer) they're probably the easier thing to find if you're looking for a temporary job.
For English-speakers looking to study in Italy, there are several options. In Rome, Duquesne University, John Cabot, Loyola University Chicago and Temple University maintain campuses. Right outside of Rome the University of Dallas maintains its own campus in Marino. St. John's University has a graduate program in Rome for International Relations and MBA. New York University has a study-abroad program in Florence available even to freshmen and maintains its own campus at Villa La Pietra.
See also: Italian Phrasebook
The official Italian language, although closer to its predecessor than any of its Romance relatives, was not codified until 1860 when Alessandro Manzoni wrote I promessi sposi, which is generally recognised as the birth of modern Italian. However, as is often the case with national languages, its use remained restricted to the area of politics and public government for most of its existence, while peple continued to use their local, provincial and regional dialects instead. Only in the last 40 years has standard Italian begun to be a significant influence in culture, news and literature.
Grammatically, Italian strongly resembles the Tuscan dialect, while phonetically, it is much closer to varieties spoken around Padova. Foreigners generally appreciate the clear sound and transparent grammar, although either may pose problems depending on one's own language background. Two areas of Italian syntax that are notorious for causing problems for non-native speakers are the correct inflection and use of the many verbal tenses (the regular verbal paradigm of Italian comprises well over a 100 forms per stem), and the use of impersonal pronouns. In pronunciation, many have trouble dealing with consonant gemination (Italian does not distinguish long and short vowels, but long and short consonants instead) and the various affricate sounds (ts, dz, tch, tsj dzj).
For a long time, English proficiency among Italians has been very poor. This has improved rapidly over the past 15 years, to the extent that at most tourist destinations, you can now get by in English. Outside touristy regions, esp. south of Naples, proficiency is much less, and some knowledge of Italian will be useful. Speakers of French and Spanish should have fewer problems being understood, given the amount of similarity between their languages and Italian. To the north, esp. in Trentino-Alto Adige, you can get by on German. In Istria, Slovene is widely spoken. Any attempt by foreigners to express themselves in Italian is much appreciated.
Italian language classes for foreign travellers are offered by universities and private institutes alike. Perugia is the city with the largest offer, and its institutes are generally considered the best in Italy. But the universities of Rome and Florence also offer special courses for foreigners.
Some would argue that the main reason to visit Italy is because of the amazing food! Fashion, famous sights, churches, art and beautiful people come second in many peoples perspective when it comes to the great food of Italy. Italy is known for having great food and food items such as pastas, cheeses, dried meats, breads, beef and sea food. Although the food changes from region to region all of it is amazing. Of course next to the dozens of pasta varietes and the best pizza in the world, famous dishes include risotto, polenta and arancini. And Italians adore their icecream (gelato) and sweet deserts like tiramisu.
And don't forget to drink the right wine for the right meal!
From five-star resorts to staying in converted medieval monastery to sleeping in a backpacker dorm: there is something for everyone in Italy. Although most people stay in pretty regular hotels or youth hostels there are plenty of interesting options scattered across the country. Even in major cities a traveller can still find good priced housing in many of a converted mansion, monastery, factory or garrison. In recent years the cost of lodging has gone up because of the strengthening of the euro.
The beverage most commonly associated with Italy is definitely coffee. If you love coffee, Italy is the place to be. You'll find good coffee almost everywhere, but follow the locals to the best joints. Expect to pay about €1 for an espresso, and around €1.40 for a cappuccino. Simply asking for a coffee will generally get you an espresso (especially if your barista is in a bad mood), so be specific. Also, if you ask for a latte as opposed to a caffe latte, expect a plain old glass of milk.
Wine is the drink of choice in Italy. From the north to the south of the peninsula there are some fantastic wineries to found. One of the best parts of travelling in Italy is enjoying the different local wines in different parts of the country that are impossible to find anywhere else in the world. Also local wine shops in some towns have amazing deals on wine that will blow your palate. It is far beyond the scope of this guide to minutely examine the different styles of wine in Italy, but here's a quick idea of some of the most commonly known varieties:
Often the most economical way to buy wine in restaurants is to order vino della casa (house wine), which can usually be ordered by the litre, half (mezza) or quarter (quatro) litre. It's not going to win any awards but if you are travelling on a budget, it can be a very good way to go.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Italy. It is recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November, but only in the north of the country.
See also: Travel Safety
In general, Italy is a safe countries for travellers and if you take the normal precaution you won't face too many problems in the country. Take care of yourself and your belongings, especially in bigger cities, markets and big transportation centers like railway stations and bus stations.
Famous for the Mafia, especially in the southern part of the country (think Naples and Sicily), you won't be bothered by them at all. They have other problems and things to worry about.
Some parts can be extremely hot in summer so drink plenty of fluids. Other parts get cold and snowy in winter, especially in the Alps and Dolomites in the north. And there is a chance of avalanches in the mountains from December up till May.
Another potential hazzard are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, especially in the central and southern part of the country. Again, chances that travellers are injured are slim.
Almost all towns and cities in Italy have internet cafes. A growing number of budget hostels and nicer hotels have free Wifi. By law all public-access internet points must keep records of web sites viewed by customers, and even the customer's ID: expect to be refused access if you don't provide identification. Hotels providing Internet access are not required to record IDs if the connection is provided in the guest's room, although if the connection is offered in the main public hall then IDs are required. Publicly available wireless access without user identification is illegal, so open Wi-Fi hotspots (like the ones you might expect to find in a mall or cafée) all have some form of (generally one-time) registration.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The main networks are TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile, part of Telecom Italia, formerly state controlled), Vodafone, Wind, and 3 (only UMTS cellphones). Best advice is to buy a prepaid SIM card (from € 10 upwards) and a cheap mobile phone (€ 19 upwards) to put it in (if you don't have a cellphone already that you can use). It will be much more practical. All land line numbers start with 0. Mobile numbers start with 3. Numbers starting with 89 are high-fee services. In case of emergency call the appropriate number from the list below. Such calls are usually free and calls to 112, 113 (police), 115 (fire), 118 (health) can be made from payphones for free without the need of inserting coins. 112 (standard emergency number in GSM specification) can be dialed in any case for free from any mobile phone.
Post Italiane is the national postal services of Italy and has quite an efficient network of postal offices and reliable postal services. Standard letters and postcards (up to 20 grams) cost €0.39 to send within Europe and the Mediterranean countries outside Europe and €0.41 to all other destinations throughout the country. Up to 50 grams, prices start at €0.52 for Europe, €0.62 for other areas. Packages start at €1.55 within Europe, and around €2.50 for other countries. Post office business hours in Italy are from 8:30am to 2:00pm from Monday to Friday, with closing times at Saturday and the last day of the month at 12 noon. In general, larger post offices in bigger cities and in tourist areas keep longer hours than those in local towns. Also note that business hours in the south might be different than the north, with longer hours at night, especially in summer! If you want to send packages you might try faster and more reliable/efficient private courier companies like TNT, UPS or DHL.
Ask Trekki a question about Italy
I love Italy and did many trips to various places in Umbria, Marche, Basilicata, Bologna, Venice, etc. More to come because I can't get enough of this wonderful country, its lovely people and the so delicious food. Ask me anything about religious and food festivals :-)
Thanks :-) Ingrid
Ask leics2 a question about Italy
I've made many visits to Italy (and will make more, always using public transport and focusing on historical and archaeological sites. I'm more than happy to help wherever I can.
Ask Bruco a question about Italy
4 trips to Italy , all to different regions, and tending where possible to be off the beaten track. A focus on regional foods and wines, and a desire to find whas around the next corner.
Ask Lynne Hamman a question about Italy
Because I can help
Ask Me-Heidi a question about Italy
lived there and speak some of the language
Use our map of places to stay in Italy to explore your accommodation options and to compare prices across the country at a glance. To narrow the results down by budget category, use the links below.
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