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20 Things You Didn’t Know About Italy

Did you know a Roman Emperor once waged war on the sea?

Italy has a long and rich history, dating back to the Romans and beyond. They’ve produced the likes of Da Vinci and Michelangelo and seen various leaders rise and fall. With so much history and culture, there are dozens of moments and facts bound to slip under the radar. Here are just twenty things that many people don’t know about Italy.

1. Visitors throw about 1.4 million euros, or about €3,000 a day, into the Trevi Fountain every year. That money is collected daily and donated to local charities. 

Trevi Fountain

2. There is a fountain that flows with free red wine 24 hours a day. The Fontana di Vino is the creation of the Dora Sarchese vineyard in the Abruzzo region of Italy. The structure was created as a way of preserving the pilgrimage route of Cammino di San Tommaso. 

3. The middle finger of Galileo, the astronomer who proclaimed the earth was round, is on display at the Museo Galileo in Florence. 

4. During Pompeii’s heyday, it was cheaper to visit a brothel than buy a loaf of bread.

5. Italy has a real-life sword in the stone. In the Cappella di San Galgano a Montesiepi, visitors will find a 12th-century sword embedded in a boulder. Legend says a former knight, Galgano Guidotti, was visited by the archangel Michael in a dream. The angel led him to the nearby hill of Monte Siepi. Michael instructed Galgano to give up his earthly goods and serve God. Galgano said it would be easier to stab his sword into stone. He then demonstrated, but his sword easily penetrated the rock. Upon awakening, Galgano went to Monte Siepi and stabbed at a boulder with his sword to see if the dream was real. His sword slide into the stone, where it remains today.  

The Sword in the Stone

6. There is a cat sanctuary located in the Roman ruins of Largo di Torre Argentina, where Julius Caesar was murdered.

7. The Roman Emperor Caligulas once declared war on the sea god, Neptune. Allegedly he didn’t want to return to Rome empty-handed after an unsuccessful campaign in Britain. He had his men stab the water with their swords and whip the incoming waves. Afterward, they gathered up seashells to bring back as their spoils of war. I’m sure the people of Rome were super excited to see seashells instead of gold. 

8. Another one of Caligulas’ finer moments was when he made his horse a senator.

9. The Italian alphabet doesn’t have the letters J, K, W, X, or Y.

10. There is a town in Italy that holds a life-sized chess game every two years. The event is in celebration of the first game in 1454. Two men were fighting over a woman and decided to play a game of human chess to determine who would marry her. 

11. In 1880, Carlo Collodi wrote the story of Pinocchio. It was for Italy’s first children’s newspaper Gioniale per i Bambini.

Le Avventure di Pinocchio

12. Italian scientist Alessandro Volta invented batteries in 1800. 

13. Pretzels were first created in the year 610 by an Italian monk who gave them to children who learned their prayers. They were called pretiola and were said to resemble folded arms across the chest. 

14. It is considered bad luck to place bread upside down. 

15. The first known Italian cookbook was written in 1474 by Bartolomeo Sicci.

16. Ballet originated in Italy in the 15th-century. Catherine de Medici introduced the art form to the French when she married King Henry II. She also brought the use of the fork to the French court. 

Ballerina

17. Vatican City is an independent state and is the only nation in the world that is allowed to lock its gates at night. 

18. When Italian citizens turn 18 years old, they can vote for the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house in parliament. They have to be 25 years old to vote for the Senate. 

19. The world’s oldest museum is located in Florence. It is called the Uffizi Gallery and was started by Cosimo I de Medici in 1560.

Uffizi Gallery

20. In 2007, A dog discovered a 3.3-pound truffle in Tuscany that sold for $333,000. 

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