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10 things you didn't know about Italy

Written by
Melania Siriu

A country of delicious delicacies and wondrous sights, Italy has a rich and varied history that has shaped it into the magnificent country it is today. Everyone knows it is the native birthplace of pizza and houses the world's oldest university, but not many people know that there is a 24 hour free wine fountain lurking. Luckily, we've found 10 things you didn't know about Italy to impress your friends with.

1. Fancy fireworks

Although China invented the first firework prototype of dried bamboo stalk somewhere around 200BC, it was actually the Italians who learned how to add colour to them much later in the 1830s. By adding metal salts to the gunpowder, they found that when the salts were exposed to a flame, each one produced a different colour. Sodium produces yellow, strontium produces red, and barium produces green. This discovery advanced the use of fireworks and enabled more elaborate and colourful displays across the world.

Fireworks

2. Big truffles

Italy is synonymous with exceptional food, so it only makes sense that this country should hold the world record for finding the largest white truffle. Located under in Umbria, central Italy, the mighty truffle weighed an impressive 1.89kg! A treasure worthy of auction, Sotheby’s sold the piece for $61,250 to a private Taiwanese buyer with proceeds going to charity. Next time you’re in Italy, keep an eye out!

3. Wine fountain

The fountain of dreams! In a small vineyard of Dora Sarchese in the region of Abruzzo lies a fountain that has red wine on tap 24 hours a day. Installed with the help of a local non-profit the fountain was built to promote tourism to the region and preserve the historical pilgrimage route of Cammino di San Tommaso (The Way of St. Thomas). This 196 mile route is said to be spiritual, made up of various churches and abbeys connecting the town of Ortona with St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. However, there is a caveat… those who are drunk or abuse the free fountain will be shown the water supply instead!

4. UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Although it’s small in size, Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage site out of any country – 53 to be precise. With such a historic stronghold from the Roman Empire and spectacular landscapes, it’s not too surprising. Visit ancient ruins, botanical gardens, eternal cities and towering mountains on a visit to this incredible country.

5. Protected cats

Pet lovers rejoice! Or more specifically, cat lovers. The Eternal City is not only teeming with historic artefacts, but also untouchable cats. Considered sentient beings, these feline friends are considered an asset to Rome (all 300,000!) and they are they only beings allowed to roam the ruins. Any person caught killing a cat can face a 10,000 Euro fine and up to 3 years in jail.

6. The telephone

Many assume it was Alexander Bell who was the inventor of the first telephone. However, it was an Italian scientist named Antonio Meucci who first came up with the concept of a talking telegraph in 1849. In 1871 he announced his invention with a patent caveat but by 1876 he couldn’t afford to renew it and ownership went to Alexander Bell instead. The Italian government have since recognised Meucci’s role in the development, honouring him with the title of ‘Official inventor of the telephone’.

7. A haunted island

Somewhere between Venice and Lido, in the Venetian Lagoon, sits the small and unassuming island of Poveglia. However, this pretty place has a dark history. From 1793 to 1814 it was used as a quarantine station (“lazaretto”) to house over 160,000 plague-infected people. Almost 100 years later in 1922, an asylum was built on the island but there are rumours the doctor employed to treat patients actually employed questionable methods such as botched lobotomies and torturous practices. The doctor ultimately fell to his death in 1968, at which time the hospital closed and the island was abandoned. Poveglia, understandably, is still closed to visitors today.

8. Global explorers

Christopher Colombus, or Cristoforo Colombo, was the Italian explorer who famously ‘discovered America’ on a voyage that took a wrong turn. However, his legacy as an Italian explorer is not the only one. The Venetian merchant Marco Polo went on a trip to China and stayed with the grandson of Genghis Khan; his travel stories were turned into a book which inspired other explorers such as Colombus. And the Americas were even named after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci after disputing Colombus’s claims that the Caribbean was part of Asia and was actually a whole new continent.

9. The Oscars

The prestigious Academy Awards, or more commonly known as the Oscars, have been around since 1929. In that time, Italy has been the country with the most winners for the category of ‘Best Foreign Language Film’. Nominated 31 times, achieved 14 times, and winner of the first movie to win the Best Foreign Language Film Award, La strada, Italy is streets ahead of most of its European counterparts.

10. Brutal football

A sport created in the Renaissance period and still played with much cultural pride by Italians in Florence today is calcio storico. This game closely resembles football, rugby and lacrosse, but much bloodier and brutal. During the 50 minutes, two teams of 27 men (yes, 54 altogether!) fight to get a goal in their opponents’ net and defend their own side, no matter what the physical cost. Broken bones and bloody bodies are not uncommon. Take a trip to Florence to witness this gory and magnificent spectacle!

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