Italy didn’t become an actual country until 1861. Before unification, Italy was a collection of city-states. It took a couple of wars and lots of political wrangling with the French, the Pope and the Austrian Empire to unify the country.
The Italian peninsula is still home to two independent city states: Vatican City and San Marino.
Florence, located in the Tuscany region, was one of the most powerful city-states. The region became powerful after the Medici family built the Medici Bank, which was the biggest bank in Europe in the 15th century. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his masterpiece, The Prince, during the Medici’s reign. The Medici family were also big art patrons. Over the years, the family commissioned artwork from Brunelleschi, Donatello and Michelangelo, and they served as patron to Leonardo da Vinci for almost a decade.
Italian wasn’t spoken universally across Italy. Each nation-state had its own dialect, and of course, none could agree on which should be the dominant language. Because Florence was so important commercially, that dialect seemed to prevail. It also helped that three of the most renowned poets were Florentine: Dante Alighiere, Petrarch and Boccaccio. Some believe that modern Italian is based on Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World was financed by Spain’s royalty, but he was Italian by birth.
Marco Polo did not discover spaghetti. While he may have discovered the Chinese eating some kind of noodle, spaghetti had already been well established in Italy before Polo’s journey to Asia in the 13th century.
Margherita pizza was named for a queen. It was invented by a baker in Naples in 1889 to celebrate a visit by King Umberto and Queen Margherita. He designed it to look like the Italian flag, using tomato sauce (red), mozzerella cheese (white) and basil (green).
Sardinia is known for having Europe’s best lobsters.
Automobile manufacturing is the number one manufacturing industry in Italy. Textiles is number two.
Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were fluent in Italian.