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Culture, Society and Religion

Italy - Culture, Society and Religion

Italian culture has been strongly influenced by several different regional customs, events and local centers of patronage. Some of the world’s most renowned architects, artists and scholars have helped shape the culture of this nation by contributing a rich legacy of paintings, literature, music and monuments.

Most historians agree that Italian culture flourished during the Renaissance period, when notable artists and scholars like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raphael, Galileo and Machiavelli become famous across the globe. Moreover, Italian explorers like Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, Giovanni Da Verrazzano and Amerigo Vespucci discovered new routes to the New World and the Far East. Since many countrymen immigrated to other places as part of the Italian diaspora, Italy has had a strong cultural influence around the globe.

It is difficult to classify Italy’s broad architectural style only by period. Regional influences have also had a huge impact on the eclectic and diverse range of architectural designs in Italy. Some of the most popular Italian monuments of Western architecture include the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Florence Cathedral, the Milan Cathedral and the Colosseum.

Italy is home to around 100,000 monuments of different kinds, which include museums, churches, historic houses, art galleries, palaces, statues, buildings, archaeological remains, villas and fountains. There are 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy, more than any other country across the world. The ruins of ancient civilizations are in evidence throughout Italy, none more compelling than those at Pompeii, overlooked by Mount Vesuvius, which famously erupted in 79 AD. Venice's Rialto Bridge and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence are also instantly recognizable as two of Italy's most historic landmarks.

Italy also boasts of a rich collection of art, literature and philosophy from various periods. The country is the birthplace of many of the world's greatest artists. Every year, thousands of art enthusiasts visit Florence to see Michelangelo's 'David' as well as original paintings by Botticelli, Leonardo, Raphael and countless other artists. Notable literary figures in Italy include Giacomo Leopardi, Giovanni Boccaccio, Torquato Tasso, Alessandro Manzoni, Petrarch and Ludovico Ariosto. Some of the more modern Italian literary figures are Giosue Carducci, Grazia Deledda, Luigi Pirandello, Salvatore Quasimodo, Eugenio Montale and Dario Fo.

Italian theater goes back all the way to the Roman tradition, which has a strong Greek influence. Improvisational theater forms like Commedia dell’arte, originated in the 16th century, gained popularity in the 18th century and are still performed around the country.

Music has played a very important part in the shaping of Italian culture. The piano and the violin as we know them today were invented in Italy. The roots of certain classical music forms too, like the Sonata, Symphony and Concerto, can be traced back to 18th and 17th century Italian music. Opera has its roots in the royal entertainments of 16th-century Italy, and Milan's Teatro alla Scala is possibly the world's most famous opera house. Some of the finest operatic tenors today include Italians like Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli.

When it comes to sports, most Italians are football fans. Squadra Azzura, the Italian National Football Team, is the world’s second most successful football team. The team has won 4 FIFA World Cups so far. Other team sports that are also popular in Italy include rugby, basketball and football. Individual sports like bicycle racing, Alpine skiing, tennis and motorsports are also given a lot of importance in this country. Italian men and women have been quite successful in the Olympic Games. The country ranks 6th in Olympic history, for the total number of medals won.

Italians are generally considered to be a friendly, warm and welcoming people. They are quite relaxed in their daily lives and tend to give an equal amount of importance to family and friends as compared to their work. To outsiders, Italians often seem very passionate, because of how expressive they are; public expressions of emotion, whether positive or negative, are quite common and are considered normal.

Italians are known to lead a fairly liberal lifestyle, as compared to the US and the rest of the world. Several practices that are frowned upon even in developed, Western countries are legal in Italy - for example, abortion, going topless on beaches, and nudity on TV. While same-sex marriage is not recognized in Italy, there has been a lot of discussion and debate about legalizing it. As with most other nations, euthanasia is against the law in Italy too.

Contrary to common belief, Italians are not very religious or traditional, even when compared to people in the UK or the US. Around 77% of the Italians follow Christianity. The Christian population can be further divided into Roman Catholic (88%), Protestants (1.3%), Jehovah’s Witnesses (1%) and Other Christians (4%). Almost 2% of the Italian population is Muslim and 15% is atheist, agnostic or irreligious. Other religious faiths followed by Italians include Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism and Sikhism. Though a majority of Italians are Roman Catholics, the Catholic Church is no longer the official state religion.

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