December 18, 2023 | Miles Brucker

Scandalous Facts About Italian History

"In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had battle, terror, manslaughter and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace - and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock". —Graham Greene

"In Italy, on the breaking up of the Roman Empire, society might be said to be resolved into its original elements, into hostile atoms, whose only movement was that of mutual repulsion". —Edward Everett

Italy. The land of culture, food, passion, and song. One of the most beautiful places on earth, the country has a long and storied history that one can feel walking through its streets, parks, and museums. From the booze to court intrigue, the Medici to the Roman Catholic church, there are a lot of interesting facts about Italy to explore and learn in order to impress your super proud Italian friends with next time you see them.

52. Cash Money Kids

The deeds happens everywhere, and often it comes from unexpected sources. When there was a rise in the misconduct rate in Milan during 2010,oficers found that it was due to gypsies. After setting up an investigation, many children were found to be involved. It proved to be highly lucrative as well, with some of these kids raking in up to $20,000 a month.

italian history

51. Embarrassing Art

The people of ancient Pompeii loved their sensual art. That’s no secret now, but when King Francis I of Naples first came across the explicit and sensual art of Pompeii at the National Museum in 1819, he decided to lock much of it away. Only people who were deemed to have respectable morals were allowed to see the work, and even to this day, minors must be accompanied by an adult when visiting the exhibition.

Italian History FactsShutterstock

50. Phallic Protection

In Pompeii, the phallus was a common deity and was considered to be a protective icon against the evil eye, which is a curse cast by a malevolent glare onto unsuspecting people.

Pompeii factsPixabay

49. Societal Priorities

The attitudes toward intercourse in Pompeii were very loose, unsurprisingly, and there were many brothels. When texts were excavated and translated from Pompeii, it was revealed that the price for visiting a adult place was often less than buying a loaf of bread.

Empress Messalina FactsShutterstock

48. Caesar and the Cats

Italy has a no-end law that protects homeless cats. This means that there are organizations that volunteer to corral the cats into shelters and sterilize them. The most famous of these no-end shelters is the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. Why so famous? Because it is located in the Largo di Torre Argentina, which is where Julius Caesar was executed  .

Italian History FactsWikimedia Commons

47. Fingers in Florence

Galileo was probably pretty good with his hands. So good that three of his fingers were removed from his remains almost 100 years after his passing. His middle finger is currently on display at the Museo Galileo in Florence,  because of course, you want to see Galileo’s fingers.

Galileo Galilei factsWikimedia Commons

46. House Arrest

It wasn’t until 1992 that the Catholic church issued a formal apology and said "my bad" for that time that they put Galileo under house arrest due to his scandalous argument that the Earth revolved around the sun.

Medici Dynasty factsWikipedia

45. Take-Out

The idea of fast food is an old one that dates back to ancient Rome, where the cities were full of take-out restaurants, which served food on open street counters. In fact, it is believed that people did not often cook at home in the Empire.

Italian History FactsWikimedia Commons

44. Tossing

In need of cash? Head on over to the Trevi Fountain of Rome and go for a dive. It is estimated that tourists toss in around 3,000 euros a day and 1.4 million euros every year into the fountain. Actually, don’t do that; it's forbidden. The money has been diverted for a good cause, however, as it helped subsidize a supermarket for those in need living in Rome. 

Renaissance FactsWikipedia

43. Assisted Self-immolation

If you were feeling like your time was up and you happened to be a citizen of Ancient Rome, you could apply for assisted self-immolation to the Senate. If approved, you would be provided with free hemlock to drink.

Eddie Fisher factsShutterstock

42. Heap of Trash

One of Rome’s most famous and historical hills isn’t an actual hill at all. Monte Testaccio, or Monte dei Cocci, which means “Mount of Shards,” is an artificial construction built after 250 years of terracotta olive oil jars being disposed of piled themselves into a massive hill. The construction was intentional, however, and over the years this hill has seen its fair share of history.

Italian History FactsFlickr, Alex

41. Organic Foundation

When Venice island was originally constructed hundreds of years ago, its foundation was built with tree trunks. This project was a success, as even today those very same tree trunks are what hold central Venice up.

Italian History FactsFlickr, Pedro Szekely

40. Sacred Questions

The Lapis Niger is one of the most ancient and sacred shrines in Italy, however, no one has any idea what it signifies. Actually, even the later Romans didn’t know, leaving the shrine in a cloud of sacred mystique for thousands of years. 

Italian History FactsFlickr, L. Allen Brewer

39. 40 Days and Nights

Quarantine is an omnipresent word today, but its origins come from the days of the Bubonic Plague in Venice. In order to control the spread of the disease, the city would force ships to anchor offshore for a full 40 days before they were allowed to unload. 40 is said as “quaranta" in Italian, hence “quarantine". 

Caravaggio FactsFlickr

38. Free Booze

A local winery in the famous booze region of Abruzzo in Italy has recently opened up a 24-hour drink fountain...for free! Well, so long as you’re not a drunkard.

Italian History FactsShutterstock

37. Kings of the Canals

Becoming a gondolier in Venice is a prestigious event. With only 400 licensed gondolas in the entire city, in order to be considered for the gig, one must go their intense exams and serious training. Even then, only a limited number of licenses are awarded each year.

Italian History FactsUnsplash

36. Paint It Black

If you are lucky enough to become a gondolier, then your gondola is required by law to be painted all black.

Italian History FactsPexels

35. Single at Home

The momma’s boy Italian man is not just a stereotype. If a male is single, they are known to stay at home until well into their 30s. This keeps Italian families close.

Italian History FactsShutterstock

34. Hidden Da Vinci

Hidden behind a wall in Florence's city hall likely lies a lost masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci. However, no one actually knows for sure if it is there or the state it is in, because no one wants to take the wall down; it also has a masterpiece fresco painted onto it, Giorgio Vasari's Battle of Marciano

Italian History FactsWikimedia Commons

33. Poor Pizza

Originally a type of flatbread, pizza didn’t become what it is today until tomatoes were brought back from the Americas. Originally thought to be poisonous, tomatoes were adopted as a staple in the poor neighborhoods of Naples, which led to the development of modern pizza. A boom happened when word spread about the great food and tourists fled to the ghettos of Naples to have a taste.

Horrible Bosses FactsPexels

32. Pizza Rules

The True Neapolitan Pizza Association was founded in 1984, and has strict rules on what is and is not an authentic Neapolitan pizza. To be considered true pizza, the dough must be hand-kneaded, spread no bigger than 35 centimeters in diameter or be thicker than a third of a centimeter in the middle, and it must be cooked in a domed, wooden oven.

Italian History FactsShutterstock

 31. Spreading Pizza Love

You love pizza. I love pizza. We all love pizza. But pizza wasn’t popular in the Western world until after WW2. When army who were stationed in Italy arrived back home, their love for pizza had to be satiated, which led to more pizzerias and the spread of pizza love. In the United States, everyone from private to future President Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived home a pizza fiend.

Italian History FactsPexels

30. French Connection

The Italian flag is similar to the French flag, and that's no an accident: the flag was originally inspired by the French one.

Pompeii facts

29. Color Shows

Modern rockets and fireworks come from China, however, if it wasn’t for Italy we wouldn’t enjoy fireworks the way we do today, as the Italians were the ones who added metallic powders in order to create colors in the fireworks.

Firecracker fireworks USA flag style rocketsnevodka, Shutterstock

28. Bucket Battles

To this day, there lies a bucket in Modena, Italy, that was stolen from Bologna in 1325 and promptly started the Battle of the Bucket. The large battle that decided the battle was the Battle of Zappolino, in which 2,000 men lost their lives...over a bucket. (Of course, it was all part of a larger, older rivalry...but it was still also about a bucket). 

 Italian History facts Wikipedia

27. Mafia Economy

The Mafia is no joke. Their network in Italy is so large, it's estimated that they make up 7% of the country’s entire GDP.

Teacher firedShutterstock

26. Fast Officers

There is no escaping the Italian traffic control. Not because they are that good, but because they sometimes drive in Lamborghini Gallardos. It’s best to abide by the traffic laws in Italy—though many would say that it seems there are no driving laws in Italy.

 Italian History facts Wikipedia

25. Forced Smile

Milan has an interesting law that sets up lofty expectations for their population. The law is that people must be always smiling. That’s right, if you’re in Milan, you better be smiling.

Italian History FactsShutterstock

 24. Don’t Mistake Your Sausage

If you make it to Italy and are ready to chow down on what you know as pepperoni, you’d better watch what you ask for, as the word “pepperoni” in Italian actually means bell peppers, not the delicious spicy sausage North Americans love on pizza.

Italian History FactsUnsplash

 23. Education Matters

The oldest University in the world still in operation is the University of Bologna in the city of, you guessed it, Bologna, Italy. The university was opened in 1088. Italy is also home to the largest university in Europe (the University of Rome), which has an incredible 150,000 students.

Italian History FactsFlickr, Doug Davey

 22. Towering Lake

Lake Reschensee is a beautiful sight to see, but it has an interesting wrinkle that makes it a fascinating piece of history. In the middle of the lake, there is the top of a tower protruding, which is the last visible sight of a now-submerged village that is not completely underwater.

Italian History FactsPixabay

 21. Sites of Culture

You know Italy is beautiful, even if you haven’t been there. So does UNESCO, who have awarded the country with the most world heritage sites (53) in the entire world.

Italian History FactsWikimedia Commons

20. Countries Inside Countries

Italy has two different countries inside of its borders: San Marino and Vatican City.

 Italian History facts Wikipedia

San Marino

19. Closed Borders

Vatican City has the privileged distinction of being the only country in the world that is permitted to lock its gates come nighttime.

Italian History FactsFlickr, Emma Gawen


18. Proud to Be Old

Not only is San Marino the oldest republic in the world, being founded in 301 AD, but it also has the oldest constitution, which was originally written in 1600. San Marino is actually a microstate, which is surrounded entirely by Italy. Though it has more vehicles than people, it has no national debt.

Italian History FactsWikimedia Commons

17. WhatsApp Break up

Getting divorced sucks, and there is no denying the role of text messages in the breakdown of modern relationships. About 50% of all divorce proceedings in Italy cite the app WhatsApp.

The Biggest Mistakes quizShutterstock

16. Underwater Jesus

Many countries have imitated it now, but the first Christ of the Abyss  (a submerged statue of Jesus) was placed by the Italians into the Mediterranean Sea. Its location was chosen because it was the spot where the first Italian SCUBA diver, Dario Gonzatti, passed.

Italian History FactsFlickr

15. Baby Help

In order to bring the country's birthrate up, both Italy and the Catholic church have offered rewards for families who bear more than a single child.

Graveyard shiftPexels

14. Stick to Your Roots

When McDonald’s opened its doors in Rome for the first time in 1986, protesters set up shop outside the chain and passed out spaghetti.

The Godfather FactsPixabay

13. Human Chess

The town of Marostica, Italy is home to a massive life-sized chess match. Held every two years, this chess match takes place in the town’s piazza in memory of a life-sized chess match that took place in 1454 when two men competed against each other in order to decide who would take the hand of a girl they both liked.  

Italian History FactsShutterstock

12. Tapping Resources

Most of Italy is mountainous or hilly, and the country is full of natural wonder. However, due to thousands of years of cultivation, empire, hunting, and industry, most of the country's native flora, fauna, and wildlife has completely disappeared.

Italian History FactsPxHere

11. Volcanic Land

Standing on a fault line, Italy has the most volcanoes in Europe, and three of them are still active. These volcanoes (Mounts Etna, Stromboli, and Vesuvius) have all erupted in the past 100 years.  

Pompeii factsNeedpix

10. Only Italian

In an attempt to create a new Italian Empire, dictator Benito Mussolini decided to rid foreign words from his country and changed words that were burrowed into new Italian words. He went as far as renaming cartoon characters, and Mickey Mouse became “Topolino".

Frozen II factsPikrepo

9. Football Ties

When you think of Italy, you think of soccer—er, football, which the Italians call “calcio". However, the sport was actually introduced to the country by none other than the British.

Conor McGregor factsGetty Images

8. Mike’s Colors

Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, or just Michelangelo, created some of the world’s finest masterpieces. For years, many thought that the master painted in dark shadowy tones, however, this was proved false when his Sistine Chapel fresco was restored and bright colors were revealed under the mask of smoke and dirt. This didn’t stop some art historians from claiming that he had actually painted shadows, and that those who restored the paintings ruined them.

Michelangelo factsGetty Images

7. Coffee Issues

Starbucks once respected Italy so much that it refused to open a shop in the country's borders. That was until now, as they have plans to open their first site in September 2018 in Milan. Needless to say, the locals are not too happy about it.

Drive-thru workersPexels

6. No Dying Allowed

If you need to be gone, just make sure you don’t do it in Falciano del Massico. The town’s cemetery is full, so they passed this law in order to control passing which is, of course, one of the only things we as humans can control.  

Italian History FactsShutterstock

5. Saved at the Hip

In 17th century Italy, after being convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to capital punishment, a man was released because the court felt that he could not be ended, as it would result in the passing of his brother. Why would this matter? Because they were conjoined twins. What's more, the deed was actually committed in response to someone making fun of his twin.

Queen Maria I of Portugal FactsShutterstock

4. Witches of Sardinia

Sardinia is home to local “witches” who are responsible for keeping tabs on the health of their natives. They are known for making potions for people, and they even have their own secretive language, which they pass on only to their daughters.

Charlemagne FactsShutterstock

3. Forking Around

Pasta wasn’t created in Italy. Instead, dried pasta was brought to the land by Arab merchants in the 13th century, was originally cooked with honey and sugar, and was eaten with the hands. Because spaghetti became so popular there, the Italians were the first to widely adopt the fork.

Healthy Eating FactsPxHere

2. Company the Pain Away

In the middle of the Black Plague the people of Florence would gorge themselves with company. Quite reasonably, if it was the end of the world, they thought they might at least have fun. 

Annals of History FactsShutterstock

1. Too Much Art

Florence is an incredible city blossoming with all of the different flavors of Renaissance art. However, this can sometimes cause some dizziness in a person if they are not prepared. This dizziness is not a joke, and this overwhelmed feeling has been given the name "Stendhal syndrome". The French author who gives the name to this syndrome felt it when he visited Florence. 

Italian History FactsShutterstock

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23


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