Italian Culture Through Pictures: The Best of Italy
What do you know about Italian culture? In my last post of this type, Japanese Culture Through Pictures, I found that it seemed to get pretty popular, which I didn’t expect. I’m glad it got some attention because culture and anthropology are some of my favorite topics. So, I’ve decided to make the “Culture Through Pictures” posts part of a series, of which this is the second installment.
Italy has always fascinated me, maybe even more so than the average person because I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting. “All roads lead to Rome” as the old saying goes, although it’s not entirely just a saying. Italy, especially Rome, has a deep and very rich history, as most of us know, thanks to the ancient Romans. The Roman Empire was once one of the strongest and most influential powers in ancient Europe and Rome, at it’s peak, was the city with the highest population in such a small area, consisting of several million inhabitants. More than that, the Roman Empire itself consisted of much of Europe, the Middle East, and north Africa, which was and still is an impressive amount of conquered land.
However, Italy has obviously changed a lot since ancient times, and the country is full of fascinating and unique cultural heritage in art, food, architecture, religion, and fashion. Today, Italy has about 61 million inhabitants rather than being the center of the Roman Empire instead is the center of the Roman Catholic Church. The official language of Italy is, unsurprisingly, Italian. However, there are many dialects spoken throughout Italy and each are so specific to their regions that, for example, Italians in the north of the country may have difficulty understanding Italians from the south and vice versa.
Italy is well known for housing much of the old world’s most beautiful artwork and sculptures. There are some wonderful fine art museums in nearly every city in Italy, especially in Venice, Rome, Milan, Florence, and the Vatican City (although the Vatican City is technically its own country). More than museums, however, art can be seen virtually anywhere in Italy, often in churches and other public buildings (we certainly can’t forget Michelangelo’s painted ceilings in the Sistine Chapel!).
Music is also a important aspect to Italian culture. Italy is the birthplace of opera, a beautiful and distinct form of musical theater that was born in the late 16th century and persists to this day. Many renowned classical composers and musicians also hailed from Italy, including Giuseppe Verdi and Domenico Scarlatti. Moving out of the classical musical period and more into the present, Italy and its people, especially some of the country’s regions, are naturally quite musical. In the south, it might not be all that uncommon to hear a random individual singing in the distance.
Speaking about the regions of Italy, these regions are not the same as counties in our states, or even our states themselves. People in Italy tend to identify very strongly with their own region, whether it be Lombardy, Lazio, Campania, or Sicily. Each region can have vastly different cuisine, language, and cultural traditions from the next. Campanilismo is the word for the deep local patriotism that many Italians feel for their region. There is a great difference between the north and the south of the country, mainly in social distinction, as the north tends to be more modern, fast-paced, and individualistic while the south is more relaxed and family-oriented. The cities in the north also tend to be larger and wealthier than those in the south.
This however, is not to say that only Italians in the south care about family time. Italians throughout the country have deep family connections, and family in general is considered very important. This does not just mean parents and children. Aunts, uncles, and many cousins are also important. Reputation, or la bella figura (making a good impression) is also a significant factor among the Italian people. Italians have a certain dignity and honor and, no matter their social class, they often try to put their best foot forward first, acting with confidence, elegance, and social accommodation.
Celebrations are a big part of Italian culture and there are more celebrations in Italy than a foreigner could ever keep up with, especially since there may be more celebrations specific to each region of the country. Christmas and Easter are massive holidays full of parades and music, and, on a smaller scale, the Epiphany, Valentine’s Day, and the Festa della Republica. On these days, restaurants, shops, and museums will be closed.
Italian cuisine can vary so much from region to region that I could probably dedicate an entire post to Italian food, but I’ll put a brief overview here. Food in Italy isn’t just food. It ties into family and often extended family gatherings. Food is more of an experience and a chance to socialize and have a good time. Italian food is not just pizza and spaghetti, although these foods are popular in the center of the country. In the south, food may be spicier and bolder, full of peppers, tomatoes, artichokes, olive oil, capers, and ricotta cheese. In the north, potatoes, rice, and pork dominate as well as fish and sausages. One thing that is common to all of Italy is a love of wine (but that certainly doesn’t mean all the wine is the same, again, due to regional variation). Other types of liquor are also quite popular.