Italy is among the five most visited countries in the world and has enchanted people globally for centuries. Until the 1600s, the concept of tourism as it is today did not exist. It was primarily rich traders, bankers, royal spokespersons, diplomats, or nobles who traveled to Italy for business or pleasure. That changed in the 1700s when those of the general population who were wealthy began planning what came to be known as the “Grand Tour.” The Grand Tour was a trip through Europe, typically undertaken by young men, which occurred in the 17th century and went through to the mid-19th. Women over the age of 21 would occasionally travel as well, providing they were accompanied by a chaperone from their family.
By the mid-1700s, tourism for the purpose of pleasure increased in large measure with the discovery of the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The ruins at Pompeii were discovered late in the 16th century by the architect Domenico Fontana. Herculaneum was discovered in 1709, and systematic excavation began there in 1738. Excavations at Pompeii didn’t start until 1748, and it wasn’t until 1763 that an inscription (“Rei publicae Pompeianorum”) was found which identified the site. This of course caused great excitement across the continent with word spreading as well to the Americas.
Two famous visitors to the site were Goethe and Mozart. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer, artist, natural scientist, and politician. He loved Italy and spent a great deal of time there, carefully chronicling his journeys. He was drawn to Pompeii as a geologist and climbed Vesuvius several times. Mozart made the journey to Pompeii sometime between December 1769 and March 1771. He was in the country for musical performances during one of three “grand” tours he made through Italy.
William Shakespeare, a prolific English poet, playwright, and actor was never, as far as we know, in Italy but, like most foreign intellectuals, he was so fascinated by Italy that he set his finest works in this beautiful country.
The Italian language is famous in part since classic opera was born in Italy. The most legendary operas are in Italian, and the country was the birthplace of some of world’s greatest singers from Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, who was the first artist recorded on Victrola records, to many contemporary performers like Pavarotti, Bocelli, il Volo and il Divo.
Of course, when it comes to literature, Italy is a major contributor to both classic and more modern works. Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarca are among the most famous writers, but the penning’s of others like Machiavelli or contemporary writers like Luigi Pirandello or Umberto Eco. Dante Alighieri is considered the foremost Italian poet and thinker and is often called the “father of the Italian Language.”
Many American movies, seen all over the world, are filmed in Italy. The films have inspired a fascination for Italy, even for people who have never traveled there. The majority of movies set in Italy are filmed in beautiful cities of art like Rome or Venice or beautiful natural locales such as the Tuscany countryside around Florence. Moviegoers can also see the beautiful coastlines such as the Amalfi coast or the Naples coast, home to enchanting sites such as Capri and Sorrento. Several major films were set in Sicily.
One movie that captivated motion-picture fans was “Under the Tuscan Sun.” The protagonist Frances Mayes, a writer living in San Francisco, is depressed after her divorce. She is incredibly stressed and in a terrible romantic situation. Her friend gives her a ticket to Italy where her life changes when she buys and renovates a beautiful villa in the town of Cortona. The small paese saw a sizable increase in tourism, especially after Frances Mayes published her book in 1996.
Of course, no article about Italy and Italian pride would be complete without mention of Italian cuisine. It’s a favorite for most people around the world. A visit to Italy, of course, guarantees authentic delights of more than just your comfort foods of pizza and pasta. While different regions of Italy have their own specialties, no matter where one visits, they will not be disappointed.
One can easily enjoy the fresh markets in every region with new flavors, recipes (according to region), ingredients, cheese (such as pecorino or fossa cheese), bread (such as focaccia or coppia ferrarese), sauces (such as carbonara or pesto) and over 350 types of pasta. Wherever you visit, you will want to sample Italian gelato. This quick afternoon snack is a cold creamy treat that has become popular the world over.
In addition, one can explore the rich and bold flavors of Italian coffee culture, like an espresso after dinner.
Of course, no Italian meal is complete without a good house wine. With its many different grape varieties there is something for everyone. Regional wines are a favorite especially when perfectly paired with mouthwatering local dishes.
Admiration for Italy and its populace was reported on globally as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country and the entire globe. Italy was initially one of the hardest-hit western countries, and the whole world shared videos of Italians who, even in a difficult period, did not lose the desire to live, to smile as they sang on their balconies, clapped in support of medical workers and put up signs with the slogan “andrà tutto bene,” which translates to “everything will be fine.” One of the most beautiful and chilling sights for people across the world was when Andrea Bocelli stood alone in front of the Duomo di Milano in 2020 and sang Amazing Grace for millions of viewers worldwide.
As for Italian Americans, especially during the celebration of Italian Heritage Month, we must continue to learn about all the facets of this historic and mesmerizing country. Learning about our heritage is more than a local parade or festival, but a call to immerse oneself in all its intriguing facets. Even if you can’t travel to Italy take the time to learn some of the language, read books and articles, view artwork, and listen to music. All this will give you more than just a taste of the magic of Italy!