Australians have always been captivated by the fascinating history of Italy, a country that is well known for its ancient culture and customs as well as captivating arts. The Roman Catholic Church is based in Rome, the capital of the European Union Country. (Updated: August 2015)
Italy is a country that prides itself on its rich art and cultural heritage, and its abundance of natural beauty is seen in many of the quaint Italian villages, all of which make Italy a favoured holiday destination. This useful guide will help you to choose the best destination to visit on your trip to Italy.
Italy has 20 regions and the capital of this historically rich country, Rome, is situated in the Italian region of Lazio.
Capital City: Rome
Population: 60,605,000 (approx.)
EU Country code: IT
Latium, in the region of Lazio, is the cradle of Roman civilization and offers an array of relics from various historical periods and the region boasts four very ancient volcanic districts, where the craters of extinct volcanoes form the lakes of Bolsena, Vico, Bracciano, Albano and Nemi. In Rome, the National Museum is home to a staggering number of critical archaeological collections. In the heart of the capital city, visitors can marvel at the Roman Forum, or rather the Colosseum (as it is known around the world), and the majestic and awe-inspiring Cathedral of St. Peter. The region of Latium is flanked by endless rolling hills and stretches from the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The other regions (in no particular order) include:
Aosta Valley (Valle d'Aosta)
Aosta is the capital city of this district and is home to a special statute where the Italian and the French languages are officially recognized. It is one of the most mountainous regions of country and is completely enclosed by well known peaks of the Alps, the Monte Bianco, the Matterhorn, the Monte Rosa and the Gran Paradiso. Three of these peaks can be reached by cableway. Aosta Valley is where travellers will find the National Park of Gran Paradiso and during the winter months, the region’s many ski resorts attract tourists from around the world. The area is made up of several typical Italian villages where quaint local houses dot the spectacular landscape.
The region is largely rocky terrain that is graced by several lakes and valleys. The western part of Trentino attracts many tourists who holiday in the area to view the glaciers of Adamello-Presanella-Care Alto and Brenta. Besides its natural beauty, the district has been made popular by the diocesan museum of Trento which conserves the precious testimonies of the sacred art, wooden artefacts and Flemish tapestries, and the Earthen pyramids at Segonzano in the Val di Cembra.
Alto Adige is the land of castles, many of which have been renovated into hotels. The region is the most northern region of Italy, and is located in the very heart of the alpine circle, surrounded by valleys and mountains. The Altoatesine Alps are in Alto Adige and were born from an ancient sea and because of their unusual colouring they have fascinated both naturalists and poets alike for centuries. The independent province of Bolzano in Alto Adige is the province’s main city while other cities in the province include, Merano, Bressanone, Brunico and Vipiteno. The Archaelogical Museum in Bolzano is home to Otzi, a preserved mummy that was discovered in the alps.
A must see site in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region is Gian Grotto near Trieste, which is in the Carso area, as well as the Miramare Castle built by Maximilian of Austria. In Udine, the Civic Museum and the Galleries of History and Art hold remarkable collections of archaeology, sculpture, painting, ceramics, coins and jewellery. Trieste is home to many interesting museums and because of this, dozens of scholars and historians are often found marvelling at the wonders housed by the Civic Museum of the Sea and the Civic Museum of Risorgimento which offers insight into Trieste’s struggle for freedom.
Lombardy has earned the title of the cradle of the Romanesque architecture and each major city in Lombardy has exquisite examples of it. The Renaissance period also left behind many marvellous palaces and incredible churches. When visiting the region of Lombardy, visitors are urged to pay a visit to the peninsula of Sirmione on Lake Garda and the ‘Gardesana’ coast, the Lomellina and the Valtellina districts and another of Italy's famous lakes, Lake Como. The region’s capital is Milano and the other interesting cities forming part of Lombardia include Bergamo, Lecco, Sondrio, and Mantova. Museums are found across the entire region, each of which showcases remarkable eras in the Italian arts and culture.
The regional capital of the region of Piedmont is Turin and cities such as Asti, Alessandria, Cuneo, Novara, Vercelli, Biella and Verbania form part of the region. The Baroque style has influenced much of the appearance of most Piedmontese cities, clearly evident in Turin. Art galleries, like the one in Asti, showcase fifteenth-century and eighteenth/nineteenth century paintings, whilst Cuneo's Civic Museum has been reserved for local history and artistic tradition. Besides the cultural spoils of Piedmont, well known ski resorts Sestrière, Bardonecchia, Sansicario, and the Lakes Orta and Maggiore are located in this region.
Emilia-Romagna’s coastline is flat and sandy, comprising of the typical lagoon and marshy areas. The capital is Bologna, whilst some of the other larger cities forming parting of the region include Parma, Ferrara, Modena, Piacenza and Ravenna. The capital city houses the world’s oldest university, the University of Bologna founded in 1088, and it is one of the most developed cities in Italy. In Ravenna, a must see is the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, built in the fifth century A.D. and the tomb of the great poet Dante. Part of the Emilia Romagna territory is formed by the Apennines and the remaining section is a large plain that reaches to the Adriatic Sea.
The Marche district consists of hills and mountains which are craggy and rocky and the jagged outcrops form narrow valleys and gorges. Fano, a well known beach resort is situated 12 kilometres southeast of Pesaro. Fano dei Cesari is an annual event, held every July for one week. During this time, there is a wide selection of interesting cultural events and the weeklong festival ends with a parade in Roman costumes and chariot races. One of the main attractions in Fano is the Palazzo del Podestà or della Ragione (originally constructed in 1229 in Romanesque-Gothic style). The interiors are in Neoclassicist style, and it is home to many archaeological finds, like coins and medals.
This area of the country has natural landscapes of immense beauty and nature lovers, artists and poets are all drawn to Liguria. The region is separated in two sections: the Riviera di Ponente (which is on the west), Ventimiglia to Genoa, and the Riviera di Levante (in the east). Riviera di Levante is more commonly called ‘Le Cinque Terre’ (the Five Lands) and is a stunning example of pristine landscape. The ancient ruins of the Roman civilization are found in Ventimiglia and near Genoa, on the Italian Riviera, is Portofino, a quaint but trendy fishing village.
As with many of the Italian regions, Umbria is a region that is rich in both history and art and it is graced with vast natural beauty. The Falls of the Marmore, the highest in Italy, are a prime example of the immense beauty offered by this region. Perugia is the regional capital and other cities include Assisi, Gubbio, Orvieto, Todi, Spoleto and Terni. In Perugia, a must see is the Underground Perugia which is the remains of Rocca Paolina, a 16th-century fortress. The fortress was constructed on top of medieval streets that have been used as foundations. Few remaining medieval streets can be seen and were covered with brick ceilings when the fortress was built.
Abruzzo embraces the highest and biggest massifs of Central Italy and the landscapes are rugged with peaks often as high as 2,000 meters. L’Aquila is the regional capital, while other cities in the region are Pescara, Chieti and Teramo. Throughout the area, relics of the ancient Roman civilization have been discovered and these are on show at Minternum near L’Aquila. The National Park of Abruzzo ins found to the west of the region and the park houses a wide variety of animal species like the Marsican bear and the grey wolf. Not to be missed is a visit to Sulmona which offer an abundance of quaint shops where fine leather, jewellery and regional crafts can be purchased.
Toscana is the region in which one of the most well known Italian cities is found – Florence, the capital of Tuscany. Other renowned cities include Siena, Pisa, Arezzo, Lucca, Livorno, and Grosseto. More than being the centre of Italian art and culture, Tuscany has amazing nature reserves, such as the National Park of the Argentario and the Isola of Elba. In Siena one can expect to find the beautiful Piazza del Campo, while Pisa has the Campo dei Miracoli, and the infamous Leaning Tower. Pistoria is not as popular as many of the other towns or cities in the area, however it showcases a well-preserved medieval city – a must see for all history lovers or lovers of art and ancient architecture. The region gives visitors the chance to experience every age and style, from the Etruscan civilization (Fiesole, Chiusi, Volterra, Populonia) to Roman monuments and ruins; from the Romanesque architecture to the impressive Gothic cathedrals.
In Campobasso, the regional capital of Molise, visitors can visit the historic centre and the majestic battlemented castle of the Longobard period, whilst in Pastena, the monumental Sanctuary of the Addolorata of Castelpetroso can be found – which is surrounded by dense forest. Located in the southern regions of Molise are the country’s richest waterways, which cross the land from the Apennine watershed to the Adriatic Sea. The ancient churches of San Bartolomeo and San Giorgino can also be visited – a reminder of the rich heritage of the Italians.
Naples is the capital city of this area and Campania is where one finds the beautiful Amalfi coast, the Royal Palace of Caserta (which boasts enticing Italian gardens), as well as Herculaneum and Pompeii. The region overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea and gives rise to one of the finest and most celebrated coastlines in Italy. In terms of famous Italian arts, tourists are free to admire all-time pictorial masterpieces by Titian, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Caravaggio along with dozens of famous sculptures, tapestries and ceramics. Naples has 448 historical churches, which makes it one of the most Catholic cities in the world. The National Museum also in Naples is home to the world’s most important archaeological collections and is made up of statues by the great Greek masters Policleto, Lisippo and Prassitele, as well as mosaics and wall paintings from Pompeii, together with jewels, small bronzes, household goods and utensils.
Veneto is where the Venetian islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello can be found. It is an area which combines two varied and unusual aspects of the Italian environment - the lagoon zone (or Venice) and the awe-inspiring peaks of the Dolomites of Cadore. The city Venice is the capital city and the other major cities found in this region include Verona, Padua, Vicenza, Treviso, Rovigo, Belluno. Venice is a famous tourist destination and is fast becoming a major fashion and shopping centre in Italy, but is not yet quite as important as Milan, Florence or Rome. Venice is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, as the city is seen as the world's greatest and most beautiful city of art, and it averages 50,000 tourists per day.
The region of Basillcata is dry and arid. The popular sea resort of Maratea, which owing to its breathtakingly beautiful scenery and coastline, it has been called ‘the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian’. It is also the provincial capital. In Matera, visitors are able to view ‘Sassi’, which are regular houses and churches which have been dug into the ‘tufa’ crag (on the slopes of the dry mountain slopes). Santa Caterina is the smallest village of Maratea and is located on the hillside of Mount San Biagio.
In Bari, the region’s capital, tourists can pay a visit to the Palace of the University, which is an important Archaeological Museum and is the home to several important relics of the Neolithic and Bronze Age, funeral urns, ceramics and bronze from the necropolis. This region is the easternmost part of the peninsula and has a long coastline which overlooks the Ionian and the Adriatic Seas. Apulia or Puglia (the Italian name) is virtually all flatland and has wide arid expanses and terraces. In Bari there is a lot to see, especially in the ancient part of the city, known as Bari Vecchia by the locals. The city houses several important and majestic churches, including the Basilica of Saint Nicholas, which has an impressive and elaborate all-gold ceiling and a crypt containing medieval attractions. Alberobello is where one can see the typical ‘trulli’ houses.
Calabria’s coastlines are superb landscapes of wild and untouched beauty. Tourists flock to this region to visit the Sila district and its many lakes. While other attractions include, Villa San Giovanni (on the straits of Messina), Sibari, Crotone and the isle of Capo Rizzuto. In Cosenza and Reggio Calabria, two important cities in Calabria, the remains of the Roman Age, can still be seen, like the baths, theatres and bridges.
Sicilia is the biggest island in the Mediterranean and it is also the southernmost region of Italy. It is renowned for its blue skies and moderate winter climate, making it a favoured year-round destination, while Sicilia’s other claim to fame is Mount Etna - Europe's largest active volcano. The smaller islands that make up this region are Aeolian, Aegadean and Pelagian chains as well as Pantelleria, which is just 90 miles off the African coast.
Sicily offers something for everyone, from the white, sandy beaches, to a culmination of tempting tastes, along with medieval castles and the chance to view the remnants of many other nations who once occupied the now Italian islands, including the Spaniards, Greeks and Africans. Parco Acquatico Conte is a water world theme park in Sommatino and the Il Piccolo Teatro dei Pupi, also in Siracusa, is a show of medieval puppetry which takes place on most summer evenings. In Bagheria, near Palermo, one can find the Museo del Giocattolo Pietro Piraino which displays more than 700 different toys from the last four centuries.
Sardegna is the second biggest island in the Mediterranean and is made up of jagged mountain ranges, hills and narrow highlands. The coasts are mainly rocky but several fine sandy beaches are scattered in between the rocky bays and alcoves. Costa Smeralda and the island of the Maddalena (Bocche di Bonifacio) are the region’s biggest tourist attraction as are the islands of San Pietro and Sant'Antioco, near Cagliari. The archaeological excavations of Tharros and the cork-oak woods are found at the foot of the Gennargentu, which both offer appeal to visiting tourists.
Cagliari is the capital of Sardegna, with other cities such as Sassari, Nuoro, Oristano, Carbonia-Iglesias, Olbia-Tempio, Medio Campidano, and Ogliastra making up the region. The land surrounding Nuoro is wild and untouched and nature lovers find that this natural environment boasts untouched forests and indigenous wild life like wild boars, weasels, foxes and martens. Art and cultural lovers will find an abundance of museums and art galleries in several cities of Sardegna.
Now, over to you! Which region of Italy is your favourite? Please tell me in the comments below.
Tuscany - www.enit.it
Sicily - Wikipedia