Despite the country being only just over 150 years old (the kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861) some of the world’s most fascinating ancient sites are located here. The imposing Colosseum in Rome is considered one of the greatest achievements of Roman architecture and engineering. Built in the 1st century AD, it was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire seating 50,000 spectators watching gladiatorial battles, public executions and other forms of entertainment.
Pompeii was a city which was literally buried alive. When the nearby volcano Vesuvius erupted in 79AD the town was buried under 4 to 6 metres of volcanic ash, suffocating the unfortunate residents as they tried to escape. It lay undiscovered until 1748; a city frozen at the height of the Roman Empire. Excavations have unearthed temples, a marketplace, a main street, public baths, bars and brothels – a truly fascinating window into the past.
However it’s not just all just ancient ruins! Italy is a modern, vibrant country and nothing emphasises that more than the Italians’ love of fashion. Some of the world’s most famous fashion houses such as: Armani, Gucci, Versace, Fendi and Dolce & Gabbana are based in the northern city of Milan, and a shopping trip to the designer stores of Rome, Milan and Florence is a must for any visiting fashionista.
What’s more a shopping trip wouldn’t be complete without lunch! Italy boasts one of the greatest cuisines in the world and is home to pizza, pasta, and risotto. Supplement these excellent dishes with great coffee (think cappuccino, latte, Americano), wonderful ice cream (or gelato) and ‘al fresco’ dining, which equals a recipe for culinary heaven.
Italy is also home to some of the world’s most magnificent art treasures. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is one of the world’s oldest museums and houses some of the world’s most famous paintings, including works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Giotto, Michelangelo and Titian. The roof of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican in Rome is adorned by what is largely considered Michelangelo’s finest work, the fresco of The Last Supper depicting Christ and the apostles.
Certain Italian cities can be regarded as artistic treasures in themselves. The historic centre of the city of Sienna in Tuscany has been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Its 12th century cathedral (or Duomo) is regarded as one of the finest examples of Italian Romano-Gothic architecture. Venice, a city built on 117 islands surrounded by 177 canals, is often thought of as one of the most romantic in the world. Transport within the city is mainly either by foot using the 400 bridges, or by the iconic gondola. Remarkably, Venice is Europe’s largest urban car-free area. However, the large crowds of tourists the city attracts has caused a unique problem – the large cruise ships that ply the Grand Canal send large tidal floods towards the city, causing it to slowly sink.
If you’re not an art or architecture buff and prefer to spend your holiday on the beach then head to one of the beautiful coasts. Popular destinations include the Italian Riviera near Genoa in the north and the Amalfi Coast (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) to the south of Naples.
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