At the beginning of the 20th century, less than 20 per cent of Italy's population spoke Italian. It was only with the unifying effect of cinema and television that Italian truly became the language of the country and the regional languages and dialects are fast disappearing. However, French is still widely spoken in the Northwest, German in central northern regions and Slovene in the Northeast.
In areas other than language, 130 years of unification have done little to erode the strong regional nature of the Italian people. This is great for the visitor as regional cuisine and customs have been largely preserved. Throughout the nation, you'll find that religion (mainly Catholicism) and football are of great cultural importance.
Food and Drink
Fresh and regional are the best words to sum up Italian cuisine. The cuisine in Venice, Genoa and Naples relies heavily on fish. Verona and Bologna enrich their food with the liberal use of butter and cream. Tuscany is the home of beef and the central regions of Abruzzo and Molise specialise in lamb. Rome is famous for pork and tripe. Both Sardinia and Piemonte's cuisine reflect their historical links with France, while the northern regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia show their close ties with Austria.
Italy as a nation didn't exist as a political entity until 1861. Until that time, it had been an endless patchwork of kingdoms, duchies, and republics ruled by a variety of nobles and feudal lords. The Greeks, the Normans, the Moors, the Spanish and the French have historically held footholds and enclaves within what is now modern Italy. The period of the Renaissance between the 15th and 17th centuries was undoubtedly Italy's golden age. Italy's then most powerful city-states, including Venice, Rome and Florence, were hotbeds of artistic creativity and now feature wonderfully preserved palaces and buildings from the period. The strongest influence on Italian history, however, occurred a long time before the Renaissance in the shape of the Romans. The original Roman Republic was first established in the 5th century BC in Rome and slowly expanded over the peninsula before turning its attention to Europe.