Friday, 24 April 2020 15:04 Written by
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Why is Italy so varied? Why do we have so many dialects, languages, customs? 

All in all, Italy from north to south, from Brenner to Pachino, is just slightly less than 1,200 km, 750 miles, as the crow flies of course.

Well, there’s the difference in the climate: continental in the north, with cold winters and humid summers, mediterranean in the south, with a milder temperature, and dry in summer. Geographically, we have the Alps and the Apennines, then a few, little plains: the Po plain, the plains North and south of Rome, Puglia.

But that's not the real reason. Italy is so varied, so multifaceted because it was born as a unitary state quite late, just 150 years ago, after centuries in which there were many small states; different pieces of a puzzle, and each piece has many layers, like a cake. Several peoples have come to occupy different parts of Italy: Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Germans, French and Spanish. Each of them left an imprint, in the language, in customs, even in the kitchen. Italy is, therefore, an overlap of peoples and languages. To understand it in full we need a map, and here it is, so let's take a look for a moment.

Let’s start with the North-West.

Piemonte (Piedmont): “Piè monte”, i.e. at the foot of the mountains, that’s quite obvious. Here we had the Gauls, the Romans (Augusta Taurinorum, hence the name Torino, Turin), the Longobards, then the German Roman Empire, and finally the Duchy of Savoia in the 14th and 15th century. The Savoias were very famous across Europe as mercenaries; from here, the so-called Kingdom of Sardinia, the unification of Italy started, absorbing the rest of the country (we’ll talk about it some time).

Lombardia (Lombardy): first the Gauls, then the Romans conquered it in 222 B.C. (Mediolanum, now Milan). In the Middle Ages the Longobards (thus Lombardy), the Free Cities under the German Roman Empire, the Spaniards, the French, the Austrians. It is the most advanced area in the country because it was the region where the Industrial Revolution started in Italy, from early 1800, with the domination of the French (Napoleon won his first battle in Italy during the Italian Campaign in 1796) and then the Austrians.

Veneto: the “Veneti”, then the Romans, the Free Cities under the German Roman Empire, the Republic of Venice, the Austrians. There’s a great difference of language with other Regions, Veneti talk dialect instead of Italian. There’s a Venetian (meaning Veneto, not just Venice) identity, “i Veneti” are very proud of their history and customs. After the unification a lot of them emigrated because of hunger, then after the war, with the reconstruction, their intimate disposition to work and their entrepreneurship led many of them to create small companies and set up small factories, which year after year transformed into big, very profitable companies, so now Veneto is the region that economically drives Italy.

Trentino Alto Adige (or South Tyrol): the Romans, then the German Roman Empire, then it became a part of the Austrian Empire. Most people in Alto Adige (or South Tyrol, to mark its bond with the Austrian region of Tyrol) speak German, or better a German dialect, it is a piece of Austria in Italy. In 1918 Italy won the war and acquired Alto Adige. The Italian government wanted to “Italianize” it and Mussolini sent so many Italian settlers to Alto Adige that today 1/3 has an Italian heritage. But in the valleys, people speak German. That’s the area of the Dolomites, the most beautiful mountains of Europe and maybe the world

Emilia-Romagna: first the Etruscans, then the Romans. The Region developed along the Via Emilia, the road connecting Rome to Rimini, built by the Roman Consul Paolo Emilio Lepido in the 2nd century B.C. Emilia was the border region of Republican Italy, here is the Rubicon, the river that Caesar passed (do you remember “alea iacta est", the die is cast?), passing the Rubicon was like invading Italy, and you could not do with an army. After the Romans, there were Duchys and Signorie, with Austrian and French influences. They are renewed for their joy of life, they like food, motors (but they are also very inventive and entrepreneurial); maybe that’s because this is probably the most fertile and richest land in Italy, that’s the land of Prosciutto, Mortadella, Salame, Parmigiano, Aceto Balsamico and many others.

Toscana (Tuscany): the Etruscans, then the Romans, the Longobards, the Franks, the free Cities, the “Signorie”, and finally the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (with an Austrian Duke). We always say they're a little presumptuous: “Siamo Toscani”, we’re Tuscans. Perhaps the most famous region in Italy, so famous in the States and the UK that many Americans and British have their homes there, to the extent that Chianti has been renamed “Chiantishare”, as if it were an English county. So much to say, we’ll come back in one of the next videos.

Lazio and Umbria: the Romans obviously, then the State of the Church, the territory of the Roman Catholic Church, from the 8th century A.D. until 1870. It was never occupied by other European states, nobody dared to go against the Pope, not even Hitler did it. The Pope was the prime force against the unification, following the famous Roman motto: “divide et impera”, divide and rule

Italia del Sud e Sicilia (Southern Italy and Sicily): first the Greeks, then the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs (in Sicily), the Longobards, the Franks, the Normans (as we call the Vikings), then the German Roman Empire, and finally the “Kingdom of the Two Sicilies” under Spanish influence. Strange but true, at the times of Greeks and Romans it was the most advanced and richest part of the country, but when Northern Italy started to industrialise, the rulers of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies did not favour it, so the structure of the society remained unchanged: large estates owned by noble landowners with vast cultivated extensions and many areas left to the breeding of livestock. With the unification, the Piedmontese arrived. They introduced some changes, but the social structure did not change; the “Mafia” was born, as a secret society parallel to the State imposed by the Piedmontese. It’s the area from where most Italian emigrants come, they just escaped famine and exploitation.

So, we can say, unity in diversity. We feel strongly Italian, but at the same time anyone of us is strongly Lombard or Venetian, Tuscan or Sicilian. That’s the beauty of Italy, many countries in one, across 3,000 years. That’s why a full life is not enough to know it!

Read 1002 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2020 08:30
Marcello Cordovani

Marcello Cordovani is the founder and co-owner of VITORITALY. He is also the Tour Manager of the private tour of Italy

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