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Mid shot of the Colosseum in Rome

10 Facts About Italy You May Not Know

With its Mediterranean climate, world-famous cuisine, historic universities and no shortage of English-taught courses, it’s no wonder that almost 70,000 international students choose to study in Italy each year!

If you’re thinking of joining them, we’ve put together a list of ten lesser-known facts about Italy that you should know before packing your bags.

#1 The world’s oldest university is in Italy

The University of Bologna in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region isn’t just Italy’s top ranked institution, but also the world’s oldest university in continuous operation.

Its long history dates back to 1088, and it has since educated countless important figures including Bettisia Gozzadini, who was one of the first women in the world to earn a degree at a university in 1237, and later the first to lecture at one when she returned to teach law in 1239.

#2 The European Higher Education Area was founded there

The Bologna Declaration, which established the European Higher Education Area, was signed at the University of Bologna in 1999. The signatories agreed to adopt a common format for their country’s university qualifications, making it easier for students to study and work abroad! Today, the EHEA has 49 members.

#3 It has the most UNESCO world heritage sites in the world

Italy has 58 world heritage sites, more than any other country in the world. They include cultural monuments such as the Porticoes of Bologna and Andria’s Castel del Monte, and natural sites including Mount Edna and the Aeolian Mountains.

#4 There’s a free wine fountain

There may no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such thing as an unlimited supply of free red wine – that is if you happen to be near the Dora Sarchese winery in Italy’s Abruzzo region.

The fountain was originally built to quench the thirst of those taking the Cammino di San Tommaso pilgrimage – which stretches 196 miles from Rome to the relics of St. Thomas the Apostle in Ortona – but is open to any passer-by.

So, if you happen to be in the vicinity, make sure to bring your vessel of choice!

#5 The number 17 is unlucky

The Roman numeral for the number 17 is VIXI, an anagram of the Latin word vixi, which translates to “I have lived” and is often engraved on headstones. This led to the number being associated with death, meaning many Italian hotels do not have a room number 17 (some are also missing a 17th floor!).

#6 €3,000 is thrown in the Trevi Fountain each day

The Trevi Fountain is one of Rome’s most famous monuments, and a popular tradition of coin throwing means that around €3,000 is collected in the fountain every day. That’s almost equal to two years' worth of tuition fees at an Italian university!*

#7 You might encounter some very strange rules

Italy is home to some weird and wonderful laws, from a nationwide goldfish bowl ban to a moratorium on noisy footwear (flip flops were deemed the main offender) on the Island of Capri.

Dog-owners in Turin can also be fined for failing to walk their pets at least three times a day, and it’s illegal to build sandcastles on any beach in the city of Eraclea.

#8 It has a giant chess board

If you’ve ever felt the urge to re-enact that scene in Harry Potter with the life-sized chess game, you might want to pay the town of Marostica a visit. Locals gather every two years and don medieval costumes for a live chess game on a giant board painted on the town square.

#9 There’s a hidden passage out of the Vatican

The Passetto di Borgo is an 800-metre-long corridor connecting Vatican City with Rome’s Castel Sant'Angelo. At several times in history, it has been used to evacuate Popes whose lives were in danger, such as Pope Alexander, who used it to escape the invading army of Charles VIII in 1494.

Thankfully, there hasn’t been a papal emergency for quite some time, meaning the Passetto di Borgo is now open to the public for guided tours.

*We do not endorse this as a method of postgraduate funding. Luckily, there are plenty of other options!

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Last Updated: 22 November 2023