Italy is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, but surprisingly, there's still a lot that people don't know about it. These are our favourite surprising truths about the boot in the mediterranean.

1. All The Beauty In The World

We know Italy is full of aesthetic delights, but did you know that it has more masterpieces per square mile than any other country in the world?

It's not just something proud Italians say, it's actually true!

From the Michelangelo's David in Florence to the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City --- and a thousand ancient, quaint towns in between --- Italy is a repository of renown and genius.

2. Prepare To Gain A Few Pounds

One of the first things that comes to mind when you think of Italy is the food and wine, and that's for good reason.

Italians are firmly not on board the anti-wheat train, eating upwards of a half-pound of bread per day on average. Don't even get us started on pasta, of which the average Italian consumes roughly 70 pounds every year!

Of course, how good can food be unless it's washed down with a fine glass of wine? Italians definitely do their fair share of drinking. The statistics show that they consume over 45 bottles of wine per year per capita.

Yet another reason to feel no guilt when you buy a bottle of wine just for yourself. When in Rome...

Picture of downtown Florence

Florence, Italy: one of the most culturally significant cities on earth.

3. The Most UNESCO Sites In The World

Italy has a grand total of 50 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the highest number of any country on earth.

Some of the most noteworthy are the Castel del Monte, the frozen volcanic city of Pompei, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

With so many worthy attractions, visitors must structure their itineraries carefully to cover as much ground as possible. Even so, unless you have virtually unlimited time, you're going to miss something spectacular.

That being said, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is definitely a must-see, as engineers say it will only remain standing for another 200 years! Tick tock, people.

4. The Smallest Country In The World

Italy is far from the smallest country in the world. But within Rome rests the Vatican City, the seat of the Papacy, and a nation in its own right.

Not only is the Holy See the smallest independent country in the world, its also the only one that can actually lock up its own gates at night.

The city has its own defensive force, the Swiss Guard, who have guarded the Popes without interruption since 1506. The Vatican also boasts its own TV station, radio station, currency, phone company, and stamps.

Saint Peter's Square is the main entrance to the city, through which adoring crowds flock to hear the words of the Holy Father. Between the square's majestic fountains, its 140 statues of saints along the balustrade, and Michelangelo's Pieta, it's hard not to feel a little small yourself in the world's tiniest state.

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, seen from a distance.

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, seen from a distance.

5. A Culture That Appreciates Strolling

An evening stroll is nothing new, but the Italians might be the only culture that actually has a name for it: the passeggiata.

This popular, pre-dinner stroll is a huge part of Italian culture, and it's an opportunity that many use to leisurely take in the neighborhood, to see and be seen, to socialize.

With all the carbs you're likely to eat, burning some calories might not be the worst idea!

6. Where Would We Be Without Italian Cooks?

Italians are notoriously good cooks, and they claim that they're responsible for teaching the rest of Europe how to cook as well.

Not only did they introduce ice cream to the world, they also were proud early-adopters/creators of coffee, fruit pies, and --- they would argue --- the first French fries.

In 1474, Bartolomeo Sicci created the first Italian cookbook; Italian food remains one of the most popular styles of cuisine in the world.

It's hard to narrow down the list of great restaurants in Rome, let alone Italy, but Er Buchetto is one of the most raved-about, with its convenient location in the heart of Rome. Let's just say it's common for guests to order seconds immediately after finishing their first portion.

Fancy spaghetti dinner

Oh, are we making you hungry?

7. Looking For Spare Change?

Trevi Fountain is far from a secret, being the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous fountains in all of the world. But there is a little-known fact about it.

Nearly every day, passersby throw change into the water and make wishes. As you might expect, the money adds up quickly.

At the end of the year, the government collects roughly €3,000 worth of change from the Fountain and donates it all to charity.

So while your wish may or may not come true, you are giving to a good cause when you throw money in the fountain!

8. A Volcanic Hotbed

There are literally entire vacation tours dedicated to Italy's volcanic history, which is extensive and very much in evidence.

The story of Pompeii has grown in popularity in recent years, but it's less well-known that Italy still has three active volcanoes: Etna, Stromboli, and Vesuvius.

They're all immense spectacles that beg to be seen, but you don't have to worry about them too much: apart from the tempestuous Stromboli, located in the Aeolian Islands, the last eruption here was Vesuvius in 1944.

More worrying is the position of Naples, a city of a million people which sits in the caldera of an enormous supervolcano that makes Vesuvius look like a pimple. If the Naples volcano were ever to erupt, not just Italy but the entire world would be in peril.

Vesuvius seen across the Bay of Naples

Vesuvius seen across the Bay of Naples, which is itself the caldera of a much more dangerous supervolcano.

Interested in learning more about Italia? Check out 14 Things To Do In Italy That Most Tourists Miss Out On.
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