We all know that this year’s Edmonton Heritage Festival has migrated online. At World FM, we wanted to help raise excitement for the release of the online Heritage Festival experience on August 1st. Click HERE to check out the website and read more about what they have planned.


We want to take this week to introduce our audience to some of the different cultures we show on World FM. Today we’re going to learn about Italy from Francesco, host of Ciao Italia Sundays 8:45 – noon on 101.7 World FM.


Without further ado, here are words from Francesco: 



Let me introduce my home country – Italy. The intellectual and moral faculties of humankind have found a welcome home in Italy, one of the world’s most important centers of religion, visual arts, literature, music, philosophy, culinary arts, and sciences.


Facts and Statistics about Italy:


Location: Italy is located in southern Europe and comprises the long, boot-shaped Italian Peninsula, the southern side of Alps, the large plain of the Po Valley and some islands including Sicily and Sardinia.


Capital: Rome


Climate: With its hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, Italy experiences a mediterranean climate. Winters in Italy are cool and humid in the north and the mountainous zone. Sometimes cold air from northern Europe can spread south into Italy, bring snow to most mountains, while the coasts are kept warm by the high sea temperatures. Storms like the Mistral can bring snow and gales, sometimes even in southern districts of Italy.


Population: 60.36 million (2019)


Ethnic Make-up: Italian 92%, Romanian 1.8%, Maghrebi and Arabic 1.1%, Albanian 0.8%, Han Chinese 0.3%, Ukrainian 0.3%,


Religions: Christianity – 71.4%, Islam – 3.1%, Buddhism – 0.4%, Hinduism – 0.3%, Sikhism – 0.2%, Judaism – 0.1%


The Catholic Church is headquartered in the State of Vatican City, a nation-state located in the center of Rome. The pope is the head of Vatican City and the Bishop of Rome, highlighting the special relationship between the Catholic Church and the Holy See. Although Italy is a majority Christian country, irreligion in the form of atheism and agnosticism is not uncommon. Approximately 12% of the population identifies as irreligious, and this number increases annually. The Italian Constitution protects the freedom of religion, but it also contains a clause making blasphemy against any religion punishable by a fine. Though typically not enforced, an Italian photographer was sentenced in 2019 to pay a €4.000 fine for remarks made against the Catholic Church.


Language in Italy:

Italy has a multicultural population of over 60 million inhabitants, who speak a diverse range of languages from minority languages to regional dialects. The official language spoken in Italy, however, is Italian. This language is spoken by around 85 million people throughout the world and serves as one of the working languages of the Council of Europe. It is considered a Romance language and is more closely related to Latin than any other Romance language. Italian has its roots in the Tuscan dialect of the Italo-Dalmatian subgroup, which belongs to the Indo-European language family. This dialect was used by the upper class and by writers of the Florentine society during the 1100’s. In fact, the famous author Dante Alighieri is often given credit for standardizing the language.


Minority Languages of Italy:

Several minority languages are also spoken in Italy. Many of them have been classified as historical language minorities by the government of Italy, including French, Greek, German, Sardinian, Albanian, Occitan, Croatian, Slovene, Latin, Friulian, Catalan, and Franco-Provencal.


The Arts:

Italy was at the forefront of the artistic and intellectual developments of the Renaissance, which drew their impetus from a reappraisal of the Classical Greek and Roman world. Artists and scholars in Italy were especially well placed to take the lead in such a revival since they were surrounded by the material remains of antiquity.

Earlier Romanesque and Gothic forms in both art and architecture were supplanted by the Renaissance, which escalated with a flourish into the Baroque styles of the 16th century.


Visual arts

The great names in Italian art through the centuries make a long list that includes, among many others, Giotto, Donatello, Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Bernini, and Tiepolo. Broadly characterized by a warmth of color and light, Italian painting enjoyed pre-eminence in Europe for hundreds of years.



Italy is a world leader in high fashion, an industry centered in Milan, a haven for models, designers, and photographers who come to work in the houses of Versace, Gucci, Krizia, Ferragamo, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, and Armani, among many others. Italian design houses such as Modigliani and Alessi have also been strongly influential.



The traditional image of old Italian towns situated around piazzas adorned with fountains remains valid in a country where ruins from Classical antiquity may stand alongside modern construction marvels. The Rationalist architecture movement of 1926 produced one of the outstanding Italian architect-engineers of the 20th century, Pier Luigi Nervi, an architect of the Turin exhibition complex and the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Marcello Piacentini was responsible for much of the imposing architecture of the fascist period, such as the Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR) area in Rome. Innovative architecture is represented in Milan’s Marchiondi Spagliardi Institute, by Vittoriano Viganò. Other architects of note include Renzo Piano, known for his international museums; Aldo Rossi, whose critical writings rivaled his built works; and Paolo Portoghesi, who created public buildings from curvilinear forms.





Dante Reading from the Divine Comedy

Dante Reading from the Divine Comedy, painting by Domenico di Michelino, 1465; in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence.

After the unification of Italy, writers began to explore subjects theretofore considered too lowly for literary consideration, such as poverty and living conditions in the Mezzogiorno. Writers such as Giovanni Verga invented a new vocabulary to give expression to them. Among women writers was a Sardinian, Grazia Deledda, who won the 1926 Nobel Prize for Literature. However, the most prominent Italian woman writer of the 20th century was Elsa Morante.

The themes of writers in the 20th century ranged widely. The flamboyant patriotism of Gabriele d’Annunzio in the early decades of the century gave way to the existentialist concerns of Deledda and Ugo Ojetti, who focused on local aspects of Italian life.



Italian music has been one of the supreme expressions of that art in Europe: the Gregorian chant, the innovation of modern musical notation in the 11th century, the troubadour song, the madrigal, and the work of Palestrina and Monteverdi all form part of Italy’s proud musical heritage, as do such composers as Vivaldi, Alessandro, and Domenico.



In the late 20th century, Italian cinema fell into recession. Nevertheless, Italy can still claim some major international successes, including Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987), Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso (1990), Gabriele Salvatores’s Mediterraneo (1991), and Michael Radford’s Il Postino (1994; The Postman). Silvio Soldini’s Pane e tulipani (2000; Bread and Tulips), Marco Tullio Giordana’s I cento passi (2000; The Hundred Steps) and La meglio gioventù (2003, The Best of Youth), as well as Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra (2008, Gomorrah) were well received critically. Other directors of note are Gianni Amelio and Roberto Benigni, who won the Academy Award for best actor for a film he directed, La vita è bella (1997; Life Is Beautiful), which also won for best foreign movie. Italian films are increasingly coproductions of cinema and television companies. The Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) and Fininvest are presently Italy’s largest film producers, accounting for more than half of the film output, which numbers several hundred films and television productions each year. Rome’s Cinecittà also sees many non-Italian productions each year, particularly of films treating historical themes; examples include Gangs of New York (directed by Martin Scorsese, 2002), The Passion of the Christ (directed by Mel Gibson, 2003), and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (directed by Wes Anderson, 2004). The state-owned Cinecittà was privatized in 2008, but it was returned to public hands in 2017.





No description of Italy would be complete without mentioning the wonderful food! Canoli, pizza, pasta, porchetta, prosciutto, mortadella, lasagna, foccaia, gelato… The list can go on forever. Italian food remains one of the most eaten foods around the world!


Courtesy of Artisti Pizzeria, right here in Edmonton.

And of course, after dinner, a nice espresso to complete your meal.



In Canada, many of the emigrated Italians brought their traditions with them for holidays, special occasions, and everyday life. Whenever visiting Italy, Ital-Canadians are always sure to bring back something from their hometown that they cannot get here. This could be cookies, cheese, cured meats, herbs and spices, peppers, and other such culinary delights.


Mostazzoli is Italian honey cookies that come in amazing shapes and sizes. There are most common in the southern region of Calabria.


Christmas in Canada

Christmas traditions vary amongst Ital-Canadians as well. The most common Italian tradition is to not eat meat on Christmas Eve. Therefore, a typical Italian Christmas Eve dinner will consist mostly of fish dishes. Baccala (salt cod), calamari (squid), and gamberi (shrimp) are some of my favorites.

Another Christmas tradition, in my house, is the making of Zepoli. Zepoli, or Zipoli as we call them, are fried potato doughnuts. Good with icing sugar or salted meats, there is always a bowl full of them at Christmas diner!


Interesting history facts about Italy

  1. Rome is over 2,000 years old

Rome was founded in 753 BC. The Roman Empire, named after the city where it began started in 27 BC, and ruled over much of Europe and parts of North Africa until 395 AD. After this Italy was divided into many separate states.

  1. Italy is one of Western Europe’s youngest countries

Italy has only been a country since 1861 when the separate nation-states unified together as the Kingdom of Italy.

  1. Italy’s last king ruled for just 36 days

Italy had a royal family until 1946 when citizens voted to abolish the idea of a ruling monarchy in favor of a republic in the wake of the Second World War. King Umberto II ruled from 9 May 1946 to 12 June 1946.

  1. The country was under a dictatorship for 20 years

The fascist dictator Benito Mussolini ruled over Italy from 1925 until 1945. Before assuming control of the country he served as prime minister for three years, from 1922. Known as Il Duce (which means the leader), Mussolini started out as a radical socialist but aligned himself with Adolf Hitler in the lead up to World War II. He was killed in 1945 by partisan troops.

  1. Italy’s national day is called the Festa della Repubblica

The founding of the republic is celebrated every year on the 2nd of June.

  1. The national flag is green, white and red

The colors of the Italian flag represent hope (green), faith (white) and charity (red). Another interesting fact: the flag was inspired by the French flag of similar design.

  1. Tourists throw €1,000,000 into the Trevi fountain each year

Roughly €3,000 of change is thrown in the Trevi Fountain every day – that’s a million pounds a year. It is then collected and donated to charity.

  1. 13 of Shakespeare’s 38 plays are set in Italy

Romeo and Juliet is set in the city of Verona (you can even visit “Juliet’s balcony” for yourself), while Julius Caesar takes place in Rome. Othello and the Merchant of Venice are set in Venice (no surprise there) while Much Ado About Nothing is based in the Sicilian city of Messina.

  1. The Adventures of Pinocchiowas first published in an Italian newspaper

The classic tale of a wooden toy who comes to life – and who likes to tell lies – was written in 1880 by Carlo Collodi. It was serialised in Gioniale per i Bambini, Italy’s first children’s newspaper.

  1. The national flower of Italy is the lily

Despite this, many people still consider the traditional symbolic flower of Italy to be the rose.

  1. The Sistine chapel welcomes over 20,000 visitors per day

Painted by Michelangelo in 1512, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is one of the most famous monuments in the world.

  1. Italy is home to Europe’s only three active volcanoes

On the island of Sicily, Mount Etna last erupted in 2018, but you can often see a white plume of steam rising from the top. It’s a surreal sight as you stroll along Catania’s main shopping street, the via Etnea. Mount Stromboli is currently active and located its own small island off the coast of Sicily. You can plan to visit the island, but be aware that you might have to change plans depending on the current level of activity. Vesuvius overlooks the southern city of Naples and hasn’t erupted since 1944.

  1. The Vatican City, in Rome, is the smallest country in the world

At just 100 acres, the Vatican City is roughly 1/8 the size of New York’s Central Park. That said, it’s packed with historic monuments like St Peter’s Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Raphael frescoes and more.

  1. Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world

62.1 million people visited Italy in 2018 – with many heading to tourist hotspots like Rome, Florence, and Pisa. Despite the millions of visitors, you can still find places not teeming with people, like Castelmezzano in Basilicata, or Camogli in Liguria.

  1. Italy has the oldest population in Europe

The median age of Italians in 2019 is 46.3 years. Italy is second only to Japan in terms of an ageing population (46.9 years), while Germany comes a close third

  1. Batteries were invented in Italy

Italian scientist  Alessandro Volta created the first battery in 1800. The volt – the unit of electrical power – is named after him.

  1. The first ever bank started in Italy

The Bank of San Giorgia in Genoa opened its doors in 1149.

  1. Christopher Columbus was Italian

Although known the world over for his voyages of discovery to the Americas under the Spanish flag, Christopher Columbus was actually Italian. The explorer was born in Genoa in 1451.

  1. Italians invented eyeglasses

Although the exact date is not certain, it’s thought the first pair of glasses with corrective lenses were made in the late 13th century.

  1. Pizza was invented in Naples

Mentions of the word pizza can be found all the way back to the 10th century AD, but pizza in its modern form – with a tomato base – was developed in Naples in the late 18th century.

  1. Italians ate pasta as far back as the 4th century BC

Wall paintings in a pre-Roman Italian tomb depict what many Italians believe is pasta-making equipment.

  1. Fourteen billion espressos are consumed in Italy each year

With many Italians drinking their daily coffee ration out in local cafés, being a barista is big business. Over 20,000 Italians work as baristas, while the annual coffee consumption per household is  37 kg.

  1. Italy is the world’s largest wine producer

In 2018 the country produced a staggering 54,800 hectolitres of wine, ahead of France at 49,000 hectolitres. The country is also one of the world’s largest exporters of wine, with the majority going to Germany, the US and the UK.

  1. It’s bad luck to place bread upside down on the table

Many Italians consider placing a loaf upside down to be bad luck, but the origins of this superstition have been lost. Some historians say that in the Middle Ages bread destined for the town executioner was placed this way, and it might be that the superstition started there.

  1. Italians eat their salad for dessert

While in many countries a plate of salad acts as an appetizer, in Italy it’s commonly eaten after the main course. This is because the roughage in salad is thought to aid digestion. It’s not really dessert though – in a traditional meal there are still two courses (plus coffee) to go – la fruta (fresh fruit) then dolce (dessert).


Head to heritagefest.ca between August 1st and 3rd to explore the virtual map and choose a pavilion to visit. Each country page is unique, and you’ll find performances, recipes, photos, history of the culture and their association, and more! Visit the Multicultural Market to shop for unique items submitted from pavilions. It is important to note that we as people have more in common across various ethnicities than differences. 


NEXT: Learn more about China!