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10 facts you may not know about Italy

Ten Facts you may not know about Italy

The weather is getting nicer and nicer and when Summer is in the air we all feel like to read light and breezy things: here is an easy peasy piece about some (possibly) unknown facts about Italy and its people.


Art, Nature and Science

1. Italy has the highest number of beaches in Europe

You thought it was Spain? Or Greece? No. It’s us. Italy has a coastline of  7400 km (4600 miles). Sandy or rocky, on the Tyrrenian, Meditteranean or Adriatic sea, Italy’s beaches are a beauty to experience. Just a few weeks ago, 281 Italian beaches have been awarded Blue Flag for their beauty and cleanliness.

The Italian coast is so beautiful it has to be preserved and to do so the government has instituted 27 Marine Parks along the country’s coastline. Among the best known we certainly have the Area Marina Protetta delle Cinque Terre in Liguria, the Area Marina Protetta delle Isole Ciclopi, in Sicily and that of the Isole Tremiti in Puglia.


Italy’s facts: beaches are to die for. Tropea (Viaggio Routard/Flickr)


2. Italy is a highly biodiverse place

Biodiversity is a strength of the country: Italy is home to 58 thousand species of animals, the highest number on the continent. There are areas of Italy, such as the Alpi Marittime and Liguri or the Tyrrhenian islands, which are particularly known for their wealth of flora and fauna. If we consider marine biodiversity, Italy is home to virtually every species avalaible in the Mediterranean.

Italy is home to about one half of the flora and one third of the fauna of Europe. The largest number of species is found in the largest regions of the country, such as Piemonte, Toscana or Lazio, whereas the regions with the highest percentage of endemic species (that is, species which are present only and exclusively in a specific area) are Sicily and Sardinia. Italy is also rich in woods and forests: data collected by the Corpo Forestale dello Stato in 2005 shows that the country hosts almost 9 million hectares of forests, plus almost 2 million hectares of forest-like formations. This means, in lay terms, that about one third of the Italian territory is covered by forests and wooded areas.


The Apennine wolf, a species only found in Italy (wikimedia)


3. Italy has the highest number of UNESCO sites in the world

This may not come as a surprise, as Italy is known to be a true cradle of artistic and natural beauty, yet you may not be aware of the numbers: Italy tops the UNESCO World Heritage List with 50 sites, followed by China with 47 and Spain with 44. Among them the historical centre of Rome, Naples and Florence among others, the city of Pompeii, the archaeological sites of Aquileia, Cinque Terre, the Langhe and Roero area.

Beside natural and artistic sites, Italy also heavily contributes to the UNESCO Immaterial World Heritage List: part of it are the Mediterranean diet (which we share with other countries facing the Mediterranean sea), the Opera dei Pupi, an ancient sicilian puppet theatre, the Canto a Tenore, a traditional type of lyrical singing typical of Sardinia, Cremona’s violin building tradition, shoulder borne processional structures, much like the Gigli di Nolathe traditional vineyard cultivation methods of Pantelleria.


The Valle dei Templi of Agrigento is one of Italy’s UNESCO’s Heritage Sites (Ania Mendrek/flickr)

4. Prehistorical Italy is very special

The University of Trento and the University of Oxford have been conducting interesting research on Prehistory in Europe, whose results have been published recently by Nature. Italy has proven to be even more central to the understanding of human evolution on the European continent than it was believed. First of all, it seems that the Homo Sapiens appeared on the peninsula, hence in Europe, much earlier than thought, which means it did cohabit for a certain amount of time with its predecessor, the Man of Neanderthal. Proof of their cohabitation has been found especially in the South of Italy. This is extremely relevant, because it means the two species may have exchanged habits and genetic traits.


Society and popular culture

5. Italians don’t have babies

This is a pretty known fact about Italy. Natality has been diminishing for quite a while in the Bel Paese, but 2014 has reached a historical minimum. With only 509 thousand children born, 2014 has been the year with the least number of births since the unification of Italy, in 1861. For the first time, a sensible decrease in births has been registered among non nationals, too. According to ISTAT, the Italian Institute of Statistics, the level of births has been so low not to guarantee “an adequate generational turnover.” To be fair, mortality has also decreased in 2014, but when this is not accompanied with appropriate levels of natality, it only means one thing: that the country is getting old.

Want a comparison with the US? In Italy there are, on average, 34.13% fewer babies than in the United States.


Italian facts: less and less babies (ryan/flickr)

6. In Italy, unemployment is among the highest in Europe

Unfortunately so. Italy is among the countries where it is harder to get a job, regardless of your skills, education and experience. As of February 2015, unemployment level reached 12.5%, and it is particularly high among the youngest generations. To give you an idea, in Germany – notably the European country which has better reacted to the ongoing economic crisis – unemployment reaches only 4.8%. France lingers at 10%, whereas Spain and Greece have been facing a much more dramatic situation than Italy itself, with unemployment rates touching respectively  23.2% and over 25%.

And the US? Unemployment in the United States, as of January this year, is at 7.3%, which means that Italians are 69.86% more likely not to have a job than Americans.


7. Italy has a pretty good health system

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Italy has, in fact, the second best health system in the world after France. As in any country, there are plenty of things that could be better, but all in all we should not complain. Italy has a State health system and every citizen has the right to be taken care of for free (or with a minimal fee) as soon as s/he is born. Italy has also a well developed private healthcare system, which is well functioning and cheap when compared to its equivalent in other European countries such as the UK or Ireland. There are two factors, however, which have been negatively weighing on the way Italians perceive their healthcare system: the first is that it did get slower in the past 5 to 10 years, the second is that there is still a notable, sensible difference between the quality of healthcare provided in North and in the South of the country. As in many other aspects of Italy’s social life, here, too, a divide still truly and unfortunately exists.


8. Italians live longer 

Than most of the world’s citizens, at least. Italy sits comfortably on the number ten spot of the countries with the best life expectancy in the world, with a mean age of 82.12 years, notably more than France (81.6), Canada (81.76), Spain (81.57) and Germany (80.57). The US lay low, on 53rd position, with an average age of 78.88 years. Top of the list are the Principality of Monaco,with 89.52 years and Japan with 84.

Among the reasons behind such a positive life expectancy in the country are two factors already mentioned in this article: good healthcare and a good diet. The Mediterranean diet, which we mentioned when discussing the Italian UNESCO Heritage sites, is among the healthiest in the world, because it is rich in fresch vegetables, fruit, lean meats and fish, as well as providing most of its fats intake from extra virgin olive oil, one of the healthiest oils in the world.


Italian facts: we have a high mean age (Mario Mancuso/Flickr)


9. Italians end up in prison less than Americans

This may not necessarily be a good statistic, because it does not mean criminality is lower. Truth is a lot of lesser crime and misdemeanors have been depenalized in the country, in an attempt to decongest our prisons; what also happens pretty much endemically in Italy is that criminals get arrested and realised pretty quickly, often provoking public outrage if this happens in relation to well known cases.  Statistically, only 87 every 100 thousand people in Italy are in prison, opposed to the 698 over 100 thousand in the US, but is this really mirror to a better judicial system or lower crime rate? The jury is still out on this.


10. Italians have more free time than Americans

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Italians work an average of 1752 hours per year, against the 1788 hours of the Americans, which correspond to having about 2.05% of spare time more than our US counterparts. In any case, both Italy and US are among the countries where people works the most, possibly also because of the high percentage of self employed workers within their borders. The “least” working of all, according to Forbes, are the Dutch, with an average of 1351 hours worked per year. Number One working country in the world is (crazy!) South Korea with an average of 2357 hours worked per year, per person: do they ever sleep?!



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