Italy is famous for its food, art, architecture and natural wonders — from stunning mountain ranges to fine beaches bordering azure waters. It’s also home to the legendary Colosseum, as well as a legacy of operatic and folk music that continues to thrive.

In the Middle Ages, competition between Italian city-states fueled Renaissance arts and philosophy. Then came the rise of a strong national political identity anchored in civic freedom and family values, including the notion of “bella figura” (“the beauty of one’s appearance”). The country has never stopped producing goods and ideas and has a well-earned reputation for high-end design.

It’s no surprise that so many people around the world want to drive Italian cars, wear Italian clothes and eat Italian pasta. Italy’s thriving economy also reflects the nation’s ability to market and promote its products internationally.

The Romans left behind an extraordinary cultural heritage, including grand imperial monuments such as the Colosseum, and exceptionally preserved ordinary buildings at Pompeii and other ancient towns and villages. Then, the Italian Renaissance reworked classical traditions, with architects and designers experimenting with new styles.

By the 17th century, Italian artists were attracting the interest of European royalty. Charles I of England (reigned 1625–49) collected extensively, bringing back a large number of works and assembling one of the finest collections of Italian Renaissance paintings in Europe. His successor George III reclaimed some of the collection and made further purchases.

From the mid-19th century, Italy maintained a presence on the international art scene with movements such as the Macchiaioli, Futurism and Metaphysical, and later with Novecento Italiano, Spatialism and Arte Povera. In modern times, a lack of civicism and a desire to make individual choices have left the country divided by political schisms and factionalism.

Italians are passionate about their culture. They’re particularly proud of their music, ranging from opera to a cappella singing, and they love to express themselves through fashion. Even their language has a sense of style, with dialects like Neapolitan that have been honed into an art form through generations of singers such as Enrico Caruso and Mario Lanza.

The country’s cuisine is also an important part of its identity, and its wines are cherished the world over for their elegance, balance and finesse. Sangiovese is the most widely grown grape in Italy and, as it ages, produces savory, leathery notes. Across the country’s varying terrain, local grape varieties produce wines that are unique to their regions, from the spiciness of Abruzzo in the north to the sultry aridity of Puglia, in the “heel” of the boot-shaped nation. The tannic, fruity Aglianicos of Basilicata and Campania and the deep, spicy, tannic Gaglioppos of Calabria are among them.

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