Italy did not exist as a state until the country's unification in 1861. Due to this comparatively late unification, and the historical autonomy of the regions that comprise the Italian Peninsula, many traditions and customs that are now recognized as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin. Despite the political and social isolation of these regions, Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe remain immense. Italy's global and international impact in politics, history, art, culture, philosophy, literature, archaeology, science, opera, cuisine, architecture, fashion, education, religion, cinema, entertainment and music remain vast up to this day.
The Vatican City, in Rome, is the only nation in the world to still speak Latin, the world's smallest country, and the only country within a city. Elements which are famous of the Italian culture are its opera and music, its iconic gastronomy and food, which is commonly regarded amongst the most popular in the world, its cinema, its collections of priceless works of art and its fashion. Italy, over the centuries, has given birth to a great number of polymaths, geniuses and notable people, such as Julius Caesar, Petrarch, Dante, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Galileo Galilei, Rossini, Vivaldi, Alessandro Volta, Verdi, Puccini, Guglielmo Marconi, Maria Montessori, Enrico Fermi, Federico Fellini, Guccio Gucci, Gianni Versace, Giorgio Armani, and Pavarotti to name a few.
Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 44 to date. From the precepts of the Roman Catholic Church, the spirit of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, are events which greatly shaped Italy's architecture, culture and art. The type of government is a republic. Italy also has the world's 8th highest quality of life index, 2nd best healthcare system and 19th highest life expectancy.
Italian holidays, festivals, and feast days reflect Italian culture, history, and religious practices. Some Italian holidays are similar to those celebrated throughout many other parts of the world, while others are unique to Italy. January 1, for example, is Capodanno (New Year's Day), while April 25 is the Festa della Liberazione (Liberation Day), an annual national holiday commemorating the 1945 liberation ending World War II in Italy.
Other Italian holidays include November 1, Ognissanti (All Saints Day), a religious holiday during which Italians typically bring flowers to the graves of their deceased relatives, and Pasquetta (Easter Monday), when traditionally, Italians fare una scampagnata (to go for an outing) in the countryside and have a picnic to mark the beginning of springtime.
In addition to national holidays (when government offices and most businesses and retail shops are closed), many Italian towns and villages celebrate the feast day of their santo patrono (patron saint), which differs from place to place.
Italian cuisine as a national cuisine known today has evolved through centuries of social and political changes, with its roots traced back to 4th century BC.
Ingredients and dishes vary by region and there are many significant regional dishes that have become both national and regional. Many dishes that were once regional, however, have proliferated in different variations across the country in the present day. Cheese and wine are also a major part of the cuisine, playing different roles both regionally and nationally with their many variations. Coffee, and more specifically espresso, has become highly important to the cultural cuisine of Italy.
Italy's cuisine is widely regarded as amongst the most popular in the world, and is mainly made up of traditional dishes, meals and deserts, such as pasta, spaghetti, pizza, focaccia, bruschette, arancini, granita, lasagna, gelato, risotto, gnocchi, polenta, panettone, pandoro and zampone, to name a few. Basil, mozzarella, garlic, olive oil and tomatoes are examples of ingredients which are used frequently in Italian cuisine.
Also, Italy exports and produces the highest level of wine, exporting over 1,793 tonnes. Italy currently is responsible for producing approximately one-fifth of world wine production. Some parts of the country are home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world.
Italy has a long sporting tradition. In almost all sports, both individual and team, Italy has good representation and many successes. The most popular sport is Football. Basketball and Volleyball are the next most popular/played, with Italy having a rich tradition in both. Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and is currently the second most successful football team in the world, after Brazil, having won 4 FIFA World Cups. Italy has also got strong traditions in golf, tennis, athletics and rugby, and Italy also currently has a cricket team.
Italians are also avid players of basketball, volleyball, rugby, cycling, tennis, golf and numerous water and winter sports.