Italian Heritage

Italy has only existed as a unified entity for about 140 years. Before 1870, what we know as Italy was a group of separate republics, kingdoms and colonies which at various times had varying allegiances and although many were long established, others changed hands and were absorbed by neighbouring countries or by invaders.

In Europe, the only long established nations were Austria, Denmark, England and Scotland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Turkey. A few countries had a lesser but still several hundred years of unity such as France, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland. A few had existed as groups of independent small states until they unified from about the 19th century, such as Italy, Germany and Yugoslavia.

So what today we would call the "Italian Language", "Italian Culture", "Italian Nationality", etc. did not exist before the 1800s and the languages, places, people, history, heritage and culture would not have been "Italian" but would have been Florentine, Genoese, Holy Roman Empire, Lombardy, Neapolitan, Papal States, Sardinian, Savoy, Sicilian, Tuscan, Venetian and even Austrian, French or Spanish.

That means that all of the people of importance in history and everything that they did before the mid 1800s, whether it was art, literature, music, architecture, science, manufacture and everything else, was all identified with their own home countries, which we now collectively for the sake of simplicity and as a recognition of the current status quo, wrongly call Italian, even though it happened before unification.

"Italia" was a name first used by the Greeks, probably derived from Latin "Vitulus" and Oscan "Viteliu", meaning young cattle or calf because the tribes of southwest Italy used the bull or cattle as their symbol - an animal which was capable of fighting and goring a Roman wolf. The region called "Italia" by the Greeks was originally only what we now call Calabria, the toe of Italy. Later the Greeks included Lucania between Salerno and Taranto, still the fore part of the foot of Italy. It was not until Roman expansion when the term "Italia" gradually extended northwards to describe a larger geographic region, just as the Romans did for Britannia, Gallia, Belgica, Germania and Hispania.

The languages of Italy are very numerous. There are approximately 35 languages and dialects spoken in Italy. Most of them are Latin based. Many are difficult or impossible to understand to outsiders, including to other Italians. The present day Italian language is based on the standardised language used in Tuscany after the unification of Tuscany with Sardinia before the unification of Italy. Italian is considered to be located linguistically somewhere between the dialects of the North and the South of Italy.

Maps, images and photographs in our Photo Albums on this website show examples of many aspects of Italian history, geography and culture.

The attached link to Wikipedia shows the many languages spoken in Italy :