Italy is the European nation that can arguably claim to be the birthplace of Western culture through the Roman Empire and of Christianity with the Roman Catholic Church founded in Rome. Italian culture encompasses art and education, philosophy and science. Having fragmented into various city and regional states after the disintegration of the Roman Empire, today modern Italian culture is one of diverse traditions and influences.
The Catholic Church, with its own Vatican City state within Italy, is the major religion in the country and while separated from the state, the Church still enjoys major influence both politically and in the domestic lives of Italians, around 98% of whom are Catholic. Recent immigration from sub-Saharan Africa has begun to diversify the ethnic base in Italy.
While Italy was only finally united as a nation in 1861, elements of art and architecture are recognisably part of Italian culture – Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance, the cultural movement that changed the face of art, while Italian art in the shape of Caravaggio, da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli among many others is arguably the greatest ever. Architecture in the distinctively Italian style of Italianate, Palladianism and Renaissance has been successfully exported around the world and continues to influence designers today.
The right note
Music has played a crucial role in Italian culture for centuries. Instruments such as the piano and violin were invented here, while classic music forms such as opera, concerto and sonata were created by Italian composers. Opera remains one of the most popular forms of music and performance in Italy and opera houses such as La Scala in Milan are world famous with singers such as Pavarotti and Caruso revered as national heroes.
A worldwide export
Food is perhaps the most recognisable aspect of Italian culture with pasta and pizza exported successfully around the world. Football is not only the national sport but also the national obsession and Italy has been crowned world champions four times. Fashion and film are two other remarkable facets of Italy that are as important at home as they are abroad.