Did You Know?

Italy is a new country.

Italy became a nation-state belatedly.  In 1861, the city-states of the peninsula, along with Sardinia and Sicily, were united under King Victor Emmanuel. The resultant era of parliamentary government ended in the early 1920s when Benito Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship. His disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy's defeat in World War II. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946 and economic revival followed.

Top Ten Coffee-drinking Countries

1. Finland

2. Sweden

3. Norway

4. Denmark

5. Netherlands

6. Austria

7. Switzerland

8. Germany

9. France

10. Italy

The Leaning Tower Straightened?

Mark Twain once called Pisa's tower, "the strangest structure the world has any knowledge of." Construction on the 190-foot-high tower began in 1173 to celebrate the glory of Pisa, in those years a wealthy maritime republic. The soil beneath its foundations began sinking even before workers completed the third level, starting its famous tilt. The builders forged ahead, however, completing it in 1360 – 187 years later.  After a $27 million realignment, started in 1990 and lasting over a decade, engineers corrected the tilt by 18 inches, bringing the monument back to where it was in 1838...but the tilt continued. In May 2008, another 70 tons of earth were removed. Authorities announced that the Tower had stopped moving for the first time in history, and estimated that it would be stable for another 200 years.

Bocce Anyone?

Bocce is one of Italy's most popular sports. The objective is to roll larger balls as close to the smaller target ball as possible. To play the game, toss the target ball about 25 feet away. Each player has 4 balls to use to roll and stop closest to the target ball. Much of the fun is mischievously knocking your opponent's ball farther from the target.

A Born Carver

As an infant Michelangelo was cared for by a wet nurse whose family were stonecutters. He grew up loving, above all, to carve marble statues. He called it "stone fever" and said, "Nothing was right with me unless I had a chisel in my hand."

They Hated Togas!

It’s no secret that early Romans wore togas. Like a white sheet, 9 yards long, togas were arranged very carefully, to look stylish. Togas fell out of style rather early, however, because they were inconvenient – and cold. In fact, to get people to wear them at all, early emperors had to legislate the wearing of togas. Eventually, the emperors gave up, and Romans switched to the more comfortable and practical wearing of tunics – cool linen for summer and warm wool for winter.

Finger Food

Upper-class Romans had slaves to cook and clean for them. Part of the job was cutting the food into bite-sized pieces; they didn't use forks or knives, but ate with their fingers. A wet towel was used to tidy up after a meal.

Venice to be Saved!

After more than 12 years of debate and discord, Italy has approved a plan to save Venice from sinking, by installing mobile barriers to protect the fabled city from high tides. The project is estimated to be completed in 2010 and cost $2.6 billion. It is called "Moses," after the Biblical figure who led his people safely through the Red Sea. The barriers would be erected on the Adriatic seabed near the entrance to the Venetian lagoon. They would be raised only when high tides threaten the city, an increasingly frequent problem. Seawater threatens Venice on several fronts: The city itself is sinking, the level of the Adriatic is rising – nine inches over the past 50 years, and high tides are becoming more frequent.

Disney Italy?

Italy hopes to breathe new life into its ancient ruins with a special effects museum. With the help of the Oscar-winning creator of E.T., Alien and King Kong, Carlo Rambaldi, The Culture Ministry will work to build a museum in Rome exhibiting high-tech models of archeological and artistic sites. “We want to use modern technology to help Italians and foreign tourists appreciate our historical and cultural patrimony,'' project coordinator Giovanni Negri told Reuters. The museum would not only allow visitors to see models of the ruins of Pompeii and the Colosseum, but would also recreate everyday life in early Rome – including blood-thirsty gladiator games – in a giant theater. Coordinators rejected criticism that they were turning Italy's cultural heritage into a Disney-style park. "It's not just going to be spectacle; we are going to catalog our culture and art and make it more accessible," Negri said.

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