History of Italy
Excavations throughout Italy reveal human presence dating back to the Palaeolithic period some 200,000 years ago.In the 8th and 7th centuries BC Greek colonies were established all along Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula. Subsequently Romans refereed to this area as Magna Graecia as it was so densely inhabited by Greeks.
The Colosseum in Rome, perhaps the most enduring symbol of Italy
The Colosseum in Rome, perhaps the most enduring symbol of Italy
Ancient Rome at first a small agricultural community founded circa 8th century BC grew the next centuries into a colossal empire encompassing the whole Mediterranean Sea, in which Ancient Greek and Roman cultures merged into one civilization, so influential that parts of it survive in modern law, administration, philosophy and arts forming the ground where Western civilization is based upon. In its twelve-century existence, it transformed from a republic to monarchy and finally to autocracy. In steady decline since 2nd century AD, the empire finally broke into two parts in 285 AD, a western and an eastern. The western part under the pressure of Goths finally dissolved leaving the Italian peninsula divided into small independent kingdoms and feuding city states for the next 14 centuries, and the eastern part as the sole heir to Roman legacy.
Following a short recapture of the peninsula by Byzantine Emperor, Justinian at 6th cen. AD from the Ostrogoths a new wave of Germanic tribes, the Lombards, soon arrived to Italy from the north. For several centuries the armies of the Byzantines were strong enough to prevent Arabs, Holy Roman Empire, or the Papacy from establishing a unified Italian Kingdom, but at the same time too weak to fully unify the former Roman lands. Nevertheless during early Middle Ages Imperial orders such as the Carolingians, the Ottonians and Hohenstaufens managed to impose their overlordship in Italy.
Eventually Italy interlocked to its neighboring empires’ conflicting interests would remain divided up to 19th century. It was during this vacuum of authority that the region saw the rise of Signoria and Comune. In the anarchic conditions that often prevailed in medieval Italian city states, people looked to strong men to restore order and disarm the feuding elites. In times of anarchy or crisis, cities sometimes offered the Signoria to individuals perceived as strong enough to save the state, most notably Della Scala family in Verona, Visconti in Milan and Medici in Florence.
Italy during this period became notable for its merchant Republics. These city-states, oligarchical in reality, had a dominant merchant class which under a relative freedom nurtured academic and artistic advancement. The four classic Maritime Republics in Italy were Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi reflecting the temporal sequence of their dominance.
Venice and Genoa were Europe’s gateway to trade with the East, with the former producer of the renown venetian glass, whilst Florence was the capital of silk, wool, banks and jewelry. The Maritime Republics were heavily involved in the Crusades, taking advantage of the new political and trading opportunities, most evidently in the conquest of Zara and Constantinople funded by Venice.
During late Middle Ages Italy was divided into smaller city states and territories: the kingdom of Naples controlled the south, the Republic of Florence and the Papal States the centre, the Genoese and the Milanese the north and west, and the Venetians the east. Fifteenth-century Italy was one of the most urbanised areas in Europe and the birthplace of Renaissance. Florence, in particular with the writings of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374) and Giovanni Boccaccio (c. 1313–1375), as well as the painting of Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337) is considered the center of this cultural movement. Scholars like Niccolò de’ Niccoli and Poggio Bracciolini scoured the libraries in search of works of classical authors as Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Ptolemy, Cicero and Vitruvius.
The Black Death pandemic in 1348 left its mark on Italy by killing one third of the population. The recovery from the disaster led to a resurgence of cities, trade and economy which greatly stimulated the successive phase of the Humanism and Renaissance. In 1494 the French king Charles VIII opened the first of a series of invasions, lasting up to sixteenth century, and a competition between France and Spain for the possession of the country. Ultimately Spain prevailed through the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis which recognised Spanish dominance over the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. The holy alliance between Habsburg Spain and the Holy See resulted in the systematic persecution of any Protestant movement. Austria succeeded Spain as hegemon in Italy under the Peace of Utrecht. Through Austrian domination, the northern part of Italy, gained economic dynamism and intellectual fervor. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars (1796–1815) introduced the ideas of equality, democracy, law and nation.
he creation of the Kingdom of Italy was the result of the efforts by Italian nationalists and monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula. In the context of 1848 liberal revolutions that swept through Europe an unsuccessful war was declared on Austria.
Giuseppe Garibaldi popular amongst southern Italians led the Italian republican drive for unification in southern Italy , while the northern Italian monarchy of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia whose government was led by Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, had the ambition of establishing a united Italian state under its rule. The kingdom successfully challenged Austrian Empire in the Second Italian War of Independence with the help of Napoleon III, liberating the Lombardy-Venetia.
In 1866 Victor Emmanuel II aligned the kingdom to Prussia during the Austro-Prussian War waging the Third Italian War of Independence which allowed Italy to annex Venice. In 1870, as France during the disastrous Franco-Prussian War abandoned its positions in Rome, Italy rushed to fill the power gap by taking over the Papal State from French sovereignty. Italian unification finally was achieved, and shortly afterwards Italy’s capital was moved to Rome.
Want to travel to Italy but nobody you know wants to go? Have specific dates for your holiday in Tuscany but none of your traveling friends can get away then?
You’re not alone–you’re part of the fast growing single traveler market. As a frequent single traveler in Italy for many years, here are my tips on companionship, safety, money matters, and quality of life for traveling solo in Italy.
1. Look for restaurants or hotels with communal tables. Sit down, relax, eat with whoever is there, smile and start a conversation. Sharing food and wine around the table opens people up and conversation flows easily. Also look for restaurants with tables close together so it’s easy to strike up a conversation with fellow diners.
For example, I’ve enjoyed staying a family-run B & B in Sorrento where I’ve happily chatted to people from all over the world around their big dining tables.
2. Offer to help other travelers as a spring board to start a conversation. For example, while traveling on the Amalfi Coast on a bus to my hotel in Praiano, I overheard a man asking about the area.
Knowing the coast, I gave him directions and advice. It turned out we were staying at the same hotel. That evening we shared a lovely dinner of fish and cool, white wine and a good conversation on a restaurant patio at the sea’s edge.
3. Break up your time alone with half or full day guided tours that focus on something you’re passionate about like food, art or gardens so you have fun with people with similar interests.
For example, in Florence you’ll find city walking, cycling, garden, leather & gelato, history and food tours.
4. Find tours that cater to single travelers. For example, two Italian families offer cooking tours, one in the Chianti hills and one in Sorrento, and accept solo travelers for any dates they request. Generally other people are staying in their B & Bs so you have congenial company. A family member takes the single traveler on the same excursions as a group.
Safety For Solo Women
5. Use your common sense and intuition. No matter what hour of the day, if a street is deserted you may not want to walk there. In general, stick to streets where other people are walking.
Strolling along the Arno River in Florence at 10:00 p.m. admiring the reflections of illuminated buildings along with lots of people is wonderful. Walking down a deserted little street in Palermo in mid-afternoon may not be wise.
6. Out and about, dress down in ordinary clothes and leave your jewelry at home, so you avoid becoming a lone and profitable target for theft.
7. Take a handbag with a shoulder strap you can put diagonally across your chest. Wear a money belt under your pants. Be alert to who is around you, especially in crowded places where pick pockets thrive.
8. Walk with a strong, confident bearing, so you don’t look like a victim. All the above apply in any big city. In small country towns you can relax, since little happens there.
9. What about men chatting you up? Just like at home, stick to public places until you’re comfortable with him. If you’re not interested in him, politely say “no thanks” as many times as it takes.
Over the years, I’ve found Italian men respect my boundaries. I only got into one “tight” situation in my 20s where my fast running made up for my clueless behaviour. Other times I’ve met new friends and big loves of my life.
10. Find tours that have no single supplement. They do exist. Many tour companies in Italy match you up with a roommate. For example, I went on walking tours in Tuscany and Sicily, shared rooms and found hikers are generally a nice, down to earth, fun bunch. Be open to new people, make new friends by getting to know your roommate and avoid the supplement.
11. When looking for a hotel in Italy, I like to e-mail the hotel directly about a single room and not book online.
When you email, fax or call them, you can ask for a double room for single use (often a small double at a lower price than a double room) or for a single room. Since single rooms are scarce, asking for a double for single use will often get you a room.
By email or phone you can also make other special requests like a quiet room not overlooking the street.
Quality of Life
12. To give yourself the best eating experiences in Italy, go to restaurants on the early side (12:30 for lunch, 7:30 for dinner or 7:00 in big tourist cities) and get the best seat.
For example, at these hours in the beautiful Cinque Terre town of Vernazza, I find no one minds if I occupy a table for two with a front row view of the sea at a restaurant patio on the main piazza.
13. Accept help and reach out to other travelers. If someone offers to help you carry your suitcase up the stairs in a train station, say yes, thank them and give them a big smile. Look around for other travelers who may appreciate your help in small ways.
As a single traveler, if you extend your friendship to fellow travelers or local people, especially in places conducive to conversation, look for people with your interests on tours, take sensible safety precautions and pay attention to your quality of life, you’ll have a fabulous time and some fun adventures in Italy.