Way more than just good spaghetti bolognese.
Few countries have played such an important role in shaping the modern world as Italy – even though, technically, it wasn’t a country at all until the mid-1800s. Before then, the region known as Italy was a loose collection of city states and regional kingdoms, that shared much (but not everything) in terms of language, culture and heritage. One such state, Rome, was one of the most advanced centres of power in ancient Europe. At its peak in 117 AD the Roman Empire stretched all the way from the border with modern-day Scotland, to Basra in Iraq. By the late 5th century the Roman Empire had all but collapsed (although fragments survived in Eastern Europe until a thousand years later); nonetheless, in this time it had effectively brought modern civilisation to much of the European world. Italy’s next great impact on civilisation came out of Florence in the 15th century.
The Renaissance is the name given to a period of great advances in culture, science and education, based partly on the rediscovery of classical teachings that had died out with the Roman Empire. The most iconic figures of the Renaissance were all Italian, or made their name here – the artists Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo and Titian, for example. By the mid-19th century, one-time Roman colonies such as Britain and France had grown into superpowers, with Empires of their own to match. Italy, meanwhile, was still not a unified nation. This was finally achieved with the founding of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 (although a dispute over who controlled the Vatican was not settled until the 1920s.) Italy became a fascist dictatorship under Benito Mussolini in 1922, and entered the Second World War on the side of Germany in 1940.
Italy stayed in the War for three years, until it was invaded by the Allies in 1943. The King was forced to abdicate in 1946 and the country became a Republic. Since then, Italy has remained a stable democracy – although a notoriously chaotic one, with the government changing, on average, once a year since the end of the Second World War. By the 1960s, Italy had risen from economic ruin, post-war, to a wealthy, booming nation, and a world-leader in the fields of fashion and car building. It was also around this time that international travel took off in a big way, Italy became one of the world’s top travel destinations.