Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean

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When my daughter, grandson and I visited Italy in 2017, we loved every moment of our 12 days there. Italy was my first experience spending time in a country where English is not the primary language.

I prepared for the trip by learning a smattering of Italian and watching favorite movies set in that country, like Eat, Pray, Love and Under the Tuscan Sun. I couldn’t wait to hear Italian spoken in Italy. The language is so beautiful.

I was not disappointed! We toured Italy with a group. Our tour guide and bus driver spoke Italian fluently, being native to the country. Fabiola taught us phrases every day, and while speaking to us in English, often inserted Italian words for their wonderful nuance.

Whether you’ve traveled to Italy already or plan a future trip there, learn these fun Italian phrases and what they mean, to add to your enjoyment of the country.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean title meme

Italian Phrases and Words Commonly Used in the US

Italian is a Romance language along with Spanish, French and Romanian. These languages all share common Latin roots which influenced English as well. Additionally, many Italian words came to the US when Italians immigrated to America in the early 20th century.

Here are some of the words we “borrowed” from the Italians.

  • al dente – firm but not chewy, slightly undercooked pasta
  • barista – the person who prepares and serves coffee at cafes and drinks at bars
  • ciabatta – a rectangular white bread roll
  • latte – in the US, coffee with steamed milk. In Italy the word means milk.
  • pepperoni – in the US a type of cured sausage served on pizza. In Italy it means peppers.
  • ballerina – female ballet dancer
  • diva – any person with an air of importance. Originally, a famous female singer.
  • graffiti – writings or drawings on public walls
  • patio – outdoor space used for dining or entertaining
  • villa – country house originally. Now a larger house with a garden.
  • finale – literally, “the end”

Check out the following fun phrases commonly heard and used in Italy.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean

Ricco Sfondato

This expression describes someone who is wealthy. It literally means “rolling in money”.

Amore a Prima Vista

When it’s love at first sight, the Italians say “Amore a prima vista”,

Guastafesta

This Italian slang word refers to someone who is down in the dumps, a spoiler or one who ruins a party.

Essere Nelle Nuvole

This phrase is used for the one who has his or her head in the clouds or for one who is considered a daydreamer.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean daydreamer
Fun Italian phrases and what they mean – essere nelle nuvole…that’s me! And I happen to be wearing the shirt in Venice. I think I need one with the Italian phrase.

Basta, Basta

When someone is annoying in words or actions, the Italians say “basta, basta”. Enough is enough.

Dai

This word is similar to the American phrase “come on” that’s used when we plead with someone to do something. Dai can also mean “stop it”.

Boh

Boh is the same as saying “I don’t know”. It’s a quick Italian word to use when you feel indecisive.

Cogli l’Attimo

One of my favorite phrases from Italy, Fabiola used it every day in an enthusiastic way.  Similar to the phrase “seize the day”, it literally means “catch the moment”. I love it.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean catch the moment
Fun Italian phrases and what they mean – our tour guide, Fabi, who told us every day “Cogli l’Attimo”, catch the moment.

Che Figata

You can use this phrase often in Italy. It means “how cool” and it’s appropriate for everything from seeing historic structures to tasting Italian gelato.

Mi Fa Cagare

This one makes me laugh. It’s Italian slang meant to express extreme discontent with something. It literally means “It makes me poop.” Our equivalent might be “That sucks.”

Che Schifo

Italians use this phrase to express repulsion. It means “how disgusting!”

Figurati!

This one means “no worries” in Italian. It is used when you really mean “don’t worry about it”. Thank you for helping me out! Figurati!

Or it is also used when you are just being nice about something that happened and you really are worried about it. Sorry I broke your chair. Figurati.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean no worries
Fun Italian phrases and what they mean – we had all kinds of interesting experiences getting to Italy and getting home. Figurati…no worries. We made it.

Meno Male

This Italian phrase literally means “less bad”. However, it’s used to express gratitude, as in “thank God”.  You can also say “Grazie a Dio” which means the same thing.

Magari!

This is the Italian counterpart to “I wish!” or “I hope so!” It can also mean “maybe” if you are playing it cool with someone.

Will you return to Italy? Magari!

Can you give me a ride to the park later? Magari.

La Goccia Che Ha Fatto Traboccare il Vaso

This phrase translates to “the drop that made the vase overflow”. It’s similar to our phrase, “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Use it when something is just too much to bear.

In Bocca al Lupo

While the phrase literally means “in the mouth of the wolf”, it’s a good luck phrase, similar to our “break a leg”. To find out the correct response, check out Italian good luck traditions HERE.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean good luck
Fun Italian phrases and what they mean – in bocca a lupo, good luck.

Non Avare Peli Sulla Lingua

The literal translation is “don’t have hairs on the tongue”. For the Italians it means to speak plainly or say it like it is.

Scoprire Gli Altarini

This expression is used when someone reveals a secret. It’s similar to our saying, “let the cat out of the bag”. Which, when you think about it, where did that phrase come from? I must do a post about American English expressions and where they originated from.

Essere al Verde

While the phrase literally means “at the green”, green isn’t what the person is rolling in. The expression is used when someone is financially broke.

Ubriaco Come Una Scimmia

This fun expression translates to “drunk like a monkey”. You can guess the meaning! Use it when someone is wasted.

Fun Italian Phrases and What They Mean wasted
Fun Italian phrases and what they mean – we enjoyed wine tasting in Italy and did NOT end up ubriaco come una scimmia!

Rompere le Scatole

When someone is bugging them, Italians say “rompere le scatole”. It means “you are getting on my nerves”.

Avere Culo

The literal translation, “to have arse”, doesn’t quite convey the intended meaning! The phrase is used for one who is very lucky or always lands on his or her feet.

Avere le Braccine Corte

Another Italian phrase that makes me laugh, this one is used for a person who is stingy with his money. It literally means “to have short arms” and implies that the person’s arms are too short to reach his pockets.

Non Vedo l’Ora

This is the perfect phrase to end the post with. It’s expressed with excitement and means “I can’t wait!”

Non vedo l’ora di visitare di nuovo l’italia! I can’t wait to visit Italy again!

Have you traveled in Italy? How many of these fun expressions have you heard?

Siena, Italy
Siena, Italy

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Fun Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa

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One of the highlights of my 12 days in Italy, in 2017, was seeing a famous landmark that always fascinated me as a child. I grew up looking at photos of the impossibly Leaning Tower of Pisa. To see it in person, as my daughter, grandson and I walked into the huge piazza, brought surprising tears to my eyes.

There it stood, creamy white in the Tuscan sun, surrounded by other structures and a throng of people. It does, indeed, lean. And visitors enjoy snapping fun selfies with the illusion of holding up the tower.

What else do you know about this iconic campanile?

Discover these fun facts about the leaning tower of Pisa!

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Pisa, Tuscany, Italy

The medieval town of Pisa enjoyed great prosperity in the 12th century. The city’s seaport became a powerful one in the Tuscany region. After sacking Palermo, Pisa desired to show of their wealth by constructing the “Square of Miracles”, or Piazza dei Miracoli.

The square houses a cathedral, baptistry, cemetery and a tall bell tower, or campanile, meant to hold the tile of tallest of its kind. And it might have, if plans had not gone awry.

Check out these fun facts about that famous leaning tower.

Fun Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa - complex
Fun facts about the leaning tower of Pisa – the Baptistry, Cathedral and Tower (Campanile)

The Tower Began Leaning Before Construction Ended

The word pisa is Greek for “marshy land”. That’s the first problem builders encountered with building a tall tower in the area. The ground in Pisa is an unstable mix of sand, clay and shells that shifts easily.

Due to a shallow, heavy foundation, the tower began sinking on the south side by the time construction began on the second story. As construction continued, builders tried to compensate by adding taller columns and arches on the south side. However, the tower continued to lean. After completing the third story, construction stopped for almost 100 years.

The Architect is Not Absolutely Known

Construction on the tower began in 1174, however due to concerns that slowed or stopped progress, it wasn’t completed until 1350.

Bonanno Pisano is sometimes credited as the original architect. Yet Gherardo di Gherardo is another possibly. Giovanni di Simone took over as primary architect in 1272. Tommaso di Andrea Pisano finally completed the tower with the addition of the belfry. The tower style is Romanesque.

The Campanile Isn’t the Only Leaning Tower in Pisa

Because of the soft subsoil, there are actually several leaning towers in Pisa. The second most famous one is the bell tower of the Church of St. Nicola, in Pisa’s Borgo Stretto. Built in 1170, about the same time as THE leaning tower, this eight sided tower tilts slightly too.

The third leaning tower is the bell tower for St. Michele dei Sclazi, located on Viale delle Piagge. Piagge is Latin for “low plains that flood”. So you can guess that the “plain that floods” might create a similar unstable problem!

Fun Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa - leans different directions
Fun facts about the Leaning Tower of Pisa – it’s leaned in different directions

Pisa’s Leaning Tower Has Leaned in Different Directions

Over the centuries, engineers tried to correct the tower’s tilt. When construction began again, after almost a century, engineers tried to stop the lean by building straight up. That only succeeded in throwing off the center of gravity, causing the tower to lean to the north. As construction continued, the tower eventually settled back into a southward lean, where it remains.

The Tower’s Unusual Dimensions

Because of the tilt, the tower never reached its designed height of 197 feet. The highest side of the tower is 186 feet tall, while the shorter side reaches 183 feet.

By 1990, the tower tilted almost 10 degrees…enough to cause concern that it could topple. A massive restoration project corrected the tilt to 3.97 degrees.

You Can Climb the Tower

In spite of the obvious lean, the tower is open (in non pandemic times) for visitors to climb to the top. The north staircase contains 296 steps while the south staircase has 294. You must purchase tickets in advance, to climb Pisa’s leaning tower.

Fun Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa marshy ground
Fun facts about the Leaning Tower of Pisa – pisa is Greek for “marshy ground”

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is an Actual Bell Tower

The tower houses seven large bells at the top. Each bell weighs nearly 8,000 pounds and represents a musical note on the major scale. Although the bells remain in the tower, they have not rung since the 20th century. Can you guess why? That’s right. The sound vibrations could make the tower lean even more.

Mussolini Hated the Tower

Italy’s dictator, Benito Mussolini, felt embarrassed by the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He attempted to correct the tower’s lean by drilling hundreds of holes in the tower base. Mortar and grout, pumped into the holes, was supposed to anchor the entire tower and straighten it. On the contrary, it only created a heavier base, which made the tower lean more than it did before.

Allies Intended to Destroy the Tower During WWII

American soldiers carried orders to tear down Italian structures that might serve as lookout points for enemy snipers. However, when troops arrived in Pisa, they were so impressed with the beauty of the leaning tower and the Square of Miracles that they spared the campanile.

Fun Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa tourists
Fun facts about the Leaning Tower of Pisa – visitors like to take “holding up the tower” photos

The Tower is Now Stable

In 2008 engineers declared the tower stable. For the first time in its history, the tower is no longer slowing sinking on the south side. It is officially considered safe for the next 200 years.

Add the Leaning Tower of Pisa to Your Travel List

If you visit the Tuscany region of Italy, make sure Pisa is on your destination list! It’s a beautiful tower, in spite of…or perhaps because of…it’s noticeable lean.

We visited Cinque Terre in the morning, and stopped by Pisa in the afternoon, on our way to Lucca. A couple of hours is plenty of time to enjoy this well known landmark, unless you purchase tickets to climb the tower.

Like other visitors, we took fun photos. And we spent time in the Square of Miracles, admiring the other structures that share space with the unique bell tower, our eyes frequently returning to the Leaning Tower in admiration. I’m grateful I got to check that destination off of my travel list.

Have you seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person?

Fun Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa Dayan
Dayan’s “holding up the tower” photo.

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Ten Must Visit Places in Florence

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Florence is one of Italy’s most visited cities. The capital of the Tuscany region, Florence is home to Renaissance masterpieces and stunning architecture.

At one time Florence operated as the center of medieval European trade and finance, making it one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Its turbulent history includes periods of rule by the powerful Medici Family and many political revolutions. Florence served as the capital of Italy from 1865 to 1871. And the Florentine dialect became the foundation for the Italian language.

With its numerous museums and art galleries, Florence attracts millions of visitors in a typical year. Its culture, art, monuments and architecture caused UNESCO to name it a World Heritage Site in 1982.

There’s much to see and do in this beautiful, bustling city. Whether there for a day or a long weekend, take time to check out these ten must visit places in Florence.

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Cathedral of Florence

Also known as the Duomo and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, this cathedral complex is a major tourist attraction. If you only have time to see a couple of places in Florence, make sure the cathedral is one of them.

In fact, the Duomo offers four of my top ten sites to explore, making it a great starting off point on your exploration of Florence.

Completion of the church occurred in 1367. The exterior is covered in colorful marble. Most of the stained glass windows, created between 1434 and 1455, include designs by famous artists such as Donatello, Andrea del Castagno and Paolo Uccello.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence cathedral
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Cathedral of Florence

Brunelleschi’s Dome

The dome covering part of the Cathedral of Florence is called Brunelleschi’s Dome. When it was designed it was the largest dome in the world. As the cathedral took shape, the builders left space for the huge dome. One problem existed. No one knew exactly how to build a 150 feet wide dome atop the existing walls. Masons feared the dome might collapse inward.

In 1418 a public competition for the construction of the dome promised 200 gold florins and eternal fame. The Opera del Duomo selected Filippo Brunelleschi to supervise the dome project. Construction began in 1420 and finished 16 years later. Brunelleschi’s Dome is ingenious and innovative, a marvel of architecture that still astounds.

Visitors climb the 463 steps within the dome, appreciating frescoes on the interior and marvelous views of the city from the top. Reservations must be made in advance.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence dome
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Brunelleschi’s Dome

Giotto’s Bell Tower

Also called the Campanile, Giotto’s Bell Tower is the tall tower attached to the Duomo.

Giotto began construction on the Florentine Gothic bell tower in 1334. Although the tower bears his name, Giotto died three years after construction began. Andrea Pisano, following the original design, completed the first two floors, while Francesco Talenti finished the tower in 1359.

Visitors climb the 414 steps inside the tower, with much welcomed rest stops built in, for gorgeous views of Florence at the top.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence tower
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Giotto’s Bell Tower

The Baptistry of St John

The Baptistry is one of the oldest buildings in Florence, believed built in the 800s over the ruins of a Roman temple.

Located across from the Duomo, the Baptistry stands in the Piazza del Duomo. The giant bronze doors are the main attraction, however beautiful mosaics decorate the interior of the cupola. The bronze doors decorate three of the four sides of the building. Three different groups of statues rest above the doors, copies of the originals.

The most famous set of doors are on the east side, facing the Duomo. Called the Gates of Paradise, the panels depict scenes from the Old Testament.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence baptistry
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – the Baptistry’s bronze doors

Uffizi Gallery

This world famous museum contains works of art by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo and many other artists. Uffizi is ranked 25th on the list of most visited museums in the world, with 2 million visitors annually.

The Gallery occupies two floors of a large building constructed between 1560 and 1580. The building originally housed offices for Florentine magistrates, hence the name. Uffizi is Italian for “offices”.

Within find collections of ancient sculptures and paintings from the Middle Ages to the Modern Period. Additionally, the Gallery contains statues and busts from the Medici Family.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence uffizi gallery
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Uffizi Gallery

Palazzo Vecchio

Built in 1299, the Palazzo Vecchio, “Old Palace”, is the town hall of Florence. It overlooks Piazza della Signoria and shares space with the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi (see next paragraph).

Originally Palazzo Vecchio was built as a castle with a single tower. Within the tower are two rooms that served as prison cells. Today the palazzo houses a museum that offers Roman ruins and Renaissance chambers and paintings. The Hall of 500 is the largest room, important both artistically and historically.

At the entrance rests a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The original David statue occupied that spot from its completion in 1504 until 1873, when it relocated to the Accademia Gallery for protection from the elements.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence palazzo
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Palazzo Vecchio

Loggia dei Lanzi

Also located in Piazza della Signoria, the Loggia de Lanzi is a free open air museum that adjoins Uffizi Gallery. Designed in 1376, the Loggia features curved arches with a variety of statues resting beneath them.

Included is the statue of Perseo, holding Medusa’s severed head and the Rape of the Sabines, a unique statute containing three figures, all carved from a single block of marble.

Loggia dei Lanzi is a wonderful spot to take a rest break. Large steps leading up the to Loggia offer plenty of seating.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence loggia dei lanzi
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Loggia dei Lanzi

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio, “Old Bridge”, is a medieval stone bridge spanning the Arno River. Originally built in the late 900s, reconstruction occurred in 1345 after a major flood.

Shops line either side of the bridge, and have since the 13th century. Initially, butchers, fishmongers and tanners occupied those shops, until the stench caused Ferdinand I to issue a decree in 1593. Henceforth, only goldsmiths and jewelers could set up shop on Ponte Vecchio, for the betterment of all.

Ponte Vecchio is a popular bridge to stroll across and shop upon by day. At night it’s considered a very romantic spot with great views of the Arno River.

Special note: from the upstairs windows of the Uffizi Gallery, you have great views of Ponte Vecchio. It’s where I snapped this photo.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence ponte vecchio
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Ponte Vecchio

Accademia Gallery

Accademia Gallery, also called Galleria dell’Accademia, is home to one of the most famous sculptures in the world, Michelangelo’s David.

Located off of the Hall of Prisoners, so named because of Michelangelo’s unfinished statues, David captures the eye and the heart magnificently. Spend time studying this beautiful statue. Then explore Accademia’s botany, music, textiles and art exhibits.

The smaller, more specialized Accademia Gallery draws almost 2 million visitors in a typical year, making it the second most visited museum in Italy, after the Uffizi. It was founded in 1784 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence accademia gallery
Ten Must Visit Places in Florence – Accademia Gallery

Boboli Gardens and Pitti Palace

More than just a green space in Florence, Boboli Gardens is the city’s greatest open air museum. Sharing space with Pitti Palace, the gardens contain centuries old trees, sculptures and fountains along with colorful flowers and plants.

The garden’s development, primarily by the Medici and Lorraine Families, spans 400 years and inspired gardens throughout Europe, including Versailles in France.

The enormous Pitti Palace, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, was built in 1457 for the Pitti Family. The Medicis bought the palace in 1549, as their primary residence.

Today the palace is a museum, housing Medici household treasures, 16th and 17th century paintings, 19th century furnishings and a Gallery of Modern Art. The Boboli Gardens lie behind Pitti Palace.

Visit Florence Italy

This wonderful old city provides its visitors many opportunities for exploration, education and fun.

In addition to Florence’s culture and art, the city also offers fine dining and shopping experiences. And Florence claims the invention of Italian gelato!

My daughter, grandson and I enjoyed a night and a day in Florence, which feels very different from Rome. Mark Twain once described Florence as a “city of dreams”. With its art, history, culture and beauty, Florence is certainly a visit-worthy destination.

While COVID restrictions currently prevent most of these must see sites from opening, change is coming. I look forward to hearing of the museums reopening.

Have you visited Florence?

Ten Must Visit Places in Florence group selfie
Group selfie in Florence, 2017

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Fun Facts About Cinque Terre

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Have you heard of Cinque Terre, the cluster of five Italian villages clinging to the mountains along the coast? All I knew about this region in northwestern Italy came from photos I’d seen of the colorful houses in the villages. So when my grandson listed Cinque Terre as one of his “must see” destinations, for our 2017 trip to Italy, we made sure our tour included a stop here.

I’m so grateful for the opportunity to spend a day exploring the largest of the five villages. This gorgeous area offers visitors a peek into the laid back lifestyle that many Italians enjoy.

Discover these fun facts about Cinque Terre.

Fun Facts About Cinque Terre title meme

Origin of the Name

The Italian words cinque terre translates to “five lands”. These five lands are the five villages perched on the mountains along the coast. They are Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. The largest village is the last one, Monterosso.

The entire region is a national park. And in 1997 it became a protected UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fun Facts About Cinque Terre villages
Fun facts about Cinque Terre – the village of Manarola

Cinque Terre is a Car Free Zone

Cars are not allowed in the villages of Cinque Terre. Instead villagers and visitors travel by boat, train or on foot.

We arrived in Monterosso via boat, leaving from the town of La Spezia. Our tour guide, Andrea, shared interesting local stories as we chugged along the coastline.

And we departed Monterosso on board a sleek train that passed through rocky mountainous tunnels.

Fun Facts About Cinque Terre La Spezia
Fun facts about Cinque Terre – arrive by boat, train or on foot

Cinque Terre Is a Relatively New Tourist Destination

Only the Italians knew about the wonders of Cinque Terre, until the 1970s. An American journalist visited and fell in love with the region. After he included the villages in a guidebook, other visitors arrived to explore Cinque Terra too. It’s now an extremely popular destination.

Fun Facts About Cinque Terre Italian coast
Fun facts about Cinque Terre – an American journalist drew attention to the location. This is Port Venere, a town on the way to Cinque Terre.

The Water is a Beautiful Color

The brilliant aquamarine water in the village bays provides a stunning contrast for the colorful houses on the mountains. The protected harbors shelter a rich variety of marine life, including anchovies, which is a Cinque Terre specialty.

Four of the five villages offer sandy beaches to enjoy those waters and catch some sun too.

Fun Facts About Cinque Terre monterosso bay
Fun facts about Cinque Terre – the water is a gorgeous aquamarine color

You Must Sample the Pesto

The herb basil grows in abundance in the Cinque Terre region. It’s used in many locally prepared dishes, even gelato! Dining in a little ristorante in one of the villages is a must, especially when the meal features freshly made pasta and basil pesto.

I enjoyed basil pesto over gluten free pasta for lunch in Monterosso. It remains the best pesto I’ve ever had.

Fun Facts About Cinque Terre pesto
Fun facts about Cinque Terre – they serve an amazing basil pesto

The Houses are Pastel Colors

All of those charming houses, perched on the mountainsides, are painted pastel colors. When the sun sets, the light washes over those soft hues, creating photo worthy moments. The reason for the color choices connects to fishermen out to sea. From his distant vantage point, a fisherman could identify his house based on the color.

Fun Facts About Cinque Terre monterosso
Fun facts about Cinque Terre – the pastel houses of Monterosso

Cinque Terre’s Most Popular Product

Cinque Terre villagers grow grapes in the steeply terraced vineyards. The difficult cultivation earns wine makers the name “heroic viticulturalists”.  Their hard work produces an incredible white wine called Sciacchetra that’s dry and somewhat sweet. Due to the limited space, only a few thousand bottles are produced each year.

Fun Facts About Cinque Terra - vineyards
Fun facts about Cinque Terre – incredible white wine

Cat Lady Paradise

Cinque Terre is considered a cat haven. Every village hosts semi-stray cats that hang around the seafront. And cats lounge outside every seafood cafe and shop, hoping for a treat from fishermen cleaning their catch. Locals leave dry cat food in covered bins with signs asking people to refill empty dishes.

Fun Facts About Cinque Terre cat
Fun facts about Cinque Terre – cat haven

Add Cinque Terre to Your Travel List

My daughter, grandson and I loved our day in Monterosso. After beginning our trip in Rome, we welcomed the slower pace in Cinque Terre. Each of us fell under the spell of this relaxed coastal region. We waded in the Mediterranean, wandered narrow streets, visited tiny shops and dined on the freshest foods in a homey ristorante. Truly, I could spend weeks exploring all five villages.

I hope you learned something new about Cinque Terre. And that this jewel in Italy makes your travel list.

Fun Facts About Cinque Terre Elissa and Dayan
My daughter and grandson enjoying time in Cinque Terre

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Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel

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The Sistine Chapel, located within Vatican City in Rome, Italy contains one of the most famous frescoes in the world. On the chapel ceiling, Michelangelo’s masterpiece inspires wonder. Security officers within the room encourage silence out of respect for the space. Truly, the magnificence of the paintings instill reverence. It’s not difficult to observe the silence.

Photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel either, to protect the vibrancy of the artwork. So when my daughter, grandson and I toured the room, we strove to soak it all in. Although I grew up seeing limited photos of the chapel, that someone took, I had no idea what to expect. Several things surprised me.

Check out these fun facts you may not know about the Sistine Chapel and see if any surprise you!

Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel title meme

Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel

Because we could not take photos in the chapel, I’m sharing photographs of other ceilings within Vatican City, which truly contains amazing collections of art. While not painted by Michelangelo, these ceilings inspire awe as well, when you look up.

The photo of the chapel ceiling, used here in this post, is one I purchased from the Canva site.

Where Does the Name Come From?

The chapel is named for Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned the chapel’s construction in 1475. It rests on the foundation of the original Cappella Magna (Great Chapel). The chapel’s layout is reminiscent of the Temple of Solomon, as described in the Old Testament.

Size of the Chapel

The small size of the chapel surprised me. I think because the paintings are so complex, covering the ceiling and parts of the walls, I expected a huge room. In reality, the chapel measures a little larger than a professional basketball court.

Michelangelo Covered Another Artist’s Work

When Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, beginning work in 1508, he covered the original fresco on the ceiling. Artist Piero Matteo d’Amelia created a blue night sky filled with gold stars.

Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel St Peter's Basilica
Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel – this gorgeous view is in St Peter’s Basilica

Michelangelo Didn’t Want to Paint the Chapel Ceiling

Michelangelo considered himself primarily a sculpture, not a painter.  In fact, he didn’t feel qualified for such a massive project as the chapel ceiling. However, because the pope asked him to do the work, he could not easily refuse. Michelangelo even entertained the thought that his rivals set up the commission, just to see him fail.

Michelangelo Expressed His Unhappiness in a Poem

The artist disliked his commission so much that he wrote a poem about it.  His friend Giovanni da Pistoia received the lament, which included the line, “I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture, hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy.” I somehow find it refreshing that the great Michelangelo could poetically tell it like it is!

Did He Paint Lying on His Back?

Although the story suggests that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling while lying on his back, he in fact built his own scaffolding. This allowed him to stand near the ceiling, providing better precision and control of his brushes. As his poem suggests, however, the cramped working conditions and long hours looking up created physical pain for him.

St Peter's Basilica ceiling
Ceiling in St Peter’s Basilica, which is also located in Vatican City.

Four Years of Work

It took Michelangelo four years to complete the Sistine Chapel ceiling, covering 12,000 square feet of space. He left the portrait of God until last, so that he could refine and perfect his technique. A year into the painting, a large portion of the fresco developed mold. He had to repaint that section. He tried to use this setback as proof that he wasn’t the right artist for the work, however the pope asked him to continue.

Depiction of God

Michelangelo painted God as an older man with white hair and a long white beard. While this image later became common, Michelangelo was the first to portray God in this way. The angels surrounding God create an image with their spread wings that resembles a brain. Scholars think Michelangelo perhaps showed off his knowledge of anatomy.

Cover Up Those Nudes

In the 1560s Pope Pius IV ordered painted fig leaves and loincloths added to strategically cover the nudity in Michelangelo’s paintings. Fortunately, when restoration work was done between 1980 and 1999, to remove layers of grime that built up over the years, these cover ups were removed.

Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel museum
Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel – Vatican Museums contain beautiful ceilings too

The Last Judgment

Michelangelo also painted The Last Judgment on the wall above the altar. However, he returned 22 years after he completed the ceiling, to add this fresco. The artist included two figures in The Last Judgment that represent him and neither are considered flattering.

Acorn Motif

A reoccurring motif in Michelangelo’s work is the acorn. This is a nod by the artist to the patronage of Pope Sixtus IV, whose family name was Rovere, meaning oak in Italian.

Millions of Visitors

When we are not experiencing a pandemic, the Sistine Chapel draws more than five million visitors every year. If a visitor has exposed shoulders or clothing that ends above the knees, he or she is asked to cover up while within the chapel. Due to the high volume of visitors, sweat, carbon dioxide and skin flakes pose a threat to the frescoes. Methods of controlling humidity and temperature are underway.

Vatican City Hallway
Amazing ceiling in a museum hallway.

Well Worth a Visit

Our 12 day tour of Italy began in Rome. On our first full day there, we visited Vatican City. Nothing prepared me for the experience. The vast collections of art astounded me. St Peter’s Basilica moved me to tears. And the Sistine Chapel, which was near the end of our tour, truly was the highlight of an amazing half day spent exploring the vastness of Vatican City. I think my mouth involuntarily dropped open when I entered the chapel.

Is Vatican City and the Sistine Chapel worth seeing? Yes. Allot at least three hours and more if you have time. There’s so much to see and experience.

I hope the collection of fun facts you may not know about the Sistine Chapel inspires you to plan a visit. It’s a sight I’m extremely grateful for.

For now, check out this virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel.

Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel ceiling
Fun Facts You May Not Know About the Sistine Chapel – a section of the famous ceiling (Canva photo)

Check out things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David HERE

 


 

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Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.

This post combines two of my favorite things…movies and travel. Long before I visited Italy, my dreams of exploring that beautiful country were fueled by movies that I enjoyed. While watching the stories unfold, my eyes also scanned the background shots. I fell in love with Rome, Venice and Tuscany through those films.

When my grandson, daughter and I visited Italy in 2017, what fun to recognize places from the movies. It felt surreal, in fact, to stand in those locations that seemed new and familiar at the same time.

Check out these 12 movies that inspire you to visit Italy. And dream a little, of travel.

Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy title meme

Roman Holiday  1953

This classic movie, filmed in black and white, stars Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn and Eddie Albert.

A bored princess, on a tour of European cities, sneaks out of her Italian room one night, in search of adventure. An American reporter stationed in Rome finds her asleep on a park bench and takes her back to his apartment. His intention is to get an exclusive story about the princess. However, romance soon blossoms between them.

Fun fact: Paramount wanted to shoot the movie in Hollywood, however the director insisted on filming in Rome. Paramount finally agreed, but reduced the budget which meant filming in black and white and using an unknown actress in the title role. Audrey Hepburn played the princess and won an Oscar.

Rent Roman Holiday

Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy roman holiday
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – Roman Holiday

Enchanted April  1991

This lavish and beautiful film stars Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson, Polly Walker, Josie Lawrence and Alfred Molina.

Post World War I, four British women, unhappy with their lives, rent a villa in Portofino, Italy for a month. They embrace a leisurely lifestyle while there, that allows each of them to reconnect with herself, explore their different personalities and backgrounds and reexamine their current relationships.

Fun fact: The castle scenes were filmed at Castello Brown in Portofino, Italy, the same castle that Elizabeth von Arnim stayed in during the 1920s. While there she penned the novel by the same title, on which this movie is based.

Rent Enchanted April

Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy enchanged april
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – Enchanted April

Much Ado About Nothing  1993

This Shakespearean inspired film stars Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Keanu Reeves, Kate Beckinsale, Denzel Washington, Robert Sean Leonard and Michael Keaton.

The young lovers Hero and Claudio wed in a week. To pass the time, they play matchmakers in an attempt to get arrogant Benedick to fall in love with his favorite sparring partner, Beatrice. Meanwhile, evil Don John conspires to break up the wedding by accusing Hero of infidelity. In the end, it’s all “much ado about nothing.”

Fun fact: Set in Messina, Sicily this film was shot near Florence, Italy and made splendid use of the gorgeous countryside. The movie cast a real life married couple in the lead roles, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. They later divorced.

Watch Much Ado About Nothing Free on Prime

Much Ado About Nothing
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – Much Ado About Nothing

Only You  1994

Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr, Bonnie Hunt and Billy Zane star in this romantic comedy set in Italy.

Faith believes in destiny and soul mates. Based on a couple of incidents in her teen years, she believes she is supposed to meet and marry a man named Damon Bradley. Time passes and Faith settles for a dull man who is NOT named Damon. Ten days before their wedding, she takes a call from her fiancé’s friend, who is on his way to Venice. The friend’s name is Damon Bradley. Faith risks everything to follow this man to Italy, to see if he is really her soul mate.

Fun fact: Robert Downey Jr and Marisa Tomei reenact the Mouth of Truth scene made famous by Gregory Peck’s prank on Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday! That scene is the thing I remember most about Roman Holiday.

Rent Only You

 

Only You Movie
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – Only You

Life is Beautiful  1997

Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi and Giorgio Cantarini star in this whimsical historical film set in 1930s Italy.

A carefree Jewish book seller named Guido begins a fairy tale life when he marries his beautiful girlfriend. They have a son and live happily until the German occupation of Italy. Attempting to keep his family together and help his son survive the horrors of a concentration camp, the father pretends that the Holocaust is a game and tells his son that the prize for winning is a tank.

Sad fact: Roberto Benigni, who co-wrote, directed and starred in the movie, says the title comes from a quote by Leon Trotsky. In exile in Mexico, and about to be killed by Stalin’s assassins, he saw his wife in the gardens and wrote that, in spite of everything, “life is beautiful”.

Watch on HBO or Rent Life is Beautiful

Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy life is beautiful
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – Life is Beautiful

The Talented Mr. Ripley  1999

This thriller stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

In the late 1950s, Tom Ripley, a chronic underachiever, is sent to Italy to retrieve a rich and spoiled millionaire playboy named Dickie. After arriving in Italy, Tom attaches himself to Dickie and his pretty fiancée, soaking up the life of luxury. Tom’s gifts include lying, forgery and doing impressions, so when the rich couple tire of him, he uses all of his talents to make the millionaire’s lifestyle his own.

Fun fact: Dickie’s favorite tailor in Rome, Battistoni, is a real tailor shop founded in 1946.

Watch The Talented Mr. Ripley on HBO or Rent

The Talented Mr Ripley
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – The Talented Mr. Ripley

Gladiator  2000

Another historical film set in Italy, Gladiator stars Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed, Djimon Hounsou and Derek Jacobi.

A former Roman general, Maximus is chosen to succeed Emperor Marcus Aurelius, rather than the emperor’s son, Commodus. A power struggle ensues, resulting in the death of Maximus’ family and his capture. He is forced to participate in the gladiator games. The fierce desire that fuels Maximus now is to survive long enough to get revenge.

Fun fact: It’s not true that a Roman emperor gives a thumbs up to spare the life of a gladiator. In reality, a thumbs up symbolized sword action and death. A thumbs down represented a sheathed sword and mercy. However, since a thumbs up is nowadays considered a good sign, the director decided to leave it and not confuse the movie audience.

Watch on AMC or Rent Gladiator

Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy gladiator
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – Gladiator

Under The Tuscan Sun  2003

This romantic comedy stars Diane Lane, Sandra Oh, Lindsay Duncan and Raoul Bova.

Frances, an author, struggles to complete her latest book. In the midst of her writer’s block, her husband files for divorce. Urged by friends to get away, Frances joins a bus tour of Tuscany, where she falls in love with a crumbling villa. She impulsively buys the house in Tuscany and begins a new life. Restoring her beautiful old home, she ultimately restores her life as well.

Fun fact: When a bird poops on Frances, while she is looking at the villa, the owner cries out “Grazie, Santo Francesco!”. She sees the incident as a good sign that Frances is the right buyer. Read more about good luck traditions in Italy HERE.

Watch Free on Prime or Rent Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – Under the Tuscan Sun

Angels & Demons  2009

This action thriller stars Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Ayelet Zurer and Stellan Skarsgard.

Following the murder of a physicist, Robert Langdon, a symbolist, and Vittoria Vetra, a scientist, embark on an adventure that involves the secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati. Clues lead them all over the Vatican while an assassin, who works for the Illuminati, kidnaps four cardinals. The pair must also locate a destructive weapon that could kill millions.

Fun fact: Crew members visited Vatican City as tourists and took many photographs to capture as much detail as possible. They knew it was unlikely that they could film there so the photos helped them recreate the sets as faithfully as possible.

Watch Angels & Demons on Showtime or Rent

Angels and Demons movie
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – Angels & Demons

Letters to Juliet  2010

This charming romantic comedy stars Amanda Seyfried, Gael Garcia Bernal. Vanessa Redgrave and Christopher Egan.

Sophia, an American writer on vacation in Italy, finds a 50 years old unanswered “letter to Juliet” in Juliet’s Courtyard in Verona. These letters, left in the courtyard wall by lovers, are typically answered by a group of women known as the secretaries of Juliet. Intriqued, Sophia goes on a quest to find the writer of the letter and help her find her lover.

Fun fact: Juliet’s secretaries really do exist. They are called the Juliet Club and they volunteer to reply to letters left in the Verona courtyard. They also organize events in honor of Romeo and Juliet. Juliet’s Courtyard is one of Verona’s biggest tourist attractions. I stood in that courtyard and touched the wall where lovers hide their letters.

Watch Letters to Juliet on Showtime or Rent

Letters to Juliet movie
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – Letters to Juliet

Eat, Pray, Love  2010

This biographical drama stars Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, Billy Crudup and Viola Davis.

Liz Gilbert appears to have everything…a husband, a nice house, a promising career as a writer…and yet she feels like she has lost herself. After divorcing her husband, Liz embarks on a year long journey that takes her to Italy, India and Indonesia. During her travels, she discovers herself and what she most desires to do in life.

Fun fact: Rome’s two pro soccer teams, SS Lazio and AS Roma, are fierce rivals. In the book, Luca Spaghetti is an SS Lazio fan. The filmmakers made him an AS Roma fan, which enraged the local SS Lazio fans.

Watch Eat, Pray, Love on Showtime or Rent

Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy eat pray love
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – Eat, Pray, Love

To Rome With Love  2012

This romantic comedy stars Woody Allen, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Alison Pill, Roberto Benigni and Alec Baldwin.

Four interconnected stories play out in Rome, the Eternal City. A worker unexpectedly wakes up a celebrity, an architect takes a trip back to the street he lived on as a student, a young couple honeymoon in romantic Rome and a frustrated opera singer discovers he has a gift for finding talented singers.

Fun fact: One of the characters drops her cell phone into a square manhole. The manhole cover bears the initials SPQR. This is a Roman Empire symbol. It stands for “Senatus Populusque Romanus” and means “Senate and People of Rome”.

Rent To Rome With Love

To Rome With Love
Movies That Inspire You to Visit Italy – To Rome With Love

Movies That Inspire Travel

I’ve seen all of these films, beginning with Roman Holiday in my childhood. Each one fed my desire to someday visit Italy myself. I own several of these movies, in DVD format, and watch them still.

How amazing, to travel through Tuscany, stand in Juliet’s Courtyard and explore Rome and Venice, and recognize locations from these films.

Movies are such an important part of my life. I love the connection between them and my travels. Watch for more posts like this one, that weld together these two passions of mine.

How many of these films have you seen? And do you have a movie that inspired you to travel?

Rome, Italy
The Colosseum in Rome, Italy

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Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy

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Exploring the small town of Orvieto, Italy ranked as one of the top highlights of my trip to Italy in 2017. On the last day of our 12 day tour, my daughter, grandson and I soaked up the gorgeous views and fascinating culture of this gem in the Umbria region.

Read the highlights of that day HERE. Then read on for fun facts about Orvieto Italy.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy title meme

Getting to Orvieto Italy

Orvieto rests on a rock cliff formed from a volcanic butte, 1000 feet above the valley below. Considered one of the most striking towns in Italy, Orvieto sits in the middle of the country, less than 90 minutes from Rome.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy

This ancient city of about 21,000 people features an old and new town. Visitors arrive in the new town where they leave their cars or exit their tour buses. To gain entrance into old town they must ride an escalator up or take a funicular (trolley type car) to the edge of town. There buses transport guests up into the city.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy cliff top
Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy – the city perches on a cliff 1000 feet above the valley.

Etruscan Roots

The Etruscan civilization predates the Romans. Orvieto, known as Velzna then, was the most important town in the Etruscan territory. The Etruscans inhabited Orvieto until the 3rd century BC, when the Romans invaded.

The Duomo

This magnificent cathedral, one of the finest in Italy, took 300 years to complete. Think about it. The United States, founded in 1776, has yet to reach its 300th birthday. Generations of builders worked on this masterpiece.

Pope Nicholas IV laid the cornerstone for the Duomo on November 15, 1290. Completion occurred in 1591.

Inside, visitors appreciate the tall ceilings and black and white striped columns. Within the Duomo is the Chapel of San Brizio, featuring Luca Signorelli’s paintings, Day of Judgment and Life After Death. Some find the works of art creepy, with their depictions of hell and flying demons, while others declare them stunning.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy chapel
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the Duomo took 300 years to complete. Interior view.

Papal Residence

Outside of Rome, only Orvieto and two other cities contained papal palaces. During the sack of Rome in 1527, Pope Clement VII sought refuge in Orvieto.

Fearing the water supply might not last, if the city went under siege, the pope commissioned a 62 meter deep well. The Pozzo di S Patrizio, or Well of St Patrick, contains a central well shaft surrounded by stairways in a double helix design. The staircases allowed one way traffic, with empty water jars going down one set of stairs and full ones coming up the other.

Visitors may climb down into the well and toss coins into the water.

Underground Labyrinth

Beneath Orvieto lies a labyrinth of Etruscan caves and tunnels. The underground city boasts 1200 passageways, galleries, wells, stairs, cellars, cisterns and rooms.

Noble families living above were equipped with escape tunnels that wound from their homes through the labyrinth below, emerging at safe exit points outside the city walls.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy street
One of the gorgeous streets in Orvieto.

Oldest Church in Orvieto

San Giovenale claims the title as the oldest church in the city. Built in 1004, on the site of an Etruscan temple, the building contains many 13th century frescoes.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy oldest church
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the oldest church was built in 1004.

Etruscan Necropolis

Orvieto contains one of two Etruscan cemeteries in Italy. This one is 2,500 years old and located on the northern side of the cliff face. The tombs resemble houses, neatly arranged in rows.

Middle Ages Fortress

Built in the 1300s, Albornoz Fortress stood at the edge of the city on the site of an Etruscan temple. It’s purpose was to keep the city secure. Today it’s mostly in ruins and used as a public garden with an amphitheater for performances.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy fortress ruins
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the fortress was built on the site of an Etruscan temple.

Torre del Moro

The 47 meter tall clock tower in central Orvieto contains 236 steps that visitors may climb for spectacular views of the city and valley below. Originally built in the 13th century, the tower belonged to the pope. Today its clock and bells tell time.

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy clock tower
Fun facts about Orvieto Italy – the clock tower is the tallest structure in the city.

White Wine

The soil around Orvieto contains rich minerals, producing grapes that give wines a clean, crisp finish. Orvieto is known for its white wines and Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes.

Fall in Love with Orvieto

We loved this beautiful old city at the top of the world. We spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the narrow streets and taking in the sights. Cafes, shops, historical buildings and attractions offer much to visitors.

I’d love to return and spend a long weekend there, experiencing more of the people, the history and the culture.

Have you visited Orvieto, Italy?

Fun Facts about Orvieto Italy Dayan and Yaya

 

More Tales from Italy:

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy

Lions of Venice

Things You May Not Know about Michelangelo’s David

Bridge of Sighs

 


Cindy Goes Beyond is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate program provides a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, all at no extra cost to you.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.

Every country has their own culture. Delving into that culture is one of the reasons I enjoy travel. And every country has their own superstitions.

On my trip to Italy in 2017, accompanied by my daughter Elissa and grandson Dayan, I experienced one of Italy’s good luck traditions first hand. That funny and somewhat startling event inspired me to discover more.

Here are 10 good luck traditions from Italy.

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy title meme

The Importance of Learning Culture

After doing my research, I wish I’d known more about these Italian superstitions before my trip. Why? Because knowing them prevents inadvertently offending with my actions or inaction. Or at the least, keeps me from appearing insensitive or ignorant.

Superstitious traditions are woven throughout culture, even if they are no longer perceived in the same way that ancestors believed. The United States observes many superstitions that have become part of our culture. Knocking on wood, beginner’s luck, and find a penny, pick it up all come to mind. Some superstitions are almost universal. Black cats can’t catch a break anywhere because of their supposed association with witches long ago.

The following good luck traditions from Italy are fun to know and carry importance because they teach us more about the Italian people.

Pooped on by a Bird

This is the superstition I had the honor of experiencing!

While our wonderful tour guide Fabiola completed purchases to surprise us with later, the group settled on benches outside the gate of the medieval village of San Gimignano. A large leafy tree provided ample shade as we chatted about our exploration of the village.

As Fabiola strolled toward us with her bags, we gathered our belongings and prepared to board the bus. Suddenly I felt something hit me, on the shoulder and arm. Looking up, I spied a bird directly above me in the tree. Glancing back at my arm, I realized that bird pooped on me.

I made a sound of disgust. However, Fabi and some of the others cheered and clapped their hands.

When a bird poops on you in Italy, it is a symbol of good luck. It means you’ve been singled out for good fortune. Visiting a casino is considered the next best move after such a blessing from above.

People came up to me and rubbed my shoulder, to transfer my good fortune to themselves. One dear woman handed me a package of wipes. Bless her.

10 Good Luck Traditions in Italy bird poop
10 Good Luck Traditions in Italy – bird poop

Tocco Ferro – Touch Iron

In the US we knock on wood for good luck. In Italy, they touch iron. Some even carry a nail with them so that iron always remains within reach. A rusty nail is especially lucky. And like Americans, a metal horseshoe hung on or above a door, with the open ends pointing up, brings good luck to the household.

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy touch iron
10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy – touch iron
10 Good Luck Traditions form Italy - cornicello
10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy – cornicello charm

Carry a Cornicello Charm

A cornicello resembles a small horn or chili pepper. It represents the horns of the Old European Moon Goddess. Cornicellos are sold predominately in the Naples area, although they are available throughout Italy.

Carrying or wearing a cornicello protects from the curse of the Evil Eye, which is the look a jealous or envious person gives, and from bad luck in general. The charms also hang from the rearview mirrors of vehicles, based on the older custom of using them to protect draft horses, and in houses.

Cornicello also refers to a hand gesture in Italy, used similarly to ward off evil. Gold and silver hand charms are sold as well.

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy
10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy – cornicello hand charm

Lucky Number 13

The Italians consider 13 a very lucky number. It is associated with the Goddess of Fertility and represents prosperity and abundance.

However, the Italians have their unlucky number too. For them, the number 17 is extremely unlucky. The Roman numerals XVII rearrange to create the word VIXI, an Italian word for “I have lived”. That phrase is commonly used on tombstones and therefore, connected with death.

10 Good Luck Traditions in Italy - 13
10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy – lucky number 13

Bocca al Lupo – In the Mouth of the Wolf

The Italians don’t like to say the words “good luck” to each other. Similar to the American expression “break a leg” which is another way of saying good luck, the Italians say “bocca al lupo”. This expression means “in the mouth of the wolf”. The correct response is “crepi”, which means “let it die” or “wolf, die”.

10 Good Luck Traditions in Italy bocca al lupo
10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy – bocca al lupo

Spilling Salt or Olive Oil

Many cultures believe the superstition that spilling salt brings bad luck. One origin story suggests that at one time, salt was a valuable commodity. Spilling it created waste and perhaps bad luck followed such misfortune.

And consider da Vinci’s The Last Supper. In that painting Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, is portrayed as knocking over the salt container. And no one wants an association with Judas.

In Italy it’s considered unfortunate if you spill salt OR olive oil. To counter the effects, one must toss the spilled salt over the left shoulder and dab olive oil behind each ear.

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy salt
10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy – tossing spilled salt over the shoulder

House Blessings

Speaking of salt, Italians may bless their homes by putting salt in the corners. Salt cleanses the house by absorbing any negative energy or toxins.

Leave the salt for a few hours and then vacuum  or sweep it up.

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy San Gimignano
Good Luck Traditions from Italy – salt in the corner of houses, like these in San Gimignano

New Brooms

This tradition connects to houses as well. Sweep away old bad luck when moving into a new home, using a brand new broom. Just don’t sweep over the feet of a single person. If you do, he or she may never be swept off their feet by love.

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy broom
10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy – new broom

Good Luck Herbs

In Italy herbs assist with creating good luck.

Bay laurel leaves protect wearers from bad luck while helping them fulfill their dreams. Graduates often still wear laurel leaf crowns to represent good fortune. The bay laurel leaf symbolizes acquired wisdom as well.

And basil wards off poverty, which many consider an evil.

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy laurel leaves
10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy – bay laurel leaves

New Year’s Eve Traditions

These two Italian New Year’s Eve traditions sound intriguing!

After Christmas, red underwear, for men and women, goes on sale. These garments, worn on New Year’s Eve only, bring good luck for the upcoming year. Red is the color of fertility as well and important to couples hoping for a baby in the new year.

And the Italians eat lentils on New Year’s Eve. The coin like shape of the lentils represents money and prosperity for the upcoming year.

10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy lentils
10 Good Luck Traditions from Italy – lentils on New Year’s Eve

Favorite Good Luck Traditions

Did you know about these superstitions, popular in Italy? I enjoyed learning more about them. The warm, friendly people of Italy sprinkle many expressions throughout their language, that beautifully capture life. I love their perspectives and their traditions.

I know I have readers from around the world. What good luck traditions do you practice? I’d love to know!

Researching Italian good luck traditions for this blog post brought fortune my way. Inspiration compels me to write another post, perfect for the end of the year. Perhaps the bird poop blessing continues…

The gate into San Gimignano
The gate into San Gimignano, Italy.

Check out these other Tales from Italy posts:

Lions of Venice

The Bridge of Sighs

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo’s David

 


 

Cindy Goes Beyond is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This affiliate program provides a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com, all at no extra cost to you.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo’s David

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my Disclosure Policy for details.

My daughter, grandson and I toured Italy in 2017, checking many destinations and sights off our “must see” list. The colosseum and Sistine Chapel in Rome, Venice’s canals and the Leaning Tower of Pisa were on the list, along with Michelangelo’s David in Florence.

To see those places, structures and statue, after years of reading about them and studying photos, was both surreal and wondrous.

In Florence, our tour guide, Andrea, shared stories about David, one of the most amazing sculptures in the world. Andrea’s reverence and passion kept us spellbound and listening to every word as he shared from his wealth of knowledge.

I learned much that I did not know that deepened my appreciation for Michelangelo and his incredible sculpture. These are things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David. Perhaps you will learn something new as well.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David title meme

Where is the David Statue?

David is located in the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy. Considered the most famous statue in Florence, and perhaps the world, this magnificent work of art was created between 1501 and 1504 by a young Michelangelo, who was about 26 years old when commissioned for the statue.

The museum features other works of art by Michelangelo and art by great Italian artists such as Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pontormo and Orcagna.

We spent a couple of hours in the museum, as part of a day in Florence. One could easily spend a whole day there, studying the exhibits.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David Andrea
Our amazing tour guide while in Florence, Andrea, which is a common male name in Italy. And that’s my gorgeous daughter in the foreground.

Things You Probably Do Know About Michelangelo’s David

First, the things you probably DO know about this famous statue.

David is a depiction of the Biblical David, who killed the giant Goliath with a slingshot and a stone. Goliath taunted the Hebrew army daily…think bullying to the extreme…and because of his size, no one wanted to fight him. Although David was a youth, he accepted Goliath’s challenge to fight, one on one. Foregoing armor and a sword, David instead relied on his faith in God to help him defeat Goliath.

David is presented in all his glory, meaning the statue is naked.

The marble statue is 17 feet, 6 1/2 inches tall and weighs more than 12,000 pounds.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David first view
My first glimpse of David in the museum.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo’s David

And now for the things you may not know. I love learning facts about well known places and things. The stories add interest and depth.

Commissioned to Decorate the Roofline of a Cathedral

David was originally commissioned to stand along the eastern roofline of the Florence Cathedral. Because of the impressive quality of work, David ended up instead in a public square, the Piazza della Signoria, where it was unveiled on September 8, 1504. To protect it from weather and vandalism, the statue eventually took up residence in the Accademia Gallery in 1873. A replica of David replaced the original in the piazza.

And in 2010 another David replica graced the cathedral roofline, carrying out the intention from hundreds of years ago.

Carved From a Single Block of “Rejected” Marble

Michelangelo carved his masterpiece from a single block of Carrara marble. Two other sculptures began work on the block. Both stopped due to the poor quality and brittleness of the marble. Additionally, the marble contained strong veins running through it while pinholes riddled the surface.

When Michelangelo began his sculpture, the block of marble had sat abandoned for 40 years.

It took 40 men four days to move the completed sculpture from Michelangelo’s studio to the piazza.

A Unique Portrayal of David

Michelangelo broke with tradition in his portrayal of David. Other sculptures created a triumphant David, holding aloft the head of the giant after the battle. Michelangelo chose to show David before the battle, vulnerable and trusting in his nudity, his gaze analyzing the situation. A sling rests over his left shoulder and his right hand grasps a rock, indicating David was a leftie.

Michelangelo based David’s pose on Hercules, a hero with strong connections to Florence. Hercules appeared on the Florentine seal for centuries.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David full statue
Things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David – his pose mimics Hercules

David’s Hands and Head are Disproportionately Large

People have wondered if Michelangelo made a mistake, creating David’s hands and head larger than they should have been. However, even at a young age, Michelangelo was not a beginner artist. David was not his first sculpture. Additionally, Michelangelo studied anatomy, dissecting dead bodies to learn how muscles, bones and tissues worked.

One theory is that the large hands are a nod to David’s nickname, manu fortis, which means “strong of hand”. Our tour guide Andrea suggested another possibility. Because David originally intended to stand high above the ground, on the roof of the cathedral, Michelangelo enlarged the hands and head so that when people looked up, the proportions appeared correct.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David hand
Things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David – the hands and head are intentionally large

David is Suffering From Stress Fractures

More than 8 million visitors a year walk through the gallery to view David. All that foot traffic creates vibrations that are causing stress fractures in the marble. Frequent inspections reveal where repairs and restorations are necessary.

Blushing Queen

Queen Victoria of England received a replica of the David statue as a gift, in 1857. Shocked by David’s nudity, she ordered a plaster fig leaf made, to cover his privates. Leaf in place, the statue went on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David profile
Things you may not know about Michelangelo’s David – he’s portrayed as a leftie

Court Case

Although David has been a Florence resident for more than 500 years, the Italian government recently asked courts to determine whether David belongs to the city…or to Italy. No decision has been made yet.

Appreciation for David

My tour group spent about 30 minutes with David, as Andrea spoke passionately about him. Seeing Michelangelo’s statue was definitely the highlight of our time in Florence.

I felt strong emotions, circling the incredible sculpture. I admit that my eyes filled with tears several times.

He truly is beautiful and the artist’s genius is evident. David’s muscles show Michelangelo’s familiarity with human anatomy. The rib cage shows definition. And David’s face is extraordinary. The eyes appear to gaze intently toward his challenger. A tiny furrow creases his brow, making him seem deep in thought. His body appears relaxed and confident and powerful.

Andrea shared that Michelangelo believed God gave him the gift of releasing figures from the marble. When asked how he created David, Michelangelo reportedly replied that he simply chipped away all the stone that was not David.

I am forever grateful for the opportunity to see David and learn things I did not know about him. I hope you’ve learned new things about David as well!

Things You May Not Know About Michelangelo's David in Florence
Our Florence selfie.

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The Bridge of Sighs

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Ponte dei Sospiri…the Bridge of Sighs…just saying the name evokes emotions.

This bridge is one of many such structures that spans Venice’s canals. There are, in fact, 400 plus bridges crossing more than 150 canals in this unique city. Venice, Italy is a collection of tiny islands, connected by canals.

The oft photographed Bridge of Sighs draws a multitude of visitors each year. I enjoyed experiencing the beautiful and sorrowful covered bridge on a visit to Venice in 2017.

Discover the history of this iconic structure and learn how it received its name.

The Bridge of Sighs title meme

The History of the Bridge of Sighs

Built by Antonio Contin between 1600 and 1603, the Bridge of Sighs spans Rio di Palazzo. This baroque style, marble and Istrian stone bridge connects the inquisitor’s offices in the Doge’s Palace to the “New Prison”, a building designed specifically for detention.

Doge (Italian word for duke) Marino Grimani, whose family coat-of-arms occupies the center of the facade, commissioned the bridge.

While Ponte dei Sospiri attracts couples, who enjoy sharing a kiss near the covered bridge, it’s not romantic sighs that begat the name.

The name arose because prisoners stopped on the bridge and sighed at their last glimpse of beautiful Venice before entering the prison. The damp, cold, challenging conditions of the small cells often resulted in the deaths of the prisoners.

Peering out through the stone lattice windows, those escaping sighs surely carried regret, fear and grief.

The Bridge of Sighs closeup
The stone latticed windows in the Bridge of Sighs.

Stories About the Bridge of Sighs

Back to those romantic couples. The tale told is that if a couple kisses beneath the bridge, while riding in a gondola, their love will endure throughout eternity and they will know happiness. Some versions add that the couple must kiss at sunset, while drifting under the bridge, as the bells of St Mark’s Campanile ring out. As you can imagine, this is a busy route for gondolas.

The exterior of the bridge’s arch is adorned with faces on each side. A Venetian lion graces the middle, while ten other faces express anger or sadness. These grim faces supposedly scare evil spirits away. One happy face stands out. It is thought to represent the bridge’s guardian.

The bridge design is intentional, matching the style of the two buildings it connects. The Doge’s Palace, a huge, elegant palace overlooking St Mark’s Square, was the primary residence of the supreme authority of the former Republic of Venice, and the location of the city prison. The palace occupies the site of a former fortress that burned in the 10th century.

The Bridge of Sighs remains the only covered bridge in the entire city. Its passageway is topped by stone, with four windows looking out toward the San Giorgio Maggiore Island and the Lagoon. Very little light passes through the windows to brighten the dim, cool interior.

The Bridge of Sighs canal
The covered bridge spanning the canal.

Visiting the Bridge of Sighs

Views of the bridge are limited. See one of Venice’s most famous landmarks from these vantage points.

  • Admire the bridge from one of two nearby bridges. The Ponte della Paglia is located near the Doge’s Palace, as you stand with your back to the lagoon. The other bridge is the Ponte della Canonica at the other end of the canal.
  •  Enjoy a gondola ride that travels beneath the Bridge of Sighs.
  • Take a tour of the Doge’s Palace. The Bridge of Sighs is included in the tour and you get to walk across it and view the prison located on the other side.

Otherwise, the bridge is not open to the public. While it can be viewed from gondolas and the above mentioned bridges, the only opportunity to step inside the bridge is via the palace tour.

The Doge’s Palace is gorgeous and well worth a visit.

The Bridge of Sighs Doges Palace
A room in the Doge’s Palace.

My Experience Crossing the Bridge

My daughter, grandson and I were part of a travel group touring Italy. Our group enjoyed wandering through the Doge’s Palace with a guide. From an interior room, I got my first up close peek at the covered bridge and snapped a photo.

As we quietly entered the Bridge of Sighs, the energy within settled thickly around my head, shoulders and upper back, sending tingles down my spine.

It’s difficult to see much through the windows, however I paused there to reflect. Over the centuries, many, many prisoners walked this bridge and paused to sigh with despair. The bridge interior is actually divided by a wall down its middle, creating two corridors. That way, prisoners coming into the prison or going back to the courtroom for trial did not meet.

The atmosphere within the bridge felt very heavy to me, weighed down by those breathy final sighs. Sadness tinged with the fear of uncertainty surrounded me. The prison cells in the attached building were just as gloomy.

I’m grateful for the redemption of the bridge through its exterior beauty and the promise of romance beneath its splendid arch.

Have you visited the Bridge of Sighs in Venice? I intend to explore this unique city again one day!

The Bridge of Sighs faces

 

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