Italian Culture: An introduction to Italy

Elsa Franco Al Ghaslan

Published — Friday 23 November 2012

Last update 23 November 2012 4:26 am

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One time or another, you have probably eaten pizza, seen a photo of “Mona Lisa”, heard about the leaning tower of Pisa. Therefore... you know Italy! Well, let us say that you are acquainted with some details that make Italy a well-known place all around the world.
Italy is not a “big” country in the literal sense of the word. On the contrary, it is a tiny peninsula in the southern part of Europe (its area is just about one sixth of Saudi Arabia’s) and has a funny shape: it looks exactly like a boot equipped with heel and spur. It is plunged into the Mediterranean Sea (“Mare Nostrum”, “Our Sea”, as it was called when Rome was “Caput Mundi”, “the head of the world”, a couple of thousand years ago). The term Mediterranean actually means “between lands” because such sea is surrounded from all sides: by Spain to the west, ex-Yugoslavia to the east, north Africa to the south. Italy is right in the middle.
Italy is known around the world (mainly?) for its delicious food. Besides pizza, who hasn’t had a piece of “lasagna”, a slice of “tiramisu’” or a cone of “gelato”? Italy is also renowned for fashion: many are familiar with brand names such as Gucci, Armani, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, to mention just a few. Even children have heard of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo’s artistic genius, of places such as Venice water streets and gondola boats, Capri island’ blue grotto or Lake Como›s enchanting views. Many are also familiar with the names of scientists like Galileo, who studied the skies through his telescope, and Marconi, who invented the radio, or poets such as Dante Alighieri who, with his poem “The Divine Comedy” — where he recounts his spiritual journey through the Hereafter — transformed the hybrid post-Latin language into the beautiful Italian idiom that now sings “Amore.”
Italy’s contribution to “Culture” in general has been great throughout the centuries, since its southern part became a Greek colony in the 8th century BC. From a small agricultural community, Rome grew under the leadership of mythical heroes such as Julius Caesar, gained more and more power through its conquests and finally gave birth to the huge Roman Empire. Such Empire absorbed the Greek culture and blended it into its own, thus laying the foundations for modern government, laws, architecture, philosophy administration, engineering etc. We can therefore say — with no fear of denial — that Western civilization has been greatly influenced by Rome and by the many Italian intellectual achievements.
I wish now to offer the readers of “Arab News” a bird’s eye view over the people who made Italy a household name throughout the continents. I believe you are proud of the country you come from and would like to have others know more about it. This is what I will try to do with my own, by presenting, once a month, a character who has done something remarkable in one of the many cultural fields, both in the past and in our days. Among many others, we will talk about Dante Alighieri to see who he actually was, what he did and what he wrote; Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italy›s national hero, who — like King Abdul Aziz for Saudi Arabia — unified the divided country and made it a “nation” (second half of 19th century). We will talk about Antonio Vivaldi, whose “Four Seasons” symphony is universally played, Titian (Tiziano), whose striking portraits of important personages of the 16th century are displayed in numberless museums. And also... explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Marco Polo, along with film directors Federico Fellini (who doesn’t know “La Dolce Vita”?) and Roberto Benigni, who won an Oscar Award with his movie “Life Is beautiful”. And then... charming film star Sophia Loren, powerful singers Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli etc. There are too many to mention them all! Are you interested in “diving” into the Italian world of literature, art, music, fashion, sightseeing etc.? I hope you are. I would love to take you there!

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