The official language of the country is Italian. About 93 percent of the Italian population speaks Italian as native language, according to the BBC. There are a number of dialects of the language spoken in the country, including Sardinian, Friulian, Neapolitan, Sicilian, Ligurian, Piedmontese, Venetian and Calabrian. Milanese is also spoken in Milan. Other languages spoken by native Italians include Albanian, Bavarian, Catalan, Cimbrian, Corsican, Croatian, French, German, Greek, Slovenian and Walser.
The major religion in Italy is Roman Catholicism. This is not surprising, as Vatican City, located in the heart of Rome, is the hub of Roman Catholicism and where the Pope resides. Roman Catholics make up 90 percent of the population, though only one-third of those are practicing Catholics, while the other 10 percent is composed of Protestant, Jewish and a growing Muslim immigrant community, according to the University of Michigan.
Italy has given rise to a number of architectural styles, including classical Roman, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical. Italy is home to some of the most famous structures in the world, including Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The concept of a basilica — which was originally used to describe an open public court building and evolved to mean a Catholic pilgrimage site — was born in Italy. The word, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is derived from Latin and meant "royal palace." The word is also from the Greek basilikē, which is the feminine of basilikos which means "royal" or basileus, which means "king."
Florence, Venice and Rome are home to many museums, but art can be viewed in churches and public buildings. Most notable is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican, painted by Michelangelo sometime between 1508 and 1512.
Opera has its roots in Italy and many famous operas — including "Aida" and "La Traviata," both by Giuseppe Verdi, and "Pagliacci" by Ruggero Leoncavallo — were written in Italian and are still performed in the native language. More recently, Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti made opera more accessible to the masses as part of the Three Tenors.
Italians celebrate most Christian holidays, including Christmas and Easter. Pasquetta, on the Monday after Easter, typically involves family picnics to mark the beginning of springtime.
November 1 commemorates Saints Day, a religious holiday during which Italians typically decorate the graves of deceased relatives with flowers.
Many Italian towns and villages celebrate the feast day of their patron saint. September 19, for example, is the feast of San Gennaro, the patron saint of Napoli.
The celebration of the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6, is much like Christmas. Belfana, an old lady who flies on her broomstick, delivers presents and goodies to good children, according to legend.
April 25 is the Liberation Day, marking the 1945 liberation ending World War II in Italy in 1945.