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6 Things You Could Never Have Guessed Are Actually Italian Inventions

Italy’s contribution to culture and gastronomy is undisputable. From ancient Roman times to the present day, Italians keep coming up with ideas and inventions – and legendary culinary feats and restaurants – that shape not only Italian culture but transcend borders to influence other nations, too.

And even though the first examples that spring to mind when we think about things that were invented in Italy are quite obvious – raise your hand if you also thought of pizza or opera – there are quite a few things that hardly spring to mind, but are truly Italian!

1. Jeans

Although jeans are thought of as typical American clothing, they actually originated in Italy – even their name is a tip of the hat to their Italian birthplace, Genoa. When Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis first started out in manufacturing jeans, they used a fabric called denim – which is another reference to the French town Nîmes.

But weavers in Nîmes actually were trying to copy the sturdy cotton corduroy typical of Genoa – a cross-weaved, strong type of fabric used since the 15th century in Genoa by shipbuilders and merchants to make sails for their ships and work clothes.

It was sometimes dyed blue by indigo brought from India, which resulted in the name “bleu de Gênes” (blue from Genoa) when they were exported to France – ring a bell?

The name was converted into “blue jeans” in English.

Weird Italy jeans 6 Things You Could Never Have Guessed Are Actually Italian Inventions Italian Dishes and Food Italian History  venice Nutella inventions food casino
IMAGE SOURCE: pexels.com

2. Shopping malls

Built around 107-110 AD, the awe-inspiring structure that was later named Trajan’s Market is the world’s first public shopping centre.

Ancient Romans would flock into this industrial complex that housed roughly 150 shops and offices across various levels – smaller shops would stand on the ground floor, where clients crowded the tiny entrances, while an arcade of shops was found on the higher level and most probably individual apartments on the last floor.

The entire left wing of this building marvel representative of Ancient Roman architecture that spread in the form of a hemicycle housed a covered shopping arcade.

3. Casinos

Human history is filled with games of chance – every civilization, from the Ancient Greeks to the Mayans, had their very own gambling games. Yet casino entertainment as such was born in Italy: the word casino itself is of Italian origin, as a derivative of the root word casa, which means house.

Casinos were originally country villas where people would take their summer holidays or social club. In 1638 the first casino establishment in the modern sense of the word opened its doors to the public – the Casino di Venezia, which still operates today.

Indeed, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the term extended to other public buildings – usually within or on the grounds of a larger villa – that housed various fun social activities, from dancing and music to sports and games of luck.

Weird Italy italian-casino 6 Things You Could Never Have Guessed Are Actually Italian Inventions Italian Dishes and Food Italian History  venice Nutella inventions food casino
IMAGE SOURCE: pexels.com

 

4. Batteries

Yes, it was an Italian who brought this incredibly handy invention to the world – that in turn sparked the invention of numerous portable devices.

In 1791, Alessandro Volta, an Italian physicist and chemist from Como, published a paper in which he debunked the claims of fellow Italian Luigi Galvani – and the popular theory of the time – that electricity was produced only by living things. Volta proved instead that electricity could be generated chemically and went on to invent the first wet cell battery – now know as the voltaic pile.

Oh, in the process, he also discovered methane, set the foundations for the development of electrochemistry and had the SI unit of electric potential, the volt, named after him. Not bad at all.

5. Pretzels

Few foods are thought of as more typically German – but pretzels were actually invented by an Italian monk around 610 AD.

He came up with the baked goodies to reward children who were meticulous in learning their prayers and Bible verses; so legend has it that the shape of the folded dough is meant to resemble the crossed arms of children deep in prayer. Whether that is true or not remains a mystery, but he did call his invention pretiola, which means “little reward” in Latin, which later probably got distorted into pretzel.

Weird Italy Pretzels 6 Things You Could Never Have Guessed Are Actually Italian Inventions Italian Dishes and Food Italian History  venice Nutella inventions food casino
IMAGE SOURCE: pexels.com

6. Nutella

This one many people probably suspected is Italian, and we are happy to confirm; yet any list of Italian inventions would be severely lacking if it did not mention the incredibly popular hazelnut chocolate spread: Nutella. The history behind it is fascinating; Nutella was invented by one Pietro Ferrero, a professional pastry maker.

Mr. Ferrero was seeking a solution to the cocoa shortage experienced in Italy during WWII – and he turned to the ingredient that his native Piedmont had in abundance: hazelnuts. He used hazelnut paste mixed with sugar and just a touch of the rare cocoa to invent the predecessor to the famous spread.

The list of course does not stop here – countless more inventions and products that sprung up in Italy have spread all over the world, creating a deep impact and many imitations or improved versions in other cultures.

“The Magnificent Seven” at the Venice Film Festival

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The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice

The Venetian Ghetto (ghèto) was an area of Venice where Jews were permitted to live under Venetian Republic.

The Ghetto is located in Cannareggio, not far from the train station.

English (and Italian) word “ghetto” derived from the Venetian language, ghèto. Beginning in 1516, Jews were restricted to living in the Venetian Ghetto.

The English term “ghetto” is an Italian loanword, which actually comes from the Venetian word “ghèto”, slag, and was used in this sense in a reference to a foundry where slag was stored located on the same island as the area of Jewish confinement. An alternative etymology is from Italian borghetto, diminutive of borgo ‘borough’. [Wikipedia]

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-001 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Though it was home to a large number of Jews, the population living in the Venetian Ghetto never assimilated to form a distinct, “Venetian Jewish” ethnicity. Four of the five synagogues were clearly divided according to ethnic identity: separate synagogues existed for the German (the Scuola Grande Tedesca), Italian (the Scuola Italiana), Spanish and Portuguese (the Scuola Spagnola), and Levantine Sephardi communities (The Scola Levantina). The fifth, the Scuola Canton, was a private synagogue for the 4 families who funded its construction. One was the Fano family. Today, there are also populations of Ashkenazic Jews in Venice, mainly Lubavitchers who operate one of two kosher foodstores, a yeshiva, and the aforementioned Chabad synagogue. [Wikipedia]

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-002 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Languages historically spoken in the confines of the Ghetto include Venetian, Italian, Judeo-Spanish, Judeo-Arabic, French, and German[citation needed]. In addition, Hebrew was traditionally (and still is) used on signage, inscriptions, and for official purposes such as wedding contracts (as well as, of course, in religious services). [Wikipedia]

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-003 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-004 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Today, the Ghetto is still a center of Jewish life in the city. The Jewish Community of Venice, that counts 500 people, is still culturally very active. [Wikipedia]

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-005 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-007 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Plaque in the Jewish ghetto in Venice bearing a law (September 20, 1704) forbidding severely any Jewish person converted to Christianity to enter the Jewish Ghetto and to meet any Jews, menacing harsh penalties. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, August 1st, 2008. [Wikimedia]

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-008 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-009 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-010 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-011 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Weird Italy ghetto-venice-012 The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

Weird Italy shylock The first ghetto in the world: The Ghetto of Venice Italian History Magazine What to see in Italy  William Shakespeare venice venezia veneto Venetian Republic Venetian Ghetto The Merchant of Venice shylock jewish ghetto gheto cannareggio

William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice features Shylock, a Venetian Jew, and his family.

Source Wikipedia 1 , Wikipedia 2
Images http://commons.wikimedia.org/