It's compelling and baffling as to why the country of Italy, with a history of more than 3,000 years and a name just as old, is roughly just 160 years old!
The united, independent, self-governing Italy was established in the year 1861. Prior to that it existed mostly as 7 separate states: The Kingdom of Sardinia, The Papal States, Venetia, Lombardy, United Central Italy, Kingdom of Sicily, and the Kingdom of Naples, with some states being under the control of foreign powers. Each state had its own traditions, economy, social standards, and dialect, even though the Italian language of today was established in the early 14th century, in an part of Tuscany, in the state of Lombardy. All of these diversities proved to be big barriers to the newly minted country. They needed to eradicate them for its survival, especially the language barriers among its population.
Regardless of these hurdles, numerous men of influence, who have become "the pride of our heritage", continued to flourish within the entire region. When we think of famous Italians of the Pre- Risorgimento (pre-unification), we think of familiar names like Marco Polo (1254-1324), Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), Galileo (1564-1642), Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Michelangelo (1475 – 1564), Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), Giuseppe Zamponi (1776–1846), etc.
Those of the post-Risorgimento are just as numerous with names as Antonio Meucci (1808 - 1889), Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007), Andrea Bocelli (1958 - ), Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901), Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924), Monica Bellucci (1964 - ), Francesco Totti (1976 - ), Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), Enrico Fermi (1901 -1954), Fausto Coppi (1919 – 1960), Rina Monti ( 1871-1937), Augusto Righi (1850–1920), just to consider a few.
The realization of il Risorgimento, the 19th century movement that united Italy, required the participation of numerous and courageous patriots. History, however, only records the more prominent ones like Camillo Benso, Conte di Cavour, Mazzini, Garibaldi, Napoleon Buonaparte III, Verdi, and Victor Emanuel II. They were the leaders who orchestrated the plan that eventually united the peninsula under one government and one flag.
Verdi, through his operas, inspired and promoted the nationalistic spirit for the Italian people to crave their own promised land and rid themselves of foreign control. Coincidentally, the letters of the alphabet in his name created the acronym for the implicit and popular slogan: "Viva Verdi", meaning: Viva Victor Emmanuale Re D’Italia, referring to the King of Sardinia who became the first leader of the United Italy. Count Camillo Benso of Cavour delivered the unification of Northern Italy, while Giuseppe Garibaldi, with his army fought to defeat and unite the South to the North. Giuseppe Mazzini, a politician, activist and journalist founded the secret revolutionary society who spearheaded the civil Italian Revolution and Napoleon III, a nephew of Napoleon I and the first president of France (as Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte), helped Victor Emanuel II defeat the Austrian army to free the state of Piedmont-Sardinia.
Their convictions and perseverance incorporated some of the most scenic and beautiful landscapes on our planet Earth into one unified nation, often described as having the shape of a boot with majestic mountains, hills and valleys. The inhabitants of the land trace all the way back to the Neanderthals, to its first civilization created by the Etruscans whose culture continues to gain recognition with each passing day, and to the Romans who were the first to colonize most of the peninsula.
The nation kept its ancient name of Italia (Italy). Originally it was spelled Vitalia, probably from the Latin root of vitulus (a one-year-old calf) implying to be the land of "The Land of Calves" or "The Land of Cattle". Experts are not in agreement on the origin of the name, we just have possible theories. A legend has it that at Rhegium, modern Reggio Calabria, a loose bull jumped into the Mediterranean Sea and swam all the way to Sicily. The word for bull was "italus" and they considered the country had been named after the bull. Another theory, according to Aristotle, the country was named after the king of Enotria, an Italic hero in the late Iron Age, named Italus. Another theory is that the name is derived from the people of Calabria, the Italói, meaning in Greek as the people of the bulls, due to their worship the Bull God. And another is that the name came from the Persian word Atalu meaning the land of sunsets because the Persian countries could see the sun setting somewhere in the vicinity of Italy. Yet, another theory is that the name comes from the Greek word Aithalìa which means land of fire, referring to the volcano Etna in Sicily.
However how the name came about is not as significant as what it represents. A name is a mere term used by outside observers to identify and distinguish one place from other places. Once a name is adopted, its importance rests on what it stands for. The name Italy stands for the birthplace of the Renaissance, the hub of Christianity, the heartland of the Roman Empire, and the rich heritage of history, art, music, architecture, food, science, family, and family, all of which have vastly contributed to the shaping of the traditions and values of the Western world. Today, we the Italians, do no longer proclaim, " Viva Verdi" but we do exalt in proclaiming "Viva L'Italia"