From folk to classical, music has always played an important role in Italian culture. Instruments associated with classical music, including the piano and violin, were invented in Italy, and many of the prevailing classical music forms, such as the symphony, concerto and sonata, can trace their roots back to innovations of 16th and 17th century Italian music.
Italy's most famous composers include:
- Renaissance composers Palestrina and Monteverdi
- Baroque composers Alessandro Scarlatti Corelli and Vivaldi
- Classical composers Paganini and Rossini
- Romantic composers Verdi and Puccini
Italy is widely known for being the birthplace of opera. Italian opera was believed to have been founded in the early 17th century in Italian cities such as Mantua and Venice. Later, works and pieces composed by native Italian composers of the 19th century and early 20th century, such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, are among the most famous operas ever written and today are performed in opera houses across the world. La Scala opera house in Milan is renowned as one of the best in the world. Famous Italian opera singers include Enrico Caruso, Alessandro Bonci, the late Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli, to name a few.
While the classical music tradition still holds strong in Italy, as evidenced by the fame of its innumerable opera houses, such as La Scala of Milan and San Carlo of Naples, and performers such as the pianist Maurizio Pollini and the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Italians have been no less appreciative of their thriving contemporary music scene. Modern Italian composers such as Berio and Nono proved significant in the development of experimental and electronic music.
Introduced in the early 1920s, jazz took a particularly strong foothold in Italy, and remained popular despite the xenophobic cultural policies of the Fascist regime. Today, the most notable centers of jazz music in Italy include Milan, Rome and Sicily. Italy was also at the forefront of the progressive rock movement of the 1970s, with bands like PFM and Goblin.
Today, Italian pop music is represented annually at the Sanremo Music Festival, which served as inspiration for the Eurovision song contest, and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto. Singers such as pop diva Mina, classical crossover artist Andrea Bocelli, Grammy winner Laura Pausini, and European chart-topper Eros Ramazzotti have attained international acclaim.
The history of Italian cinema began a few months after the Lumière brothers began motion picture exhibitions. The first Italian film was a few seconds long, showing Pope Leo XIII giving a blessing to the camera. The Italian film industry was born between 1903 and 1908 with three companies: the Società Italiana Cines, the Ambrosio Film and the Itala Film. Other companies soon followed in Milan and in Naples. In a short time these first companies reached a fair producing quality, and films were soon sold outside Italy.
Cinema was later used by Benito Mussolini, who founded Rome's renowned Cinecittà studio for the production of Fascist propaganda until World War II. After the war, Italian film was widely recognized and exported until an artistic decline around the 1980s.
Notable Italian film directors from this period include:
- Vittorio De Sica
- Federico Fellini
- Sergio Leone
- Pier Paolo Pasolini
- Luchino Visconti
- Michelangelo Antonioni
- Dario Argento
Movies include world cinema treasures such as La dolce vita, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo and Ladri di biciclette. In recent years, the Italian scene has received only occasional international attention, with movies like La vita è bella directed by Roberto Benigni and Il postino with Massimo Troisi.
Italian fashion has a long tradition and is regarded as one of the most important in the world. Milan, Florence and Rome are Italy's main fashion capitals; however, Naples, Turin, Venice, Bologna, Genoa and Vicenza are other major centers.
According to the 2009 Global Language Monitor, Milan was nominated the true fashion capital of the world, even surpassing other international cities, such as New York, Paris, London and Tokyo. Rome came fourth. Major Italian fashion labels, such as Gucci, Prada, Versace, Valentino, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Fendi, Moschino, Max Mara and Ferragamo, to name a few, are regarded as amongst the finest fashion houses in the world. Also, the fashion magazine Vogue Italia, is considered the most important and prestigious fashion magazine in the world.
Italy is also prominent in the field of design, notably interior design, architectural design, industrial design and urban design. Italy has produced some well-known furniture designers, such as Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass, and Italian phrases such as "Bel Disegno" and "Linea Italiana" have entered the vocabulary of furniture design. Examples of classic pieces of Italian white goods and pieces of furniture include Zanussi's washing machines and fridges, the "New Tone" sofas by Atrium, and the post-modern bookcase by Ettore Sottsass, inspired by Bob Dylan's song "Memphis Blues."
Today, Milan and Turin are the nation's leaders in architectural and industrial design. The city of Milan hosts the FieraMilano, Europe's biggest design fair. Milan also hosts major design and architecture-related events and venues, such as the "Fuori Salone" and the Salone del Mobile, and has been home to the designers Bruno Munari, Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni.
Modern Italian cuisine has evolved through centuries of social and political changes, with its roots reaching back to the 4th century BC. Significant change occurred with the discovery of the New World, when vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and maize became available. However, these central ingredients of modern Italian cuisine were not introduced in scale before the 18th century.
Ingredients and dishes vary by region. However, many dishes that were once regional have proliferated in different variations across the country. Cheese and wine are major parts of the cuisine, playing different roles both regionally and nationally with their many variations and Denominazione di origine controllata (regulated appellation) laws. Coffee, and more specifically espresso, has become highly important to the cultural cuisine of Italy. Some famous dishes and items include pasta, pizza, lasagna, focaccia and gelato.