Italy Roundtable: Five Autonomous Regions in Italy

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Sometimes it can be difficult to keep track of the passing of time. It’s been a while since I wrote about Italy. I can’t even remember a time when I did not have a day job. Yet, when I look back at how much I still learn about Italy and travel in the boot, it feels like yesterday.

It’s one of the easiest parts of my Italy writing to track. The Italy Roundtable turns five years old this month, which I can’t believe. This group of intelligent and classy Italian writers was a great idea. It has been five years since I first heard about it. Every month I learn something new from them.

This month, we are honoring the anniversary of Italy Roundtable by choosing FIVE to be our theme. Italy Roundtable, Happy Anniversary – Here’s to many more.

If you travel around Italy enough, it’s likely that you will hear the Italian language as well as a few dialects. There will be distinct regional differences in the food. It’s all part of what makes Italy so fascinating – the cuisine is not uniform.

It’s easy to see how Italy was before it was Italy. Each region has its own laws and language. This is what makes the dialects and differences in cuisines make sense. Sometimes, there is a similar (but different!) one. One in a neighboring area, and sometimes two adjacent areas can feel like different countries.

Many of the differences between regions that were once obvious to travelers have disappeared since the unification. For example, tomatoes were not traditionally a part the northern Italian cuisine. This has resulted in many restaurants across Italy offering what is technically called “Italian food”. Italian, despite the fact that there are still regional dialects spoken throughout the country is the official language in Italy.

You can still find delicious local dishes and regional differences if you search for them. However, some regions have taken steps to preserve their traditions.

Five of the 20 Italian regions were named “autonomous” by the Italian Constitution. They are: Friuli Vinezia Giulia Sardinia and Sicily; Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol; and Val d’Aosta.

Italy’s autonomous regions remain part of Italy. They don’t have their currency, but they have greater control over local laws and how funds are spent. Each of the 20 countries’ regions collects taxes. However, the five autonomous regions receive more than the other 15 regions (60% instead the usual 20%) and 100% in Sardinia. The regional government pays more for services than the national.

This autonomy is primarily intended to preserve the unique cultural and linguistic diversity of each region.


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The map of Italy to your right shows that five of the autonomous regions of Italy are either at an international border – Friuli Vinezia Giulia/Sudtirol and Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol – or on islands – Sicily, Sardinia. It’s not surprising that border areas change hands often enough during wars. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the borders of Friuli Vinezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol and Val d’Aosta retain unique multi-cultural identities. The multi-cultural identity of Sicily is also due to the fact that it was conquered by different rulers over the centuries, such as Normans or Moors. Sardinia is, however, unique due to its isolation from other invading culture.

Language is one of the best ways to preserve local culture and autonomy in a region. These five regions have Italian as one of the official languages. However, not all residents will speak it. Signs and other signs in these areas won’t always be written in Italian. Below is a list of the languages spoken in each region.

  • Friuli–Venezia Giulia The official language of Italy is Italian. However, almost everyone speaks Friulian. Some parts of the region also speak the Triestine dialect and the Venetian language.
  • Sardinia The official language of the country is Italian. Nearly everyone can speak Sardu. A few dialects are spoken in the region, including Algherese and Gallurese.
  • Sicily The official language of Italy is Sicilian, which is spoken by nearly everyone.
  • Trentino–Alto Adige/Sudtirol The official languages of Italy and Germany are Italian and German. A small portion of the population can also speak one or more of three dialects, Ladin, Mocheno, and Cimbrian.
  • Val d’Aosta – The official languages of this country are French and Italian (specifically, a version called Aostan French), but nearly 60% of the population speaks a regional dialect, Valdotain.

Pay attention to the language you hear and see when you travel in these areas next time. This is a unique part of Italian culture.

Italy Roundtable: Other Voices

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6 Responses to “Italy Roundtable – 5 Autonomous Regions of Italy”.

  • Excellent blog, Jessica. We visit Trentino-Alto Adige each year, and we always feel a bit strange speaking Italian there. It is wonderful to feel so different yet still be in Italy. Despite the changes in borders after WWI, people aren’t losing their Austrian roots. It is wonderful to see Wienerschnitzel paired with olio, peperoncino and Aglio on a menu.

  • Kath has the following:

    Great post. Although I have yet to visit all of the autonomous regions, I can say that I agree completely with Laurel. The Alto-Adige was very orderly and it was possible to still get decent pizza.

    • Right, Karen! It’s lovely to see order and great coffee. We love the orderliness of Switzerland (and its beauty), but the food and wine are heavy.

  • Jess has the following:

    I love your comments, Laurel & Karen. It’s Italy but it’s not. That’s what I love about the autonomous areas. It serves as a reminder of how young Italy is as an idea and country. It’s always a pleasure to see regions, even those that are not autonomous, preserve their traditions.

    • Kath has the following:

      Absolutely, Jessica. Jessica, it’s not just in the autonomous areas. Calabria was home to me for many years. Every town has its Calabrian dialect/language, and there are also completely different languages with Greek, Albanian, and French roots. That’s not all!

  • Donald antonangeli:

    Jessica, I just found out about this and subscribed to find out more about my grandparents’ homeland.