Italy has been home to plenty of famous different famous figures.
From art to literature, not forgetting music and cinema, Italian culture has bred a variety of big names that you’ve surely heard of. No?
Here’s our top 15 famous Italians that you should have heard about. If you haven’t heard about them, you have now!
If you’re inspired after this post, why not search on Superprof for Italian classes London, Manchester or wherever you’re based in the UK to continue to learn about Italian culture.
Here’s probably one of the most famous people of all time!
A painting of Julius Caesar from 1619. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
He’s not just that guy from the Asterix comics, after all. Even though he’s the stuff of legend, he was very much a real person.
He was born in Rome in 100AD and died there in 44AD. He was a writer, politician, and Roman general. As a tactician and political Genius, he led Roman legions in their conquest of Gaul.
He declared himself Dictator for Life in 48AD and was assassinated 4 years later in the senate following a plot from the senators. After his death, his adopted son Octavius ended up reforming the Roman Republic.
Here’s another famous figure you’ll probably hear about when learning Italian.
Marco Polo was a Italian merchant and explorer who was born in 1254 in Venice and died there in 1324.
Marco Polo led many exciting expeditions. Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Famous for his voyages to China, Marco Polo was as much as merchant as he was an ambassador to the first Mongol emperor of the Yuan Dynasty Kublai Khan.
He subsequently became a messenger for the Overlord of China, Iran, and Russia and completed a large number of diverse missions across Asia.
His work, Le Livre de Merveilles, details his experiences.
A TV series was recently made about his life and he was also said to have influenced Christopher Columbus.
You can hardly learn Italian without learning about Dante! It’s Italian for beginners!
Dante Alighieri (real name Durante degli Alighieri) was a Florentine poet, writer, and politician. He was born in Florence in 1265 and died in Ravenna in 1321. He’s most famous for his work: Divine Comedy.
Dante is credited with linguistically unifying Italy. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
According to histories, it’s thanks to Dante Alighieri that the Italian language is the way it is today.
In fact, his literary masterpiece helped impose the Tuscan dialect (particularly the Florentine subdialect) across Italy.
Dante Alighieri is also featured in our list of the top 5 Italian artists!
Everyone knows the most famous European explorer: Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo in Italian).
He was born in 1451 in Genoa, Italy and died in 1506 in Valladolid, Spain and was famous for being the first man to cross the Atlantic. This trip led him to the Caribbean and he was commonly known as the first European to discover the Americas in 1492.
While he was working for Spain, Christopher Columbus was actually Italian. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
According to historians, Christopher Columbus played an important role in some of the greatest discoveries of the 15th and 16th.
Furthermore, his first voyage is mentioned as a turning point modern humans.
Leonardo da Vinci (full name Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci) was a genius you’ll probably hear about in your Italian lessons. He was born in 1452 in Vinci, Italy and died in 1519 in Amboise, France.
Nowadays he is seen as a symbol of the Renaissance. A Jack of all trades, master of all, Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, scientist, architect, mathematician, poet, diplomat, astronomer, and even a sculptor.
Leonardo da Vinci is arguably one of the most talented people to have ever lived. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
He is probably most famous as a painter due to the Mona Lisa but he also helped advance science. He was ahead of his time and even theorised aeroplanes, cars, submarines, and helicopters.
Without forgetting that he also made discoveries in the fields of optics, anatomy, hydrodynamics, and civil engineering.
A star of Italian culture…
Check out the most famous Italian writers and painters.
Galileo is one of the greatest European scholars of physics, mathematics, astronomy, and geometry. Born in 1564 in Pisa and died in Arcetri in 1641, Galileo (Galileo Galilei) was a pioneer of physics. In fact, since 1680 he’s been considered the founder of the discipline. Furthermore, he established the foundations of modern mechanics.
Antonio Vivaldi was a famous composer and violin genius. Born in Venice in 1678 and died in Vienna in 1741, Vivaldi left his mark on classical music. He was one of the most important composers of the Baroque period. You may have heard The Four Seasons, Stabat Mater, or even L’estro armonico. He wrote both operas and instrumental pieces.
Every country goes through some dark days. For Italy, it was Benito Mussolini.
Born in 1883 in Dovia di Predappio and died in Giulino di Mezzegra in 1945, Mussolini was a journalist and the Leader of Italy between 1922 and 1943.
He joined the Italian Socialist Party in 1912 and was expelled in 1914. He later created the National Fascist Party in 1921.
In 1922, thanks to several threats, intimidation, and acts of violence, he was charged with putting together a government. He therefore became Minister of the Interior, Minster of Foreign Affairs, and President of the Council of Ministers. In 1924, a series of laws consolidated his power.
In 1936, he created a union and cooperation agreement with Nazi Germany and the Italian army would cooperate with Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Thanks to Allied Victories, he was stopped in 1943. In 1945, Mussolini tried to flee Italy but was captured by communists, killed by firing squad, then hung by his feet.
Born in 1934 in Piacenza, Giorgio Armani is an Italian stylist. He’s the co-founder of his namesake business and has developed a number of fashion lines for men and women. He became famous for dressing the stars and famous clubs sports. Today his fortune is in the billions (€7.2 billion in 2012).
Luciano Pavarotti was a famous Italian singer. Born in 1935 and died in 2007 in Modena, Pavarotti was known as one of the greatest opera singers (tenor) of his generation.
With over 100 million albums sold world wide, he helped make classical music popular. We have to mention his bel canto classics.
He also collaborated with plenty of other famous artists including Mariah Carey, U2, and Barry White for humanitarian causes.
Before being the politician we know him as today, Silvio Berlusconi was a business man. Born in Milan in 1936, Berlusconi founded and directed Fininvest (a financial holdings company) and Mediaset (a media group).
In 1994, thanks to his centre-right Forza Italia political movement, he became prime minister for the first time. Although he resigned, he later became the prime minister again in 2001.
After having headed two successful governments, he was beaten in 2006 but would become the president two years later following a snap election. After being convicted of tax-fraud in 2013, he was banned from public office until 2019.
Andrea Bocelli is an Italian singer born in Lajatico in 1958. As a tenor having performed several operas Andrea Bocelli is known around the world. The singer (who was blinded aged 12) has sold over 80 million albums around the world. You should check out Con te partirò, Vivo per lei, or Romanza.
The Italian model and actress Monic Bellucci was born in Città di Castello in 1964. She is famous for her roles in films such as The Matrix, The Passion of the Christ, and Spectre. She was married to the French actor Vincent Cassel for many years until their divorce in 2013. She is also often considered one of the most beautiful women in the world. Was she in any of our top Italian films?
Born in Florence in 1975, Matteo Renzi started his career in marketing. He got into politics when he supported Romano Prodi in 1996. He’s a member of the left-wing Italian Democratic Party. He was also elected as the President of the Region of Florence in 2004. He was elected as the Mayor of Florence in 2009.
In 2012, he was a candidate for the Secretary of the Democratic Party. Although he was beaten, he did get the position a year later. He became Prime Minister of Italy in 2014. He replaced Enrico Letta who was forced to leave his post.
Francesco Totti is an Italian footballer who was born in Rome in 1976. He spent his entire playing career at Roma.
Totti stayed in Rome his entire career. Can you blame him? (Source: pixabay.com)
He started his career in 1993 and, during that time, the only other team he played for was the Italian national side in a number of international competitions. In addition to winning the World Cup with Italy in 2006, he is also one of the 100 greatest players of all time. During his career, Totti scored a total of 250 goals for Roma.
Valentino Rossi is a motorcyclist who was born in Urbino in 1979. Since starting his career in 1996, Rossi has won a number of titles. He’s won the MotoGP championship 9 times in total and is generally considered one of the best motorcyclists still racing.
These 15 famous Italians have each left their mark in their respective fields. Of course, we couldn’t include every famous Italian. As you can see, Italy is home to plenty of people who are famous in Italy, Europe, and across the globe.