It is the third most widely spoken first language in the European Union with 65 million native speakers (13% of the EU population) and it is spoken as a second language by 14 million EU citizens (3%).
Italian is the main working language of the Holy See, serving as the lingua franca (common language) in the Roman Catholic hierarchy as well as the official language of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Italian culture flourished at this time, producing famous scholars, artists and polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli.
Italian explorers such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery.
Italian is also spoken by large expatriate communities in the Americas and Australia.
Italian is a major European language, being one of the official languages of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and one of the working languages of the Council of Europe.
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