I have read the following sentence in an Italian language learning tool:
Noi pensavamo che il posto si trovasse sul mare.
Does that mean that the place is on the sea (eg a petroleum extraction platform, an island) or by the sea (= on the coast)?
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Usually, the intended meaning by a native Italian speaker would be the latter, by the sea, on the coast.
You could also say:
Noi pensavamo che il posto si trovasse in riva al mare.
meaning the place is facing the sea is next to the sea.
In the case of the petroleum extraction platform you would say:
La piattaforma petrolifera si trova in mare (aperto).