is a country located in Southern Europe, Italy shares its northern alpine boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The independent countries of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italian territory.
Italy was home to many well-known and influential European cultures, including the Etruscans, Greeks, and the Romans. Its capital Rome has been a historically important world city, especially as the core of ancient Rome and the Roman Catholic Church.
Italy was divided into many independent states and often experienced foreign domination before the Italian unification, that created Italy as an independent nation-state for the first time in its history, took place. During the period under the Italian monarchy and during the world wars Italy experienced much conflict, but stability was restored after the creation of the Italian Republic.
Today, Italy is a highly-developed country with the 7th-highest GDP.
It is a member of the G8 and a founding member of what is now the European Union, having signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Inhabitants of Italy are referred to as Italians ( Italiani , or poetically Italici ).
Excavations throughout Italy have unearthed proof of humans presence in Italy dating back to the Palaeolithic period (the "Old Stone Age") some 200,000 years ago.
Italy has influenced the cultural and social development of the whole Mediterranean area, deeply influencing European culture as well. As a result, it has also influenced other important cultures. Such cultures and civilisations have existed there since prehistoric times. After Magna Graecia, the Etruscan civilisation and especially the Roman Republic and Empire that dominated this part of the world for many centuries, Italy was central to European science and art during the Renaissance.
Rome and the Middle Ages
Centre of the Roman civilization for centuries, Italy lost its unity after the collapse of the Roman Empire and subsequent barbaric invasions.
Population and economy started slowly to pick up after 1000, with the resurgence of cities (which organised themselves politically in Comuni ), trade, arts and literature. During the later Middle Ages the partially democratic Comuni, which could not face the challenges of that period, were substituted by monarchic-absolutistic governments ( Signorie ), but the fragmentation of the peninsula, especially in the northern and central parts of the country, continued, while the southern part, with Naples, Apulia and Sicily, remained under a single domination. Venice and Genoa created powerful commercial empires in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea.
Italy during the Renaissance and Baroque
The Black Death in 1348 inflicted a terrible blow to Italy, resulting in one third of the population killed by the disease. The recovery from the disaster led to a new resurgence of cities, trade and economy which greatly stimulated the successive phase of the Humanism and Renaissance (15th-16th centuries) when Italy again returned to be the centre of Western civilisation, strongly influencing the other European countries. During this period the many Signorie gathered in a small number of regional states, but none of them had enough power to unify the peninsula.
Napoleonic Italy and the struggle for unification
The French Revolution and the Napoleonic War (1796-1815) introduced the modern ideas of equality, democracy, law and nation. The peninsula was not a main battle field as in the past but Napoleon (born in Corsica in 1769, one year after the cession of the island from Genoa to France) changed completely its political map, destroying in 1799 the Republic of Venice, which never recovered its independence. The states founded by Napoleon with the support of minority groups of Italian patriots were short-lived and did not survive the defeat of the French Emperor in 1815.
Industrialisation, World Wars and Fascism
Industrialisation and modernisation, at least in the northern portion of the country, started in the last part of the 19th century under a protectionist regime.
Democracy moved its first steps at the beginning of the 20th century. The Statuto Albertino of 1848 provided for basic freedoms. The path to a modern liberal democracy was interrupted by the tragedy of the First World War (1915-1918), which Italy fought along with France and Great Britain.
Italy was able to beat the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in November 1918. It obtained Trentino, South Tyrol, Trieste and Istria, besides Fiume and few territories on the Dalmatian coast (Zara), gaining respect as an international power, but the population had to pay a heavy human and social price. The war produced more than 600,000 dead, inflation and unemployment, economic and political instability, which in the end favoured the Fascist movement to seize power in 1922 with the tacit support of King Vittorio Emanuele III, who feared civil war and revolution.
The fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini lasted from 1922 to 1943 but in the first years Mussolini maintained the appearance of a liberal democracy. After rigged elections in 1924 gave to Fascism and its conservative allies an absolute majority in Parliament, Mussolini cancelled all democratic liberties on January 3 1925.
In 1929 Mussolini realised a pact with the Holy See, resulting in the rebirth of an independent state of the Vatican for the Catholic Church in the heart of Rome. In 1935 he declared war on Ethiopia on a pretext. Ethiopia was subjugated in few months.
After several defeats, Italy was invaded in May 1943. The Nazi-occupied part of the country, where a puppet fascist state under Mussolini was reconstituted, was the theatre of a savage civil war between freedom fighters and Nazi and fascist troops. The country was liberated by a national uprising on 25 April, 1945.
Particularly in the north agitation against the king ran high, left wing and communist armed partisans wanting to depose him as being responsible for the fascist regime.
Italy became a Republic after the result of a popular referendum held on 2 June 1946, a day since then celebrated as Republic Day. The republic won with a 9% margin; the north of Italy voted prevalently for a republic, the south for the monarchy. The Republican Constitution was approved and entered into force on 1 January 1948.
Italy is a founding member of the European Community, European Union and NATO.
Government and Politics
The 1948 Constitution of Italy established a bicameral parliament ( Parlamento ), consisting of a Chamber of Deputies ( Camera dei Deputati ) and a Senate ( Senato della Repubblica ), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet) ( Consiglio dei ministri ), headed by the prime minister ( Presidente del consiglio dei ministri ).
The President of the Italian Republic ( Presidente della Repubblica ) is elected for seven years by the parliament sitting jointly with a small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime minister, who proposes the other ministers (formally named by the president). The Council of Ministers must retain the support ( fiducia ) of both houses.
All Italian citizens older than 18 can vote. However, to vote for the senate, the voter must be at least 25 or older.
Italy is subdivided into 20 regions ( regioni , singular regione ). Five of these regions enjoy a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their specific local matters, and are marked by an *:
- Friuli-Venezia Giulia
- Lazio (Roma)
- Aosta Valley
- Trentino-South Tyrol
Italy consists predominantly of a large peninsula (the Italian Peninsula) with a distinctive boot shape that extends into the Mediterranean Sea, where together with its two main islands - Sicily and Sardinia - it creates distinct bodies of water, such as the Adriatic Sea to the north-east, the Ionian Sea to the south-east, the Tyrrhenian Sea to the south-west and finally the Ligurian Sea to the north-west. For a complete list of the islands of Italy, see this comprehensive list.
The Apennine mountains form the backbone of this peninsula, leading north-west to where they join the Alps, the mountain range that then forms an arc enclosing Italy from the north. Here is also found a large alluvial plain, the Po-Venetian plain, drained by the Po River — which is Italy's biggest river with 652 km.
Other well-known or importants rivers include the Tiber ( Tevere ) (405 km), Adige (410 km), Arno (241 km), Piave (220 km).
Its highest point is Mont Blanc ( Monte Bianco ) at 4,810 metres (15,781 feet). Italy is more typically associated with two famous volcanoes: the currently dormant Vesuvius near Naples and the very active Etna on Sicily.
The Italian climate is uniquely diverse and can be far from the stereotype of a "land of sun", depending on the region. The north of Italy (Turin, Milan, and Bologna) has a true continental climate, while below Florence it becomes more and more Mediterranean. The climate of the coastal areas of the Peninsula is very different from that of the interior, particularly during the winter months. The higher areas are cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions, where most of the large towns are located, have a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot and generally dry summers.
Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Italy and Western Europe.
Italy is subject to highly diverse weather conditions in autumn, winter, and spring, while summer is usually more stable, although the northern regions often experience thunderstorms in the afternoon/night hours. So, while south of Florence the summer is typically dry and sunny, the north is tends to be more humid and cloudy.
The least number of rainy days and the highest number of hours of sunshine occur in the extreme south of the mainland and in Sicily and Sardinia. Here sunshine averages from four to five hours a day in winter and up to ten or eleven hours in summer.
Generally, the hottest month is August in the south and July in the north; during these months the thermometer can reach 38-42°C in the south and 33-35°C in the north.
The latest population estimate done by ISTAT (Italian Statistics Office) stated that there were 58,462,375 inhabitants in Italy in 2005, making it the fourth largest population in the European Union (after Germany, France and the United Kingdom), and the 22nd in the world. In 2006, the Italian population climbed to an estimated 58,751,711, an increase of 0.5%, mainly supplemented by immigrants, and an increasing life expectancy of 79.81 years. Despite population growth, Italy is rapidly ageing. 1 in 5 inhabitants are pensioners, and if this ageing trend continues, the Italian population could shrink by a quarter in 2050.
Italy has the 5th highest population density in all of Europe with 193 persons per square kilometre. The highest density is in Northwestern Italy, as two regions out of twenty (Lombardia and Piemonte) combined, contain one quarter of the Italian population, where an estimated 9.4 million people live in the metropolitan Milan area. The literacy rate in Italy is 98% overall as school is mandatory for children aged 6 to 18.
Roman Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the country. Although the Catholic Church has never been the state religion, it still plays a role in the nation's political affairs, partly due to the Holy See's location in Rome. 87.8% of Italians identified as Roman Catholic, although only about one-third of these described themselves as active members (36.8%).
However the most historical religious minority is the Jewish community, comprising roughly 45,000 Jews. It is no longer the strongest non-Christian group. Indeed, in the past two decades, Italy has been receiving many waves of immigrants from all over the world, especially eastern Europe and North Africa. As a result some 825,000 Muslims (1.4%), of which only 50,000 are Italian citizens, live in Italy, as well as 110,000 Buddhists (0.2%), and, 70,000 Sikhs, 70,000 Hindus (0.1%).
According to GDP calculations, as measured by purchasing power parity (PPP), Italy is ranked as the 8th largest economy in the world in 2006, behind the United States, Japan, Germany, China, India, UK, and France, and the fourth largest in Europe. According to the OECD, in 2004 Italy was the world's sixth-largest exporter of manufactured goods.
Most new materials needed by industry and more than 75% of energy requirements are imported. Over the past decade, Italy has pursued a tight fiscal policy in order to meet the requirements of the Economic and Monetary Union and has benefited from lower interest and inflation rates. Italy joined the Euro from its conception in 1999.
Italy's economic performance has at times lagged behind that of its EU partners, and the current government has enacted numerous short-term reforms aimed at improving competitiveness and long-term growth. It has moved slowly, however, on implementing certain structural reforms favoured by economists, such as lightening the high tax burden and overhauling Italy's rigid labour market and expensive pension system, because of the current economic slowdown and opposition from labour unions.
Italy has a smaller number of world class multinational corporations than other economies of comparable size. Instead, the country's main economic strength has been its large base of small and medium size companies. Many of these companies manufacture products that are technologically moderately advanced and therefore face increasing competition from China and other emerging Asian economies which are able to undercut them on labour costs. Italian companies are responding to this by concentrating on products with a higher technological content, while moving lower-tech manifacturing to plants in countries where labour is less expensive.
Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe remain immense. In fact, Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (41) to date.
Italy has been a seminal place for many important artistic and intellectual movements that spread throughout Europe and beyond, including the Renaissance and Baroque. Perhaps Italy's greatest cultural achievements lie in its long artistic heritage, which is often validated through the names of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian and Raphael, among many others. Beyond art, Italy's contributions to the realms of literature, science and music cannot be overlooked.
With the basis of the modern Italian language established through the eminent Florentine poet, Dante Alighieri, whose greatest work, the Divina Commedia, is often considered the foremost literary statement produced in Europe during the Middle Ages, there is no shortage of celebrated literary figures; the writers and poets Boccaccio, Giacomo Leopardi, Alessandro Manzoni, Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto, and Petrarca, whose best known vehicle of expression, the sonnet, was invented in Italy. Prominent philosophers include Bruno, Ficino, Machiavelli, Vico. Modern literary figures and Nobel laureates are nationalist poet Giosuè Carducci in 1906, realist writer Grazia Deledda in 1926, modern theatre author Luigi Pirandello in 1936, poets Salvatore Quasimodo in 1959 and Eugenio Montale in 1975, satiryst and theatre author Dario Fo in 1997.
In science, Galileo Galilei made considerable advancements toward the scientific revolution, and Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance Man. Other notable Italian scientists and inventors include Fermi, Cassini, Volta, Lagrange, Fibonacci, Marconi, and Meucci.
From folk music to classical, music has always played an important role in Italian culture. Having given birth to opera, for example, Italy provides many of the very foundations of the classical music tradition. Some of the instruments that are often associated with classical music, including the piano and violin, were invented in Italy, and many of the existing classical music forms can trace their roots back to innovations of 16th and 17th century Italian music (such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata). Some of Italy's most famous composers include the Renaissance composers Palestrina and Monteverdi, the Baroque composers Corelli and Vivaldi, the Classical composers Paganini and Rossini, and the Romantic composers Verdi and Puccini. Modern Italian composers such as Berio and Nono proved significant in the development of experimental and electronic music.
Italians are renowned for their love of sports. Their zeal for sports events is, indeed, no less than legendary; from the Gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome, to the Stadio Olimpico of contemporary Rome, where prestigious football clubs compete regularly, the impact that sports has had on Italian culture is enduring and undeniable. Towards the alps, the popularity of winter sports grows, with many Italians from that region competing in international games and Olympic venues. Moving downwards the peninsula, the disparity between participation in sports becomes less regional. Despite any regional variation that may exist, the incorporation of sports in many Italian festivities like Palio (see also Palio di Siena), and the Gondola race (regatta) that takes place in Venice on the first Sunday of September, affirms the role sports play in everyday Italian life. Popular sports include football, cycling, and auto racing (a sport which shares its renown with a staple of Italian design, Ferrari), among others.
The official language of Italy is Standard Italian, descendant of Tuscan dialect and a direct descendant of Latin. (Some 75% of Italian words are of Latin origin.) However, when Italy was unified, in 1861, Italian existed mainly as a literary language, and was spoken by less than 3% of the population. Different languages were spoken throughout Italian peninsula, many of which were Romance languages which had developed in every region, due to political fragmentation of Italy. Indeed, each historical region of Italy had its own so-called ‘dialetto' (with ‘dialect' usually meaning, improperly, a non-Italian Romance language), with variants existing at the township-level.