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Italy Travel Guide & Tourist Information

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Italy: History, Geography, Climate, Information

Italy (Italian: Italia), officially the Italian Republic, (Italian: Repubblica Italiana), is located on the Italian Peninsula in Southern Europe, and on the two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia. Italy shares its northern Alpine boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The independent states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within the Italian Peninsula, while Campione d'Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland.

The territory of Italy covers some 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate. With 60.4 million inhabitants, it is the fifth most populous country in Europe, and the twenty-third most populous in the world.

Italy's capital, Rome, was for centuries the political centre of Western civilisation as the capital of the Roman Empire. After its decline, Italy would endure numerous invasions by foreign peoples, from Germanic tribes such as the Lombards and Ostrogoths, to the Byzantines and later, the Normans, among others. Centuries later, Italy would become the birthplace of the Renaissance, an immensely fruitful intellectual movement that would prove to be integral in shaping the subsequent course of European thought.

Through much of its post-Roman history, Italy was fragmented into numerous kingdoms and city-states (such as the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Duchy of Milan), but was unified in 1861, following a tumultuous period in history known as "Il Risorgimento" ("The Resurgence"). In the late 19th century, through World War I, and to World War II, Italy possessed a colonial empire, which extended its rule to Libya, Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Albania, the Dodecanese and a concession in Tianjin, China.

Modern Italy is a democratic republic. It has been ranked as the world's 24th most-developed country and its Quality-of-life Index has been ranked in the world's top ten in 2005. Italy enjoys a very high standard of living, and has a high GDP per capita. It is a founding member of what is now the European Union and part of the Eurozone. Italy is also a member of the G8, G20 and NATO. It has the world's third-largest gold reserves, eighth-largest nominal GDP, tenth highest GDP (PPP) and the sixth highest government budget in the world. It is also a member state of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Trade Organization, the Council of Europe, the Western European Union and the United Nations. Italy has the world's ninth-largest defence budget and shares NATO's nuclear weapons.

Italy plays a prominent role in European and global military, cultural and diplomatic affairs. The country's European political, social and economic influence make it a major regional power. The country has a high public education level and is a highly globalised nation.

Etymology

The assumptions on the etymology of the name "Italia" are very numerous and the corpus of the solutions proposed by historians and linguists is very wide. According to one of the more common explanations, the term Italia, from Latin: Italia, was borrowed through Greek from the Oscan Víteliú, meaning "land of young cattle" (cf. Lat vitulus "calf", Umb vitlo "calf"). The bull was a symbol of the southern Italian tribes and was often depicted goring the Roman wolf as a defiant symbol of free Italy during the Samnite Wars. Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus states this account together with the legend that Italy was named after Italus, mentioned also by Aristotle and Thucydides.

The name Italia originally applied only to a part of what is now Southern Italy–according to Antiochus of Syracuse, the southern portion of the Bruttium peninsula (modern Calabria: province of Reggio, and part of the provinces of Catanzaro and Vibo Valentia). But by his time Oenotria and Italy had become synonymous, and the name also applied to most of Lucania as well. The Greeks gradually came to apply the name "Italia" to a larger region, but it was not until the time of the Roman conquests that the term was expanded to cover the entire peninsula until the Alps.

Geography

Topography

Italy is located in Southern Europe and comprises the boot-shaped Italian Peninsula and a number of islands including the two largest, Sicily and Sardinia.

The country's total area is 301,230 km², of which 294,020 km² is land and 7,210 km² is water. Including the islands, Italy has a coastline and border of 7,600 km on the Adriatic, Ionian, Tyrrhenian seas (740 km), and borders shared with France (488 km), Austria (430 km), Slovenia (232 km) and Switzerland (740 km). San Marino (39 km) and Vatican City (3.2 km), both enclaves, account for the remainder.

The Apennine Mountains form the peninsula's backbone and the Alps form most of its northern boundary, where Italy's highest point is located on Mont Blanc (4,810 m/15,782 ft). The Po, Italy's longest river (652 km/405 mi), flows from the Alps on the western border with France and crosses the Padan plain on its way to the Adriatic Sea. The five largest lakes are, in order of diminishing size: Garda (367.94 km2/142 sq mi), Maggiore (212.51 km2/82 sq mi, shared with Switzerland), Como (145.9 km2/56 sq mi), Trasimeno (124.29 km2/48 sq mi) and Bolsena (113.55 km2/44 sq mi).

The country is situated at the meeting point of the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate, leading to considerable seismic and volcanic activity. There are 14 volcanoes in Italy, four of which are active: Etna (the traditional site of Vulcan’s smithy), Stromboli, Vulcano and Vesuvius. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe and is most famous for the destruction of Pompeii and Herculanum. Several islands and hills have been created by volcanic activity, and there is still a large active caldera, the Campi Flegrei north-west of Naples.

Mont Blanc is the highest point in Italy and the European Union
Mont Blanc is the highest point in Italy and the European Union.

Although the country occupies the Italian peninsula and most of the southern Alpine basin, some of Italy's territory extends beyond the Alpine basin and some islands are located outside the Eurasian continental shelf. These territories are the comuni of: Livigno, Sexten, Innichen, Toblach (in part), Chiusaforte, Tarvisio, Graun im Vinschgau (in part), which are all part of the Danube's drainage basin, while the Val di Lei constitutes part of the Rhine's basin and the island comune of Lampedusa e Linosa is on the African continental shelf.

Administrative Divisions

Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni, singular regione). Five of these regions have a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their local matters; these are marked by an asterisk (*) in the table below. The country is further divided into 110 provinces (province) and 8,100 municipalities (comuni).

Region
Capital
Coats of arms of Abruzzo region Abruzzo L'Aquila
Coats of arms of Aosta Valley region Aosta Valley* Aosta
Coats of arms of Apulia region Apulia Bari
Coats of arms of Basilicata region Basilicata Potenza
Coats of arms of Calabria region Calabria Catanzaro
Coats of arms of Campania region Campania Naples
Coats of arms of Emilia-Romagna region Emilia-Romagna Bologna
Coats of arms of Friuli-Venezia Giulia region Friuli-Venezia Giulia* Trieste
Coats of arms of Lazio region Lazio Rome
Coats of arms of Liguria region Liguria Genoa
Coats of arms of Lombardy region Lombardy Milan
Coats of arms of Marche region Marche Ancona
Coats of arms of Molise region Molise Campobasso
Coats of arms of Piedmont region Piedmont Turin
Coats of arms of Sardinia region Sardinia* Cagliari
Coats of arms of Sicily region Sicily* Palermo
Coats of arms of Tuscany region Tuscany Florence
Coats of arms of Trentino-Alto Adige region Trentino-Alto Adige* Trento
Coats of arms of Umbria region Umbria Perugia
Coats of arms of Veneto region Veneto Venice
* Special autonomous status

Environment

After its quick industrial growth, Italy took a long time to confront its environmental problems. After several improvements, it now ranks 84th in the world for ecological sustainability. National parks cover about five percent of the country. In the last decade, Italy has become one of the world's leading producers of renewable energy, ranking as the world’s fourth largest holder of installed solar energy capacity and the sixth largest holder of wind power capacity in 2010. Renewable energies now make up about 12% of the total primary and final energy consumption in Italy, with a future target share set at 17% for the year 2020.

Map of national parks in Italy
Map of national parks in Italy

However, air pollution remains a severe problem, especially in the industrialised north, reaching the tenth highest level worldwide of industrial carbon dioxide emissions in the 1990s. Italy is the twelfth largest carbon dioxide producer. Extensive traffic and congestion in the largest metropolitan areas continue to cause severe environmental and health issues, even if smog levels have decreased dramatically since the 1970s and 1980s, and the presence of smog is becoming an increasingly rarer phenomenon and levels of sulphur dioxide are decreasing.

Lake Garda is the largest of the Italian lakes
Lake Garda is the largest of the Italian lakes

Many watercourses and coastal stretches have also been contaminated by industrial and agricultural activity, while due to rising water levels, Venice has been regularly flooded throughout recent years. Waste from industrial activity is not always disposed of by legal means and has led to permanent health effects on inhabitants of affected areas, as in the case of the Seveso disaster. The country has also operated several nuclear reactors between 1963 and 1990 but, after the Chernobyl disaster and a referendum on the issue the nuclear program was terminated, a decision that was overturned by the government in 2008, planning to build up to four nuclear power plants with French technology. This was in turn struck down by a referendum following the Fukushima nuclear accident. Deforestation, illegal building developments and poor land-management policies have led to significant erosion all over Italy's mountainous regions, leading to major ecological disasters like the 1963 Vajont Dam flood, the 1998 Sarno and 2009 Messina mudslides.

Climate

Thanks to the great longitudinal extension of the peninsula and the mostly mountainous internal conformation, the climate of Italy is highly diverse. In most of the inland northern and central regions, the climate ranges from humid subtropical to humid continental and oceanic. In particular, the climate of the Po valley geographical region is mostly continental, with harsh winters and hot summers. The coastal areas of Liguria, Tuscany and most of the South generally fit the Mediterranean climate stereotype (Köppen climate classification Csa). Conditions on peninsular coastal areas can be very different from the interior's higher ground and valleys, particularly during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions have mild winters and warm and generally dry summers, although lowland valleys can be quite hot in summer. Average winter temperatures vary from 0 °C (32 °F) on the Alps to 12 °C (54 °F) in Sicily, like so the average summer temperatures range from 20 °C (68 °F) to over 30 °C (86 °F).

Apulia is well known for its Mediterranean climate
Apulia is well known for its Mediterranean climate

Politics

Italy has been a unitary parliamentary republic since 2 June 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by a constitutional referendum. The President of the Italian Republic (Presidente della Repubblica), is Italy's head of state. The President is elected for a single seven years mandate by the Parliament in joint session. Italy has a written democratic constitution, resulting from the work of a Constituent Assembly formed by the representatives of all the anti-fascist forces that contributed to the defeat of Nazi and Fascist forces during the Civil War.

Government

Italy has a parliamentary government based on a proportional voting system. The Parliament of Italy is perfectly bicameral: the two houses, the Chamber of Deputies (that meets in Palazzo Montecitorio) and the Senate of the Republic (that meets in Palazzo Madama), have the same powers. The Prime Minister, officially President of the Council of Ministers (Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri), is Italy's head of government. The Prime Minister and the cabinet are appointed by the President of the Republic, but must pass a vote of confidence in Parliament to become in office.

While the office is similar to those in most other parliamentary systems, the Italian prime minister has less authority than some of his counterparts. The prime minister is not authorized to request the dissolution of Parliament or dismiss ministers (that are exclusive prerogatives of the President of the Republic) and must receive a vote of approval from the Council of Ministers—which holds effective executive power—to execute most political activities.

Palazzo Montecitorio, seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies
Palazzo Montecitorio, seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies

After the resignation of Silvio Berlusconi on 12 November 2011, economist Mario Monti has been appointed as a technocratic Prime Minister. The Italy's four major political parties are the People of Freedom, the Democratic Party, the Northern League and the Italy of Values. During the 2008 general elections these four parties won 590 out of 630 seats available in the Chamber of Deputies and 308 out of 315 seats available in the Senate of the Republic.

Most of the remaining seats were won by minor parties that only contest election in one part of Italy, like the South Tyrolean People's Party and the Movement for Autonomies. However, during the last 3 years, a so-called "Third Pole" emerged, merging the Christian Democrats of UDC with some dissident MPs coming from Mr. Berlusconi's cabinet.

History

Prehistory and antiquity

Excavations throughout Italy reveal a Neanderthal presence dating back to the Paleolithic period, some 200,000 years ago, modern Humans arrived about 40,000 years ago. The Ancient peoples of pre-Roman Italy — such as the Umbrians, the Latins (from which the Romans emerged), Volsci, Samnites, the Celts and the Ligures which inhabited northern Italy, and many others — were Indo-European peoples; the main historic peoples of non-Indo-European heritage include the Etruscans, the Elymians and Sicani in Sicily and the prehistoric Sardinians.

The Colosseum in Rome, built ca. 70 – 80 AD, is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering
The Colosseum in Rome, built ca. 70 – 80 AD, is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering

Between the 17th and the 11th century BC Mycenaean Greeks established contacts with Italy and in the 8th and 7th centuries BC Greek colonies were established all along the coast of Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula became known as Magna Graecia. Also the Phoenicians established colonies on the coasts of Sardinia and Sicily.

Ancient Rome was at first a small agricultural community founded c. the 8th century BC, that grew over the course of the centuries into a colossal empire encompassing the whole Mediterranean Sea, in which Ancient Greek and Roman cultures merged into one civilization. This civilization was so influential that parts of it survive in modern law, administration, philosophy and arts, forming the ground that Western civilization is based upon. In a slow decline since the late 2th century AD, the empire finally broke into two parts in 395 AD: the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. The western part — under the pressure of the Franks, the Vandals, the Huns, the Goths and other populations from Eastern Europe — finally dissolved in 476 AD, when the last western Emperor was deposed by the Barbarian chief Odoacer.

Middle Ages

After the fall of Rome, Italy was conquered by the Germanic Tribe of the Ostrogoths, but in the 6th century the East Roman Emperor Justinian reconquered it. The invasion of another Germanic tribe (the Lombards) late in the same century reduced the Byzantine presence to a strip of land between Ravenna and Rome plus other lands in southern Italy, breaking the unity of the peninsula until 1870.

The Lombard reign of northern and central Italy was absorbed into the Frankish Empire by Charlemagne in the late 8th century. The Frankish kings also helped the formation of the Papal States in central Italy, extending from Rome to Ravenna, although for most of the Middle Ages the Papacy effectively controlled only Latium. The existence of this theocratic state hindered for centuries the unification of the peninsula. Until the 13th century, Italian politics were dominated by the relationship between the German Holy Roman Emperors and the popes, with most of the Italian cities siding for the former (Ghibellini) or for the latter (Guelfi) from momentary convenience.

It was during this chaotic era that Italy saw the rise of a peculiar institution, the medieval commune. Given the power vacuum caused by extreme territorial fragmentation and the struggle between the Empire and the Holy See, local communities sought autonomous ways to restore law and order. In 1176 a league of city-states, the Lombard League, defeated the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa at the Battle of Legnano, thus ensuring effective independence for most of northern and central Italian cities. In coastal and southern areas, the maritime republics, the most notable being Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi, heavily involved in the Crusades, grew to eventually dominate the Mediterranean and monopolize trade routes to the Orient.

Early Modern

In the 14th and 15th centuries, northern-central Italy was divided into a number of warring city-states, the rest of the peninsula being occupied by the larger Papal States and Naples. The strongest among these city-states gradually absorbed the surrounding territories giving birth to the Signorie, regional states often led by merchant families which founded local dynasties. War between the city-states was endemic, and primarily fought by armies of mercenaries known as condottieri, bands of soldiers drawn from around Europe, especially Germany and Switzerland, led largely by Italian captains. Decades of fighting eventually saw Florence, Milan and Venice emerged as the dominant players that agreed to the Peace of Lodi in 1454, which saw relative calm brought to the region for the first time in centuries. This peace would hold for the next forty years.

Economy

Italy has a free market economy characterized by high per capita GDP and low unemployment rates. In 2010, it was the eighth-largest economy in the world and the fourth-largest in Europe in terms of nominal GDP, and the tenth-largest economy in the world and fifth-largest in Europe in terms of PPP. It is a founding member of the G8, the Eurozone and the OECD.


The Ferrari F430. Italy is the world's 7th largest exporter of goods

After World War II, Italy was rapidly transformed from an agriculture based economy into one of the world's most industrialized nations and a leading country in world trade and exports. It is a developed country, with the world's 8th highest quality of life in 2005 and the 25th Human Development Index. In spite of the recent global economic crisis, Italian per capita GDP at purchasing power parity remains approximately above to the EU average,[94] while the unemployment rate (8.5%) stands as one of the EU's lowest. The country is well known for its influential and innovative business economic sector, an industrious and competitive agricultural sector (Italy is the world's largest wine producer), and for its creative and high-quality automobile, industrial, appliance and fashion design.

Demographics

Italy has 60,626,442 inhabitants according to 1 January 2011 municipal records (Anagrafe). Its population density, at 201/km² (520/sq. mile), is higher than that of most Western European countries. However the distribution of the population is widely uneven. The most densely populated areas are the Po Valley (that accounts for almost a half of the national population) and the metropolitan areas of Rome and Naples, while vast regions such as the Alps and Appennines highlands, the plateaus of Basilicata and the island of Sardinia are very sparsely populated.

Population 1861–2011 - Number of inhabitants

The population of Italy almost doubled during the 20th century, but the pattern of growth was extremely uneven because of large-scale internal migration from the rural South to the industrial cities of the North, a phenomenon which happened as a consequence of the Italian economic miracle of the 1950–1960s. In addition, after centuries of net emigration, from the 1980s Italy has experienced large-scale immigration for the first time in modern history. According to the Italian government, there were 4,570,317 foreign residents in Italy as of January 2011.

Culture

Italy did not exist as a state until the country's unification in 1861. Due to this comparatively late unification, and the historical autonomy of the regions that comprise the Italian Peninsula, many traditions and customs that are now recognized as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin. Despite the political and social distinction of these regions, Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe and the world remain immense. Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (47) to date, and has rich collections of art, culture and literature from many different periods. The country has had a broad cultural influence worldwide, also because numerous Italians emigrated to other places during the Italian diaspora. Furthermore, the nation has, overall, an estimated 100,000 monuments of any sort (museums, palaces, buildings, statues, churches, art galleries, villas, fountains, historic houses and archaeological remains).

Architecture

Italy has a very broad and diverse architectural style, which cannot be simply classified by period, but also by region, because of Italy's division into several regional states until 1861. This has created a highly diverse and eclectic range in architectural designs.

The city of Venice, built on 117 islands
The city of Venice, built on 117 islands

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