Italy

The Italian Republic is a European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps and surrounded by several islands.

Italy is located in south-central Europe, and it is also considered a part of western Europe. The country covers a total area of 301,340 square km and shares land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino.

Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian Sea (Lampedusa).

The country have greatly influenced and contributed to diverse fields, notably the arts, music, literature, philosophy, science and technology, fashion, cinema, cuisine, sports, as well as jurisprudence, banking and business.

As a reflection of its cultural wealth, Italy is home to the world’s largest number of World Heritage Sites (55), and is the fifth-most visited country.

Tourism & What to do in Italy

Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world.

Italy is well known for its cultural and environmental tourist routes and is home to 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the most in the world.

Rome is the 3rd most visited city in Europe and the 12th in the world and Milan is 27th worldwide. In addition, Venice and Florence are also among the world’s top 100 destinations.

Climate & Best time to visit

Because of 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.

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 on the Alps to 12 °C in Sicily, so average summer temperatures range from 20 °C to over 25 °C.

Winters can vary widely across the country with lingering cold, foggy and snowy periods in the north and milder, sunnier conditions in the south.

Summers can be hot and humid across the country, particularly in the south while northern and central areas can experience occasional strong thunderstorms from spring to autumn.

Geography & Administrative division

Italy is located in Southern Europe.

To the north, Italy borders France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia and is roughly delimited by the Alpine watershed.

To the south, it consists of the entirety of the Italian Peninsula and the two Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia (the two biggest islands of the Mediterranean), in addition to many smaller islands.

The sovereign states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italy, while Campione d’Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland.

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 Monte Bianco (4,810 m).

The Po, Italy’s longest river (652 km), flows from the Alps on the western border with France and crosses the Padan plain on its way to the Adriatic Sea.

Four different seas surround the Italian Peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea from three sides: the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea in the south, and the Ligurian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west.

The five largest lakes are, in order of diminishing size: Garda, Maggiore, Como. Other notable lakes in the Italian peninsula are Trasimeno, Bolsena, Bracciano, Vico, Orta, Lugano, Iseo, Idro, Varano and Lesina in Gargano and Omodeo in Sardinia.

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, 4 of which are active: Etna, Stromboli, Vulcano and Vesuvius.

The last is the only active volcano in mainland Europe and is most famous for the destruction of Pompeii and Herculanum in the eruption in 79 AD. 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.

Administrative divisions

Italy is subdivided into 20 regions, 5 of these regions having a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their local matters.

The country is further divided into 14 metropolitan cities and 96 provinces, which in turn are subdivided in 7,960 municipalities.

Demographics & Languages

With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.

Language: Italian

Origin of the name & Local symbols

Hypotheses for the etymology of the name “Italia” are numerous. One is that it was borrowed via Greek from the Oscan Víteliú “land of calves” (Lat vitulus “calf”, Umb vitlo “calf”).

Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus states this account together with the legend that Italy was named after Italus, mentioned also by Aristotle and Thucydides.

According to Antiochus of Syracuse, the term Italy was used by the Greeks to initially refer only to the southern portion of the Bruttium peninsula corresponding to the modern province of Reggio and part of the provinces of Catanzaro and Vibo Valentia in southern Italy. Nevertheless, by his time the larger concept of Oenotria and “Italy” had become synonymous and the name also applied to most of Lucania as well.

According to Strabo’s Geographica, before the expansion of the Roman Republic, the name was used by Greeks to indicate the land between the strait of Messina and the line connecting the gulf of Salerno and gulf of Taranto, corresponding roughly to the current region of Calabria.

The Greeks gradually came to apply the name “Italia” to a larger region In addition to the “Greek Italy” in the south, it is possible that an “Etruscan Italy” also existed and covered variable areas of central Italy.

History & Timeline

Italy has historically been home to myriad peoples and cultures. In addition to the various ancient peoples dispersed throughout modern-day Italy, beginning from the classical era, Phoenicians and Carthaginians founded colonies mostly in insular Italy, Greeks established settlements in the so-called Magna Graecia of Southern Italy, while Etruscans and Celts inhabited central and northern Italy respectively.

An Italic tribe known as the Latins formed the Roman Kingdom in the 8th century BC, which eventually became a republic with a government of the Senate and the People.

The Roman Republic initially conquered and assimilated its neighbours on the peninsula, eventually expanding and conquering parts of Europe, North Africa and Asia. By the first century BC, the Roman Empire emerged as the dominant power in the Mediterranean Basin and became a leading cultural, political and religious centre, inaugurating the Pax Romana, a period of more than 200 years during which Italy’s law, technology, economy, art, and literature developed.

Italy remained the homeland of the Romans and the metropole of the empire, whose legacy can also be observed in the global distribution of culture, governments, Christianity and the Latin script.

During the Early Middle Ages, Italy endured sociopolitical collapse and barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century, numerous rival city-states and maritime republics, mainly in the northern and central regions of Italy, rose to great prosperity through trade, commerce and banking, laying the groundwork for modern capitalism.

These mostly independent statelets served as Europe’s main trading hubs with Asia and the Near East, often enjoying a greater degree of democracy than the larger feudal monarchies that were consolidating throughout Europe; however, part of central Italy was under the control of the theocratic Papal States, while Southern Italy remained largely feudal until the 19th century, partially as a result of a succession of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Angevin, Aragonese and other foreign conquests of the region.

The Renaissance began in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe, bringing a renewed interest in humanism, science, exploration and art. Italian culture flourished, producing famous scholars, artists and polymaths.

During the Middle Ages, Italian explorers discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery.

Nevertheless, Italy’s commercial and political power significantly waned with the opening of trade routes that bypassed the Mediterranean. Furthermore, centuries of infighting between the Italian city-states, such as the Italian Wars of the 15th and 16th centuries, left the region fragmented, and it was subsequently conquered, exploited, and further divided by European powers such as France, Spain and Austria.

By the mid-19th century, rising Italian nationalism and calls for independence from foreign control led to a period of revolutionary political upheaval.

After centuries of foreign domination and political division, Italy was almost entirely unified in 1861, establishing the Kingdom of Italy as a great power.

From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, Italy rapidly industrialised, namely in the north, and acquired a colonial empire, while the south remained largely impoverished and excluded from industrialisation, fuelling a large and influential diaspora.

Despite being one of the main victors in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, leading to the rise of a fascist dictatorship in 1922.

Participation in World War II on the Axis side ended in military defeat, economic destruction and the Italian Civil War.

Following the liberation of Italy and the rise of the resistance, the country abolished the monarchy, established a democratic Republic, and enjoyed a prolonged economic boom, becoming a highly developed country.

Culture, Traditions & Holidays

For centuries divided by politics and geography until its eventual unification in 1861, Italy’s culture has been shaped by a multitude of regional customs and local centres of power and patronage.

Italy had a central role in Western culture for centuries and is still recognised for its cultural traditions and artists. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a number of magnificent courts competed for attracting the best architects, artists and scholars, thus producing a great legacy of monuments, paintings, music and literature. Despite the political and social isolation of these courts, Italy’s contribution to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe and the world remain immense.

Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites (55) than any other country in the world, and has rich collections of art, culture and literature from many periods.

The country has had a broad cultural influence worldwide, also because numerous Italians emigrated to other places during the Italian diaspora.

Furthermore, Italy has, overall, an estimated 100,000 monuments of any sort (museums, palaces, buildings, statues, churches, art galleries, villas, fountains, historic houses and archaeological remains), and according to some estimates the nation is home to half the world’s great art treasures.

Public holidays and festivals

Public holidays celebrated in Italy include religious, national and regional observances. Italy’s National Day, the Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day) is celebrated on 2 June each year, and commemorates the birth of the Italian Republic in 1946.

The Saint Lucy’s Day, which take place on 13 December, is very popular among children in some Italian regions, where she plays a role similar to Santa Claus.

In addition, the Epiphany in Italy is associated with the folkloristic figure of the Befana, a broomstick-riding old woman who, in the night between 5 and 6 January, bringing good children gifts and sweets, and bad ones charcoal or bags of ashes.

The Assumption of Mary coincides with Ferragosto on 15 August, the summer vacation period which may be a long weekend or most of the month.

Each city or town also celebrates a public holiday on the occasion of the festival of the local patron saint, for example: Rome on 29 June (Saints Peter and Paul) and Milan on 7 December (S. Ambrose).

There are many festivals and festivities in Italy. Some of them include the Palio di Siena horse race, Holy Week rites, Saracen Joust of Arezzo, Saint Ubaldo Day in Gubbio, Giostra della Quintana in Foligno, and the Calcio Fiorentino.

In 2013, UNESCO has included among the intangible cultural heritage some Italian festivals and pasos (in Italian “macchine a spalla”), such as the Varia di Palmi, the Macchina di Santa Rosa in Viterbo, the Festa dei Gigli in Nola, and faradda di li candareri in Sassari.

Other festivals include the carnivals in Venice, Viareggio, Satriano di Lucania, Mamoiada, and Ivrea, mostly known for its Battle of the Oranges. The prestigious Venice International Film Festival, awarding the “Golden Lion” and held annually since 1932, is the oldest film festival in the world.

Gastronomy & Cuisine

The Italian cuisine has developed through centuries of social and political changes, with roots as far back as the 4th century BC. Italian cuisine in itself takes heavy influences, including Etruscan, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Jewish.

Significant changes occurred with the discovery of the New World with the introduction of items such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and maize, now central to the cuisine but not introduced in quantity until the 18th century.

Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is known to be one of the most popular in the world, wielding strong influence abroad.

The Mediterranean diet forms the basis of Italian cuisine, rich in pasta, fish, fruits and vegetables and characterised by its extreme simplicity and variety, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients.

Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. Dishes and recipes are often derivatives from local and familial tradition rather than created by chefs, so many recipes are ideally suited for home cooking, this being one of the main reasons behind the ever-increasing worldwide popularity of Italian cuisine, from America to Asia. Ingredients and dishes vary widely by region.

A key factor in the success of Italian cuisine is its heavy reliance on traditional products. Cheese, cold cuts and wine are a major part of Italian cuisine, with many regional declinations and Protected Designation of Origin or Protected Geographical Indication labels, and along with coffee (especially espresso) make up a very important part of the Italian gastronomic culture.

Desserts have a long tradition of merging local flavours such as citrus fruits, pistachio and almonds with sweet cheeses like mascarpone and ricotta or exotic tastes as cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon. Gelato, tiramisù and cassata are among the most famous examples of Italian desserts, cakes and patisserie.

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