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Italian Republic
Repubblica Italiana
Flag Coat of arms
AnthemIl Canto degli Italiani
(also known as Inno di Mameli)
The Song of the Italians
Location of  Italy  (dark green)

– on the European continent  (light green & dark grey)
– in the European Union  (light green)  —  [Legend]

(and largest city)
41°54′N 12°29′E / 41.9°N 12.483°E / 41.9; 12.483
Official language(s) Italian
Demonym Italian
Government Parliamentary republic
 -  President Giorgio Napolitano (PD)
 -  Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (PdL)
Legislature Parliament
 -  Upper House Senate of the Republic
 -  Lower House Chamber of Deputies
 -  Unification 17 March 1861 
 -  Republic 2 June 1946 
EU accession 25 March 1957 (founding member)
 -  Total 301,338 km2 (71st)
116,346 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 2.4
 -  2009 estimate 60,231,214[1] (23rd)
 -  2001 census 56,995,744 
 -  Density 199.8/km2 (54th)
517.4/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $1.817 trillion[2] (10th)
 -  Per capita $30,631[2] (27th)
GDP (nominal) 2008 estimate
 -  Total $2.314 trillion[2] (7th)
 -  Per capita $38,996[2] (21st)
Gini (2000) 36 
HDI (2007) 0.951[3] (very high) (18th)
Currency Euro ()2 (EUR)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 -  Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Drives on the Right
Internet TLD .it3
Calling code 394
1 French is co-official in the Aosta Valley; Slovene is co-official in the province of Trieste and the province of Gorizia; German and Ladin are co-official in the province of Bolzano-Bozen.
2 Before 2002, the Italian Lira. The euro is accepted in Campione d'Italia, but the official currency is the Swiss Franc.[4]
3 The .eu domain is also used, as it is shared with other European Union member states.
4 To call Campione d'Italia, it is necessary to use the Swiss code +41.

Italy en-us-Italy.ogg /ˈɪtəli/ (Italian: Italia, [iˈta:lja]), officially the Italian Republic (Italian: Repubblica Italiana), is a country located partly on the European Continent and partly 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, and Campione d'Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland. The territory of Italy covers 301,338 km² and is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate. With 60.2 million inhabitants, it is the sixth most populous country in Europe, and the twenty-third most populous in the world.

The land known as Italy today has been the cradle of European cultures and peoples, such as the Etruscans and the Romans. 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 Normans and later, the Byzantines, among others. Centuries later, Italy would become the birthplace of the Renaissance,[5] 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,[6] a tumultuous period in history known as the "Risorgimento". 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, Italian Somaliland, Ethiopia, Albania, Rhodes, the Dodecanese and a concession in Tianjin, China.[7]

Modern Italy is a democratic republic and the world's eighteenth most developed country,[8] with the eighth or tenth highest quality of life index rating in the world.[9][10] Italy enjoys a very high standard of living, and has a high nominal GDP per capita.[11][12] It is a founding member of what is now the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Italy is also a member of the G8 and G20. It has the world's seventh-largest nominal GDP, tenth highest GDP (PPP)[13] and the fifth highest government budget in the world.[14] It is also a member state of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Trade Organization, the Council of Europe, and the Western European Union. Italy, on addition to this, has the world's eight-largest defence budget and shares NATO's nuclear weapons.

Italy, especially Rome, has an important place in political, military and cultural affairs, with worldwide organizations such as Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),[15] World Food Programme (WFP), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Glocal Forum,[16] and the NATO Defence College being headquartered in the country and the city. The country's European political, social and economic influence make it a major regional power, alongside the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Russia,[17][18][19][20][21] and Italy has been classified in a study, measuring hard power, as being the eleventh greatest worldwide national power.[22] The country has a high public education level, high labour force,[23] is a globalised nation,[24] and also has 2009's sixth best international reputation.[25] Italy also has the world's nineteenth highest life expectancy,[26] and the world's second best healthcare system.[27][28][29] It is the world's fifth most visited country, with over 43.7 million international arrivals,[30] and boasts a long tradition in the arts, science and technology, including the world's highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites to date (44).[31][32]



The origin of the term Italia, from Latin: Italia,[33] is uncertain. According to one of the more common explanations, the term was borrowed through Greek from the Oscan Víteliú, meaning "land of young cattle" (cf. Lat vitulus "calf", Umb vitlo "calf").[34] 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.

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). 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.[35]



Prehistory to Magna Graecia

Emperor Augustus, who ruled Rome from 16 January 27 BC to 19 August AD 14.

Excavations throughout Italy reveal a modern human presence dating back to the Palaeolithic period, some 200,000 years ago.[36] 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. Subsequently, Romans referred to this area as Magna Graecia, as it was so densely inhabited by Greeks.[37][38][39] The colonists who started arriving in the eighth century BC brought with them their Hellenic civilization, which was to leave a lasting imprint in Italy and particularly on the culture of ancient Rome.

Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome was at first a small agricultural community founded circa 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 its twelve-century existence it transformed itself from monarchy to republic and finally to autocracy. In steady decline since the 2nd century AD, the empire finally broke into two parts in 285 AD: the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in the East. The western part under the pressure of Goths finally dissolved, leaving the Italian peninsula divided into small independent kingdoms and feuding city states for the next 14 centuries, and leaving the eastern part sole heir to the Roman legacy.

Middle Ages

The Iron Crown with which Lombard rulers were crowned.

In the sixth century AD the Byzantine Emperor Justinian reconquered Italy from the Ostrogoths. The invasion of a new wave of Germanic tribes, the Lombards, doomed his attempt to resurrect the Western Roman Empire but the repercussions of Justinian's failure resounded further still. For the next thirteen centuries, whilst new nation-states arose in the lands north of the Alps, the Italian political landscape was a patchwork of feuding city states, petty tyrannies, and foreign invaders.

For several centuries the armies and Exarchs, Justinian's successors, were a tenacious force in Italian affairs - strong enough to prevent other powers such as the Arabs, the Holy Roman Empire, or the Papacy from establishing a unified Italian Kingdom, but too weak to drive out these "interlopers" and recreate Roman Italy.

Italy was divided for centuries into small city-states.

Italy's regions were eventually subsumed by their neighbouring empires with their conflicting interests and would remain divided up to the 19th century. It was during this vacuum of authority that the region saw the rise of the Signoria and the Comune. In the anarchic conditions that often prevailed in medieval Italian city-states, people looked to strong men to restore order and disarm the feuding elites. In times of anarchy or crisis, cities sometimes offered the Signoria to individuals perceived as strong enough to save the state, most notably the Della Scala family in Verona, the Visconti in Milan and the Medici in Florence.

Italy during this period became notable for its merchant Republics. These city-states, oligarchical in reality, had a dominant merchant class which under relative freedom nurtured academic and artistic advancement. The four classic Maritime Republics in Italy were Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi. Venice and Genoa were Europe's gateways to trade with the East, with the former producer of the renowned venetian glass. Florence was the capital of silk, wool, banks and jewelry. The Maritime Republics were heavily involved in the Crusades, taking advantage of the new political and trading opportunities, most evidently in the conquest of Zara and Constantinople funded by Venice.

During the late Middle Ages Italy was divided into smaller city-states and territories: the kingdom of Naples controlled the south, the Republic of Florence and the Papal States the centre, the Genoese and the Milanese the north and west, and the Venetians the east.


The unique political structures of late Middle Ages Italy and its its dynamic social climate and florescent trade allowed the emergence of a unique cultural efflorescence. Italy never regained the unity it onde had in the days of the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages was divided into smaller city states and territories: the kingdom of Naples controlled the south, the Republic of Florence and the Papal States the center, the Genoese and the Milanese the north and west, and the Venetians the east.

Fifteenth-century Italy was one of the most urbanised areas in Europe. Most historians agree that the ideas that characterized the Renaissance and their earliest apologists and supporters had their origin in late 13th century Florence or gravitated in or around Florence, as well as the other rival city-states. The Renaissance achieved its epitome, in particular with the writings of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) and Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374), Bocaccio, as well as the paintings of great masters starting with Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337). The Renaissance was an extremely important period in Italian history, and in European history, and brought along numerous political, philosophical, literary, cultural, social and religious reforms.[40]

Michelangelo's David, a common symbol of the Italian Renaissance (Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence).

The Renaissance was so called because it was a "rebirth" of many classical ideas that had long been buried in the chapters of classical Antiquity. One could argue that the fuel for this rebirth was the rediscovery of ancient texts that had been almost 'forgotten' by Western civilization, but were preserved in some monastic libraries or private libraries of powerful and wealthy patrons (see the Medici). Some would argue that there were translations of Greek and Arabic texts into Latin from the Islamic world that found their way into Italy and contributed to the Italian/European Renaissance. However, most of the manuscripts were either already in the Italian Peninsula or in 'Greece' and were taken to Italy in the centuries preceding the Renaissance by the Italians themselves (by the traders who travelled regularly to the Eastern Mediterranean, including Greece) and by Byzantine Greeks who migrated to Italy during the onslaught of the Ottoman empire, against the Byzantine Empire in the 1400s, and specially after 1453, once the Ottomans had conquered the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. These Byzantines fled the Turks, sometimes carrying precious manuscripts and their knowledge (Greek and Ancient Greek) and while fixating themselves in Italy made a discreet but crucial contribution to the Renaissance.

Renaissance scholars such as Niccolò de' Niccoli and Poggio Bracciolini scoured the libraries in search of works by such classical authors as Plato, Cicero and Vitruvius. The works of ancient Greek and Hellenistic writers (such as Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, and Ptolemy) and Muslim scientists were diffused in the Christian world, providing new intellectual material for European scholars.

The Black Death pandemic in 1348 left its mark on Italy by killing one third of the population.[41][42] However, the recovery from the disaster of the Black Death led to a 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 center of Western civilization, strongly influencing the other European countries with Courts like Este in Ferrara and De Medici in Florence.

Florence became Italy's main centre of the Renaissance. Numerous artists, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli[43] worked in the city. Its economy flourished, and according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Florence from the 14th century to the 16th century was one of Europe's greatest cities, and its numerous museums, palazzi and churches, such as the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi have been described by the encyclopedia as works of art themselves.[44]

Rome was also a city particularly affected by the Renaissance. This period of reform changed the city's face dramatically, with works like the Pietà by Michelangelo and the frescoes of the Borgia Apartment. Rome reached the highest point of splendour under Pope Julius II (1503–1513) and his successors Leo X and Clement VII, both members of the Medici family. In this twenty-years period Rome became one of the greatest centres of art in the world. The old St. Peter's Basilica built by Emperor Constantine the Great, was re-built mainly by Michelangelo,[45] who in Rome became one the most famous painters of Italy creating frescos in the Cappella Niccolina, the Villa Farnesina, the Raphael's Rooms, plus many other famous paintings. Michelangelo started the decoration of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and executed the famous statue of the Moses for the tomb of Julius. Rome lost in part its religious character, becoming increasingly a true Renaissance city, with a great number of popular feasts, horse races, parties, intrigues and licentious episodes. Its economy was rich, with the presence of several Tuscan bankers, including Agostino Chigi, who was a friend of Raphael and a patron of arts. Before his early death, Raphael also promoted for the first time the preservation of the ancient ruins.

Foreign domination and Enlightenment (16th–19th centuries)

A map depicting Western Europe's borders after the Treaties of Utrecht and Rastatt.
During the 18th century, Italy was one of the main centres of the Grand Tour, when many foreign aristocrats came to appreciate Italian culture and art.

After a century where the fragmented system of Italian states and principalities were able to maintain a relative independence and a balance of power in the peninsula, in 1494 the French king Charles VIII opened the first of a series of invasions, lasting half of the sixteenth century, and a competition between France and Spain for the possession of the country. Ultimately Spain prevailed (the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559 recognised the Spanish possession of the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples) and for almost two centuries became the hegemon in Italy. The holy alliance between Habsburg Spain and the Holy See resulted in the systematic persecution of any Protestant movement, with the result that Italy remained a Catholic country with marginal Protestant presence. During its long rule on Italy, the Spanish Empire systematically spoiled the country and imposed heavy taxation. It interfered and held a tight grip over the affairs of the Vatican. Moreover, Spanish administration was slow and inefficient, and its social consequences in the long term, in Southern Italy, where Spanish rule was effective, have lasted till the current age.

Austria succeeded Spain as hegemon in Italy after the Peace of Utrecht (1713), having acquired the State of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. The Austrian domination, thanks to the Enlightenment embraced by Habsburgic emperors, somewhat improved the situation. The northern part of Italy, under the direct control of Vienna, gained economic dynamism and intellectual fervour. The main Italian cities, such as Milan, Rome, Turin, Venice, Florence and Naples became fertile grounds for intellectual discussion and thought, and several Italian philosophers and literary figures were active at the time, such as the Milanese Cesare, Marquis of Beccaria-Bonesana, better known as Cesare Beccaria, or Antonio Genovesi. Leopold I, Grand Duke of Tuscany or also known as Leopold II of the Holy Roman Empire, abolished the death penalty in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, a leap forward in the modernisation of Italy at the time.

Italy in the 1700s was an important stop in the European Grand Tour, a period in which foreign, mostly British, aristocrats toured France, Italy and Greece to appreciate their arts and cultures, and their monuments. With the discovery of the classical ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 1748, and the restoration of the derelict parts of the surviving ancient monuments in Rome, figures such as Goethe, Shelley, Keats and Byron toured the country. Cities such as Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples were the major attractions, and Sicily was popular too. Keats famously said that "Italy is the paradise of exiles".[46]

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars (1796–1815) stirred the ideas of equality, democracy, law and nation which many in Italy endorsed and even supported as the basis on which they could and eventually would build national unity in Italy. This unity, or creation of modern Italy was yet to come in the second half of the nineteenth century (see Risorgimento and Italian Unification). The plague repeatedly returned to haunt Italy throughout the 14th to 17th centuries.[47] Italy's last major epidemic occurred in 1656 in Naples.[48] Italy’s population between 1700 and 1800 rose by about one-third, to 18 million.[49]

Italian unification (1816-1861) and Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)

The creation of the Kingdom of Italy was the result of efforts by Italian nationalists and monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula. In the context of the 1848 liberal revolutions that swept through Europe, an unsuccessful war was declared on Austria.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, popular amongst southern Italians, led the Italian republican drive for unification in southern Italy,[50] while the northern Italian monarchy of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia whose government was led by Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, had the ambition of establishing a united Italian state under its rule. The kingdom successfully challenged the Austrian Empire in the Second Italian War of Independence with the help of Napoleon III, liberating the Lombardy-Venetia. It established Turin as capital of the newly formed state. In 1865 the capital was moved to Florence.

In 1866, Victor Emmanuel II aligned the kingdom with Prussia during the Austro-Prussian War, waging the Third Italian War of Independence which allowed Italy to annex Venice. In 1870, as France during the disastrous Franco-Prussian War abandoned its positions in Rome, Italy rushed to fill the power gap by taking over the Papal State from French sovereignty. Italian unification finally was achieved, and shortly afterwards Italy's capital was moved from Florence to Rome. Whilst keeping the monarchy, the government became a parliamentary system, run by liberals.

As Northern Italy became industrialized and modernized, Southern Italy and agricultural regions of the north remained under-developed and stagnant, forcing millions of people to migrate to the emerging Industrial Triangle or abroad. The Sardinian Statuto Albertino of 1848, extended to the whole Kingdom of Italy in 1861, provided for basic freedoms, but the electoral laws excluded the non-propertied and uneducated classes from voting. In 1913, male universal suffrage was adopted. The Italian Socialist Party increased in strength, challenging the traditional liberal and conservative organisations. The high point of Italian emigration was 1913, when 872,598 persons left Italy.[51]

Starting from the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Italy developed into a colonial power by forcing Somalia, Eritrea and later Libya and the Dodecanese under its rule.[52] During World War I, Italy at first stayed neutral but in 1915 signed the Treaty of London, entering Entente on the promise of receiving Trento, Trieste, Istria, Dalmatia and parts of Ottoman Empire. During the war, 600,000 Italians died, and the economy collapsed. Under the Peace Treaty of Saint-Germain, Italy obtained just Bolzano-Bozen, Trento, Trieste and Istria in a victory described as "mutilated" by the public.

Fascist stamp promoting a colonial art exhibition, 1934.

The turbulence that followed the devastation of World War I, inspired by the Russian Revolution, led to turmoil and anarchy. The liberal establishment, fearing a socialist revolution, started to endorse the small National Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini. In October 1922 the fascists attempted a coup (the Marcia su Roma, "March on Rome"), but the king ordered the army not to intervene, instead forming an alliance with Mussolini. Over the next few years, Mussolini banned all political parties and curtailed personal liberties, thus forming a dictatorship.

In 1935, Mussolini subjugated Ethiopia after a surprisingly lengthy campaign. This resulted in international alienation and the exodus of the country from the League of Nations. A first pact with Nazi Germany was concluded in 1936, and a second in 1938. Italy strongly supported Franco in the Spanish civil war. The country was opposed to Adolf Hitler's annexations of Austria, but did not interfere with it. Italy supported Germany's annexation of Sudetenland, however[citation needed].

On 7 April 1939 Italy occupied Albania, a de facto protectorate for decades, and entered World War II in 1940, taking part in the late stages of the Battle of France. Mussolini, wanting a quick victory like Hitler's Blitzkriegs in Poland and France, invaded Greece in October 1940 via Albania but was forced to accept a humiliating defeat after a few months. At the same time, Italy, after initially conquering British Somalia, saw an allied counter-attack lead to the loss of all possessions in the Horn of Africa. Italy was also defeated by British forces in North Africa and was only saved by the urgently dispatched German Africa Corps led by Erwin Rommel.

Italy was invaded by the Allies in June 1943, leading to the collapse of the fascist regime and the arrest of Mussolini. In September 1943, Italy surrendered. The country remained a battlefield for the rest of the war, as the allies were moving up from the south as the north was the base for loyalist Italian fascist and German Nazi forces. The whole picture became more complex by the activity of the Italian partisans; see Italian resistance movement. The Nazis left the country on 25 April 1945 and the remaining Italian fascist forces eventually disbanded. Nearly half a million Italians (including civilians) died between June 1940 and May 1945. An estimated 200,000 partisans took part in the Resistance, and German or fascist forces killed some 70,000 Italians (including both partisans and civilians) for Resistance activities.[53] At least 54,000 Italian prisoners of war died in the Soviet Union.

The Italian Republic (1946–)

Partisans parading in Milan after the liberation of the city in 1945.

In 1946, Vittorio Emanuele III's son, Umberto II, was forced to abdicate. Italy became a republic after a referendum held on 2 June 1946, a day celebrated since as Republic Day. This was also the first time in Italy that Italian women were entitled to vote.[54] The Republican Constitution was approved and came into force on 1 January 1948. Under the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, the eastern border area was lost to Yugoslavia, and, later, the free territory of Trieste was divided between the two states.

Fears in the Italian electorate of a possible Communist takeover proved crucial for the first universal suffrage electoral outcome on the 18th of April 1948 when the Christian Democrats, under the leadership of Alcide De Gasperi, won the election with 48 percent of the vote. In the 1950s Italy became a member of NATO and allied itself with the United States. The Marshall Plan helped revive the Italian economy which, until the 1960s, enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth commonly called the "Economic Miracle". In 1957, Italy was a founder member of the European Economic Community (EEC), which became the European Union (EU) in 1993.

From the late 1960s till late 1980s the country experienced a hard economic crisis and the Years of Lead, a period characterized by widespread social conflicts and terrorist acts carried out by extra-parliamentary movements. The Years of Lead culminated in the assassination of the Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro in 1978, bringing to an end the "Historic Compromise" between the DC and the Communist Party. In the 1980s, for the first time since 1945, two governments were led by non-Christian-Democrat premiers: a republican (Giovanni Spadolini) and a socialist (Bettino Craxi); the Christian Democrats remained, however, the main force supporting the government. The Socialist Party (PSI), led by Bettino Craxi, became more and more critical of the Communists and of the Soviet Union; Craxi himself pushed in favour of US president Ronald Reagan's positioning of Pershing missiles in Italy, a move the Communists hotly contested.

The 1957 Treaties of Rome signing ceremony.

From 1992 to 2009, Italy faced significant challenges, as voters, disenchanted with past political paralysis, massive government debt and extensive corruption (collectively called Tangentopoli after being uncovered by Mani pulite – "Clean hands"), demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. The scandals involved all major parties, but especially those in the government coalition: between 1992 and 1994 the Christian Democrats underwent a severe crisis and was dissolved, splitting up into several pieces, while the Socialists and the other governing minor parties also dissolved.

The 1994 elections put media magnate Silvio Berlusconi into the Prime Minister's seat. However, he was forced to step down in December of that year when the Lega Nord Party withdrew its support. In April 1996, national elections led to the victory of a centre-left coalition under the leadership of Romano Prodi. Prodi's first government became the third-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a vote of confidence, by three votes, in October 1998. A new government was formed by Massimo D'Alema, but in April 2000 he resigned.

In 2001, national elections led to the victory of a centre-right coalition under the leadership of Silvio Berlusconi, who became prime minister once again. Mr. Berlusconi was able to remain in power for a complete five-year mandate, but with two different governments. The first one (2001–2005) became the longest-lived government in post-war Italy. Under that government, Italy joined the US-led military coalition in Iraq. The elections in 2006 were won by the centre-left, allowing Prodi to form his second government, but in early 2008 he resigned after losing a confidence vote in Parliament. Mr. Berlusconi won the ensuing elections in April 2008 to form a government for a third time.



Satellite image of Italy.
The Italian Alps.

Italy is located in Southern Europe and comprises the long, boot-shaped Italian Peninsula, and a number of islands including the two largest, Sicily (9,926 sq mi/25,708 km2) and Sardinia (9,301 sq mi/24,089 km2). 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; San Marino (39 km) and Vatican City (3.2 km), both enclaves, account for the remainder.

The Apennine Mountains form the peninsula's backbone, the Alps form its northern boundary. The Po, Italy's longest river, 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[55]:


Lake Garda, the biggest lake in the country.

The country is situated at the meeting point of the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate, leading to considerable sismic and volcanic activity. There are 14 volcanoes in Italy, three of which are active, Etna, Stromboli and Vesuvius, the latter being the only active volcano in mainland Europe and 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.


The climate of Italy is highly diverse and can be far from the stereotypical Mediterranean climate, depending on location. Most of the inland northern regions of Italy, for example Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, have a continental climate often classified as humid subtropical (Köppen climate classification Cfa). The coastal areas of Liguria and most of the peninsula south of Florence generally fit the Mediterranean 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.


The Praemuricea clavata.

Italy is one of the richest countries in Europe and in the Mediterranean basin in terms of species biodiversity. The Italian flora is the richest in Europe.[citation needed] Traditionally it was estimated to comprise about 5,500 vascular plant species. However, as of 2004, 6,759 species are recorded in the Data bank of Italian vascular flora.[56] (9,000 plant species if non-vascular species are included, half Europe’s total). The nation has one of the highest levels of faunal biodiversity in Europe with over 57,000 species recorded (more than a third of all European fauna). This is due to Italy’s Southerly geographical position, surrounded by the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. There are 8,000 km of coastline and the peninsula is in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, forming a corridor between central Europe and North Africa. Italy also receives species from the Balkans, Eurasia and the Middle East.

86% of the Italian fauna is land-based, 14% is aquatic. Insects represent about two thirds of all of Italy’s fauna.

Government and politics

President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano.

The politics of Italy take place in a framework of a parliamentary, democratic republic, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised collectively by the Council of Ministers, which is led by a President (Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri), informally referred to as "premier" or primo ministro (that is, "prime minister"). Legislative power is vested in the two houses of Parliament primarily, and secondarily in the Council of Ministers. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislative. Italy has been a democratic republic since 2 June 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum (see "birth of the Italian Republic"). The constitution was promulgated on 1 January 1948.

Giorgio Napolitano is the President of the Italian Republic, whilst Silvio Berlusconi is the nation's Prime Minister (President of the Council of Ministers).

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. As the head of state, the President of the Republic represents the unity of the nation and has many of the duties previously given to the King of Italy. The president serves as a point of connection between the three branches of power: he is elected by the lawmakers, he appoints the executive, he is the president of the judiciary and he is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The Quirinal Palace, which is the official residence of the President of the Italian Republic.

The president nominates the Prime Minister, who proposes the other ministers (formally named by the president). The Council of Ministers must obtain a confidence vote from both houses of Parliament. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both.

Italy elects a parliament consisting of two houses, the Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati), which has 630 members and the Senate of the Republic (Senato della Repubblica), comprising 315 elected members and a small number of senators for life). Legislation may originate in either house and must be passed in identical form by a majority in each. The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected through a complex electoral system (latest amendment in 2005) which combines proportional representation with a majority prize for the largest coalition. All Italian citizens 18 years of age and older can vote. However, to vote for the Senate, the voter must be 25 or older.

The electoral system for the Senate is based upon regional representation. As of 15 May 2006 there are seven life senators (of which three are former Presidents). Both houses are elected for a maximum of five years, but both may be dissolved by the President before the expiration of their normal term if the Parliament is unable to elect a stable government. In post-war history, this has happened in 1972, 1976, 1979, 1983, 1994, 1996, and 2008.

A peculiarity of the Italian Parliament is the representation given to Italian citizens permanently living abroad (about 2.7 million people). Among the 630 Deputies and the 315 Senators there are respectively 12 and 6 elected in four distinct overseas constituencies. Those members of Parliament were elected for the first time in April 2006, and they have the same rights as members elected in Italy.


The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes. The Supreme Court of Cassation is the court of last resort for most disputes. The Constitutional Court of Italy (Corte Costituzionale) rules on the conformity of laws with the Constitution and is a post-World War II innovation.

Foreign relations

US President Barack Obama meets with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

Italy was a founding member of the European Community—now the European Union (EU). Italy was admitted to the United Nations in 1955 and is a member and strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization (GATT/WTO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, and the Central European Initiative. Its recent turns in the rotating Presidency of international organisations include the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), the forerunner of the OSCE, in 1994; G8; and the EU in 2001 and from July to December 2003.

Italy supports the United Nations and its international security activities. Italy deployed troops in support of UN peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Mozambique, and East Timor and provides support for NATO and UN operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania. Italy deployed over 2,000 troops to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in February 2003. Italy still supports international efforts to reconstruct and stabilize Iraq, but it has withdrawn its military contingent of some 3,200 troops as of November 2006, maintaining only humanitarian workers and other civilian personnel. In August 2006 Italy sent about 2,450 soldiers to Lebanon for the United Nations' peacekeeping mission UNIFIL.[57] Furthermore, since 2 February 2007 an Italian, Claudio Graziano, is the commander of the UN force in the country.


Italy rejects war as an instrument of aggression against the freedoms of other peoples and as a means for settling international controversies; it agrees, on conditions of equality with other states, to the limitations of sovereignty necessary for an order that ensures peace and justice among Nations; it promotes and encourages international organizations having such ends in view.

—Article 11 of Italian Constitution

The Italian armed forces are under the command of the Supreme Defence Council, presided over by the President of the Italian Republic. In 2008 the military had 186,798 personnel on active duty, along with 114,778 in the national gendarmerie.[58] As part of NATO's nuclear sharing strategy Italy also hosts 90 United States nuclear bombs, located in the Ghedi Torre and Aviano air bases.[59] Total military spending in 2007 was $33.1 billion, equal to 1.8% of national GDP.[60]

The Italian armed forces are divided into four branches:


Dardo IFV on exercise

The Italian Army (Esercito Italiano) is the ground defence force of the Italian Republic. It has recently become a professional all-volunteer force of active-duty personnel, numbering 109,703 in 2008. Its best-known combat vehicles are the Dardo infantry fighting vehicle, the Centauro tank destroyer and the Ariete tank, and among its aircraft the Mangusta attack helicopter, recently deployed in UN missions. The Esercito Italiano also has at its disposal a large number of Leopard 1 and M113 armored vehicles.


Cavour, an aircraft carrier

The Italian Navy (Marina Militare) in 2008 had a strength of 43,882 and ships of every type, such as aircraft carriers, destroyers, modern frigates, submarines, amphibious ships, and other smaller ships such as oceanographic research ships[61] The Marina Militare is now equipping itself with a bigger aircraft carrier, (the Cavour), new destroyers, submarines and multipurpose frigates. In modern times the Italian Navy, being a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has taken part in many coalition peacekeeping operations around the world.

Air Force

The Eurofighter is built by a consortium of Italy and three other countries.

The Italian Air Force in 2008 has a strength of 43,882 and operates 585 aircraft, including 219 combat jets and 114 helicopters. As a stopgap and as replacement for leased Tornado ADV interceptors, the AMI has leased 30 F-16A Block 15 ADF and four F-16B Block 10 Fighting Falcons, with an option for more.

The coming years also will see the introduction of 121 EF2000 Eurofighter Typhoons, replacing the leased F-16 Fighting Falcons. Further updates are foreseen in the Tornado IDS/IDT and AMX fleets. A transport capability is guaranteed by a fleet of 22 C-130Js and Aeritalia G.222s of which 12 are being replaced with the newly developed G.222 variant called the C-27J Spartan.


The Carabinieri are the gendarmerie and military police of Italy, providing the republic with a national police service. At the Sea Islands Conference of the G8 in 2004, the Carabinieri was given the mandate to establish a Center of Excellence for Stability Police Units (CoESPU) to spearhead the development of training and doctrinal standards for civilian police units attached to international peacekeeping missions.[62]

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 Area (km²) Population
Abruzzo L'Aquila &0000000000010794.00000010,794 &0000000001324000.0000001,324,000
Aosta Valley* Aosta &0000000000003263.0000003,263 &0000000000126000.000000126,000
Apulia Bari &0000000000019362.00000019,362 &0000000004076000.0000004,076,000
Basilicata Potenza &0000000000009992.0000009,992 &0000000000591000.000000591,000
Calabria Catanzaro &0000000000015080.00000015,080 &0000000002007000.0000002,007,000
Campania Naples &0000000000013595.00000013,595 &0000000005811000.0000005,811,000
Emilia-Romagna Bologna &0000000000022124.00000022,124 &0000000004276000.0000004,276,000
Friuli-Venezia Giulia* Trieste &0000000000007855.0000007,855 &0000000001222000.0000001,222,000
Lazio Rome &0000000000017207.00000017,207 &0000000005561000.0000005,561,000
Liguria Genoa &0000000000005421.0000005,421 &0000000001610000.0000001,610,000
Lombardy Milan &0000000000023861.00000023,861 &0000000009642000.0000009,642,000
Marche Ancona &0000000000009694.0000009,694 &0000000001553000.0000001,553,000
Molise Campobasso &0000000000004438.0000004,438 &0000000000320000.000000320,000
Piedmont Turin &0000000000025399.00000025,399 &0000000004401000.0000004,401,000
Sardinia* Cagliari &0000000000024090.00000024,090 &0000000001666000.0000001,666,000
Sicily* Palermo &0000000000025708.00000025,708 &0000000005030000.0000005,030,000
Tuscany Florence &0000000000022997.00000022,997 &0000000003677000.0000003,677,000
Trentino-Alto Adige* Trento &0000000000013607.00000013,607 &0000000001007000.0000001,007,000
Umbria Perugia &0000000000008456.0000008,456 &0000000000884000.000000884,000
Veneto Venice &0000000000018391.00000018,391 &0000000004832000.0000004,832,000



Population 1960–2006. Number of inhabitants in thousands.

At the end of 2008, the Italian population surpassed 60 million.[63] Italy has the fourth-largest population in the European Union and the 23rd-largest population worldwide. Italy's population density, at 199.2 persons per square kilometre, is the fifth highest in the European Union. The highest density is in Northern Italy, as that one-third of the country contains almost half of the total population. After World War II, Italy enjoyed a prolonged economic boom which caused a major rural exodus to the cities, and at the same time transformed the nation from a massive emigration country to a net immigrant-receiving country. High fertility persisted until the 1970s, when it plunged below the replacement rates, so that as of 2008, one in five Italians was over 65 years old.[64]

Despite this, thanks mainly to the massive immigration of the last two decades, in the 2000s Italy saw a crude birth rates growth (especially in the northern regions) for the first time in many years.[65] The total fertility rate also significantly grew in the past few years, thanks both to rising births in foreign born and Italian women, as it climbed to 1.41 children per woman in 2008 compared to 2005 when it sat at 1.32.[66]

Cities and metropolitan areas

Piazza San Pietro, Citta del Vaticano.jpg

Rank City Location Pop. Rank City Location Pop.

Napoli and Vesuvius.jpg

1 Rome Lazio 2,724,347 11 Venice Veneto 270,098
2 Milan Lombardy 1,295,705 12 Verona Veneto 265,368
3 Naples Campania 963,661 13 Messina Sicily 243,381
4 Turin Piedmont 908,825 14 Padua Veneto 211,936
5 Palermo Sicily 659,433 15 Trieste Friuli-Venezia Giulia 205,341
6 Genoa Liguria 611,171 16 Taranto Apulia 194,021
7 Bologna Emilia-Romagna 374,944 17 Brescia Lombardy 190,844
8 Florence Tuscany 365,659 18 Reggio Calabria Calabria 185,621
9 Bari Apulia 320,677 19 Prato Tuscany 185,091
10 Catania Sicily 296,469 20 Parma Emilia-Romagna 182,389
Figures are ISTAT estimates for 31 December 2008 and represent the population of the communes, rather than of the urban areas.

According to the OECD,[67] the largest metropolitan areas are:

Metropolitan area Population
Milan 7.4 million
Rome 3.7 million
Naples 3.1 million
Turin 2.2 million

Independent estimates on metropolitan areas

According to Censis Foundation,[68] the largest Metroplexes in Italy are:

Metroplex/ Metropolitan area Population
(in km²)
1 Milan metropolitan area (Lombardy mega region) 8,047,125 8,362.1 965.6
2 Naples metropolitan area 4,996,084 3,841.7 1,300.5
3 Rome metropolitan area 4,339,112 4,766.3 910.4
4 VenicePadovaVerona (Veneto mega region) 3,267,420 6,679.6 489.2
5 BariTarantoLecce (Low adriatic linear system) 2,603,831 6,127.7 424.9
6 RiminiPesaroAncona (High adriatic linear system) 2,359,068 5,404.8 436.5
7 Turin metropolitan area 1,997,975 1,976.8 1,010.7
8 Greater BolognaPiacenza 1,944,401 3,923.6 495,6
9 FlorencePisaSiena 1,760,737 3,795.9 629.8
10 MessinaCataniaSiracusa (Eastern Sicilian linear system) 1,693,173 2,411.7 702.1


Venice is part of the Veneto mega region, the fourth largest metroplex in Italy.

At the start of 2009 there were 3,891,295 foreign nationals resident in Italy and registered with the authorities. This amounted to 6.5% of the country’s population and represented a year-on-year increase of 458,644 or 13.4%. These figures include more than half a million children born in Italy to foreign nationals—second generation immigrants are becoming an important element in the demographic picture—but exclude foreign nationals who have subsequently acquired Italian nationality; this applied to 53,696 people in 2008.[69] They also exclude illegal immigrants, the so-called clandestini whose numbers are difficult to determine. In May 2008 the The Boston Globe quoted an estimate of 670,000 for this group.[70]

Since the expansion of the European Union, the most recent wave of migration has been from surrounding European nations, particularly Eastern Europe, and increasingly Asia,[71] replacing North Africa as the major immigration area. Some 800,000 Romanians, around 10 percent of them being Gypsies,[72] are officially registered as living in Italy, replacing Albanians and Moroccans as the largest ethnic minority group. The number unregistered Romanians is difficult to estimate, but the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network suggested that in 2007 that there might half been half a million or more.[73]

As of 2009, the foreign born population origin of Italy was subdivided as follows: Europe (53.5%), Africa (22.3%), Asia (15.8%), the Americas (8.1%) and Oceania (0.06%). The disribution of foreign born population is largely uneven in Italy: 87.3% of immigrants live in the northern and central parts of the country (the most economically developed areas), while only 12.8% live in the southern half of the peninsula.

Origin Population  % of total*
Italian &0000000056153773.00000056,153,773 93.52%
Romanian &0000000000796477.000000796,477 1.32%
North African &0000000000606556.000000606,556 1.01%
Albanian &0000000000441396.000000441,396 0.73%
Chinese &0000000000170265.000000170,265 0.28%
Ukrainian &0000000000153998.000000153,998 0.26%
Asian (non-Chinese) &0000000000445795.000000445,795 0.74%
Latin American &0000000000298860.000000298,860 0.50%
Sub-Saharan African &0000000000264570.000000264,570 0.44%
Other &0000000000713378.000000713,378 1.19%
* Percentage of total Italy population as of 1 January 2009

The Italian diaspora

Little Italy in New York, ca.1900.

Italy became a country of mass emigration soon after the national reunification process in the late 1800s. Between 1898 and 1914, the peak years of Italian diaspora, approximately 750,000 Italians emigrated each year.[74] Italian communities once thrived in the former African colonies of Eritrea (nearly 100,000 at the beginning of World War II),[75] Somalia and Libya (150,000 Italians settled in Libya, constituting about 18% of the total population).[76] All of Libya's Italians were expelled from the North African country in 1970.[77]

In the decade after World War II, up to 350,000 ethnic Italians left Yugoslavia (see Istrian exodus).[78] Large numbers of people with full or significant Italian ancestry are found in Brazil (25 million),[79] Argentina (20 million),[80] United States (17.8 million),[81] Uruguay (1.5 million),[82] Canada (1.4 million),[83] Venezuela (900,000)[84] and Australia (800,000).[85]

Recognized ethnic minorities and minority languages

Several ethnic groups are legally recognized,[citation needed] and a number of minority languages have co-official status alongside Italian in various parts of the country. French is co-official in the Valle d’Aosta—although in fact Franco-Provencal is more commonly spoken there. German has the same status in the Province of Bolzano-Bozen as, in some parts of that province and in parts of the neighbouring Trentino, does Ladin. Slovene is officially recognised in the provinces of Trieste and Gorizia in Venezia Giulia.

In these regions official documents are bilingual (trilingual in Ladin communities), or available upon request in either Italian or the co-official language. Traffic signs are also multilingual, except in the Valle d’Aosta where—with the exception of Aosta itself which has retained its Latin form in Italian as in English—French toponyms are generally used, attempts to Italianise them during the Fascist period having been abandoned. Education is possible in minority languages where such schools are operating.


A map showing the 'Italophone' world. Dark blue rapresents where Italian is an official or native language; green rapresents where Italian is a secondary, widely spoken or understood language, and light blue is where Italian is understood (mainly due to many of these countries being ex-Italian colonies).

Standard Italian

Italy's official language is Standard Italian,[86] which is a descendant of the Tuscan dialect and Latin. Ethnologue has estimated that there are about 55 million speakers of the language in Italy and a further 6.7 million outside of the country.[87] However, there are over 150 million people in the world who use Italian as a second or cultural language. In Switzerland, Italian is one of four official languages. It is also the official language of San Marino, as well as the primary language of Vatican City.[88]

Standard Italian, adopted by the state after the unification of Italy, is based on Tuscan (in particular on the dialects of the city of Florence) and is somewhat intermediate between the Italo-Dalmatian languages of the South and the Gallo-Romance Northern Italian languages. Its development was also influenced by the other Italian dialects and by the Germanic language of the post-Roman invaders.

Italian derives diachronically from Latin and is the closest language to Latin. Unlike most other Romance languages, Italian has retained the contrast between short and long consonants which existed in Latin. As in most Romance languages, stress is distinctive. In particular, among the Romance languages, Italian is considered to be the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary.[89]

Italian dialects and other languages spoken

Italy has a numerous dialects, spoken all over the country, and some Italians cannot speak the standard language at all.[90] However, the establishment of a national education system led to a decrease in variation in the languages spoken across the country. Standardization was further expanded in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to economic growth and the rise of mass media and television (the state broadcaster RAI helped set an Italian standard).

Other historic Romance languages spoken in Italy except Italian include Emiliano-Romagnolo, Friulian, Ladin, Ligurian, Lombard, Neapolitan, Piedmontese, Sardinian, Sicilian, Venetian and Romansh. These languages have given way to regional varieties of Italian. Variety is often used in idioms and folk songs.

However, there are other languages spoken in Italy, such as Albanian, Catalan, Croatian, Franco-Provençal, French, Friulian, German, Greek, Ladin, Occitan, Sardinian, and Slovene. A law passed in 1999 recognises the existence of twelve linguistic minorities which are thus officially protected.


Roman Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the country, although the Catholic Church is no longer officially the state religion. Fully 87.8% of Italians identified themselves as Roman Catholic,[91] although only about one-third of these described themselves as active members (36.8%).

Most Italians believe in God, or a form of a spiritual life force. According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005:[92]

  • 74% of Italian citizens responded that they believe there is a God;
  • 16% answered that they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force;
  • 6% answered that they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force.


Roman Catholicism

The Italian Catholic Church is part of the global Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope, curia in Rome, and the Conference of Italian Bishops. In addition to Italy, two other sovereign nations are included in Italian-based dioceses, San Marino and Vatican City. There are 225 dioceses in the Italian Catholic Church, see further in this article and in the article List of the Roman Catholic dioceses in Italy. Even though by law the Vatican City is not part of Italy, it is in Rome, and along with Latin, Italian is the most spoken and second language of the Vatican.[93]

Italy has a rich Catholic culture, especially due to the fact that numerous Catholic saints, martyrs and popes were Italian themselves. Roman Catholic art in Italy especially flourished during the Middle-Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods, with numerous Italian artists, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Sandro Botticelli, Tintoretto, Titian, Raphael and Giotto, to name a few. Roman Catholic architecture in Italy is equally as rich and impressive, with churches, basilicas and cathedrals such as St Peter's Basilica, Florence Cathedral and St Mark's Basilica, to name a few. Roman Catholicism is the largest religion and denomination in Italy, with around 87.8% of Italians considering themselves Catholic. Italy also is home to the greatest number of cardinals in the world.[94]

Other Christian denominations

Even though the main Christian denomination in Italy is Roman Catholicism, there are some minorities of Protestant, Waldensian, Eastern Orthodox and other Christian churches.

In the 20th century, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostalism, non-denominational Evangelicalism, and Mormonism were the fastest-growing Protestant churches. Immigration from Western, Central, and Eastern Africa at the beginning of the 21st century has increased the size of Baptist, Anglican, Pentecostal and Evangelical communities in Italy, while immigration from Eastern Europe has produced large Eastern Orthodox communities.

In 2006, Protestants made up 2.1% of Italy's population, and members of Eastern Orthodox churches comprised 1.2%. Other Christian groups in Italy include more than 700,000 Eastern Orthodox Christians including 180,000 Greek Orthodox,[95] 550,000 Pentecostals and Evangelicals (0.8%), of whom 400,000 are members of the Assemblies of God, 235,685 Jehovah's Witnesses (0.4%),[96] 30,000 Waldensians,[97] 25,000 Seventh-day Adventists, 22,000 Mormons, 15,000 Baptists (plus some 5,000 Free Baptists), 7,000 Lutherans, 4,000 Methodists (affiliated with the Waldensian Church).[98]

Other Faiths

The longest-established religious faith in Italy is Judaism, Jews having been present in Ancient Rome before the birth of Christ. Italy has seen many influential Italian-Jews, such as Luigi Luzzatti, who took office in 1910, Ernesto Nathan served as mayor of Rome from 1907 to 1913 and Shabbethai Donnolo (died 982). During the Holocaust, Italy took in many Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. However, with the creation of the Nazi-backed puppet Italian Social Republic, about 15% of Italy's Jews were killed, despite the Fascist government's refusal to deport Jews to Nazi death camps. This, together with the emigration that preceded and followed the Second World War, has left only a small community of around 45,000 Jews in Italy today.

Due to immigration from around the world, there has been an increase in non-Christian faiths. In 2009, there were 1.0 million Muslims in Italy[99] forming 1.6 percent of population although, only 50,000 hold Italian citizenship. Independent estimates put the Islamic population in Italy anywhere from 0.8 million[100] to 1.5 million.[101]

There are more than 200,000 followers of faith originating in the Indian subcontinent woth some 70,000 Sikhs with 22 gurdwaras across the country,[102] 70,000 Hindus, and 50,000 Buddhists.[103]


The Bank of Italy; the central bank of Italy.

According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2008 Italy was the seventh-largest economy in the world and the fourth-largest in Europe. Italy is member of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations,[104] it is a member of the European Union, OECD, and the Group of Seven (G7). The country is divided into a developed industrial north dominated by large private companies and a primarily agricultural, state-assisted south.

In the post-war period, Italy was transformed from a weak, agricultural based economy which had been severely affected by the consequences of World War II, into one of the world's most industrialized nations and a leading country in world trade and exports, even so that in 1987, the Italian economy surpassed the British economy, by GDP (nominal), an event known as 'il sorpasso'[105].

According to the World Bank, Italy has high levels of freedom for investments, business and trade. Italy is a developed country, and, according to The Economist, has the world's 8th highest quality of life.[106] The country enjoys a very high standard of living, and is the world's 18th most developed country, surpassing the Germany, UK and Greece.[8] According to the last Eurostat data, Italian per capita GDP at purchasing power parity remains approximately equal to the EU average.[107] On addition to that, Italy has the world's 4th (3rd excluding the IMF) largest gold reserves, that of 2,451.8 tonnes, coming after the USA and Germany, and surpassing France and China.[108]

Despite this, the country's economy suffers from many problems. After a strong GDP growth of +8% from 1964 onwards,[109] the last decade's average annual growth rate lagged with 1.23% in comparison to an average EU annual growth rate of 2.28%.[110] In addition, Italian living standards have a considerable north-south divide. The average GDP per capita in Northern Italy can far exceed the EU average (an example of this could be the Province of Bolzano-Bozen, with a 2006 average GDP per capita of €32,900 (US$ 43,861), which is 135.5% of EU average),[111] whilst some regions and provinces in Southern Italy can be considerably below the EU average (such as Campania, which has an average GDP per capita of € 16,294, or US$ 21,722). Italy has often been referred the sick man of Europe,[112][113] characterised by economic stagnation, political instability and problems in pursuing reform programs.

A Ferrari 612. Ferraris are amongst Italy's most iconic supercars.

Firstly, Italy suffers from structural weaknesses due to its geographical conformation and the lack of raw materials and energy resources. The territory is mostly mountainous, so much of the terrain is not suitable for intensive cultivation and communication is made more difficult.[citation needed]

Secondly, the Italian economy is weakened by the lack of infrastructure development, market reforms and research investment. In the Index of Economic Freedom 2008, the country ranked 64th in the world and 29th in Europe, the lowest rating in the Eurozone. Italy still receives development assistance from the European Union every year. Between 2000 and 2006, Italy received €27.4 billion from the EU [114]. The country has an inefficient state bureaucracy, low property rights protection and high levels of corruption, heavy taxation and public spending that accounts for about half of the national GDP.[115] In addition, the most recent data show that Italy's spending in R&D in 2006 was equal to 1.14% of GDP, below the EU average of 1.84% and the Lisbon Strategy target of devoting 3% of GDP to research and development activities.[116]

Thirdly, Italy has a smaller number of world-class multinational corporations than other economies of comparable size, but there are a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises, and in the Northern "industrial triangle" (made of up of the main Italian manufacturing centres, Milan, Turin and Genoa) or the Tuscan industrial triangle (Florence-Prato-Pistoia), where there is an area of intense industrial and machinery production, notably in their several industrial districts, which were for long the backbone of the Italian industry. This has produced a manufacturing sector often focused on the export of niche market and luxury products, capable of facing the competition from China and other emerging Asian economies based on lower labour costs.[117] Italy's major exports and companies by sector are motor vehicles (Fiat Group, Aprilia, Ducati, Piaggio); chemicals and petrochemicals (Eni); energy and electrical engineering (Enel, Edison); home appliances (Candy, Indesit), aerospace and defense technologies (Alenia, Agusta, Finmeccanica), firearms (Beretta), fashion (Armani, Valentino, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, Benetton, Prada, Luxottica); food processing (Ferrero, Barilla Group, Martini & Rossi, Campari, Parmalat); sport and luxury vehicles (Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Pagani); yachts (Ferretti, Azimut).

The automobile industry in Italy is also quite large employer in the country, with a labour force of over 196,000 (2004) working in this particular industry industry. The automotive industry makes a significant contribution of 8.5% to Italian GDP.[118][119] Italy is the 5th largest automobile producer in Europe (2006).[120]


The Amalfi Coast, seen from Ravello, is one of Italy's most popular tourist destinations.

Tourism is one of the fastest growing and profitable sectors of the national economy: with 43.7 million international tourist arrivals and total receipts estimated at $42.7 billion, Italy is the fourth highest tourism earner and the fifth most visited country in the world.[121] Despite a slump in the late-1980s and during the Gulf War, Italy has, since the mid-1990s, rebuilt a strong tourism industry.[122] Italy's most popular tourist attractions are the Colosseum (4 million tourists per year, and the world's 39th most visited sight) and the ruins at Pompeii (48th in the world, with 2.5 million visitors).[123] In 2008, Italy's most internationally visited cities were in order: Rome (11th in the world with 6,123,000 tourists), Milan (52nd with 1,914,000 visitors), Venice (57th with 1,798,000), Florence (59th in the world with 1,729,000 international arrivals), Naples (166th with 381,000 tourists), Palermo (183rd with 316,000 visitors), Verona (188th with 289,000), Rimini (189th with 284,000 international visitors), Bologna (191st in the world, with 279,000 arrivals), Genoa (200th, with 243,000 tourists), Turin (203rd with 240,000 visitors), and finally Siena (229th, with 163,000).[124]


Rome-Fiumicino Airport in 2008 was the sixth busiest airport in Europe.

In 2004 the transport sector in Italy generated a turnover of about 119.4 billion euros, employng 935,700 persons in 153,700 enterprises. Regarding to the national road network, in 2002 there were 668,721 km (415,612 mi) of serviceable roads in Italy, including 6,487 km (4,031 mi) of motorways, state-owned but privately operated by Atlantia company. In 2005, about 34,667,000 passenger cars (equal to 590 cars per 1,000 people) and 4,015,000 road good vehicles circulated on the national road network. The national railway network, state-owned and operated by Ferrovie dello Stato, in 2003 totalled 16,287 km (10,122 mi) of which 69% electrified, and on which 4,937 locomotives and railcars circulated. The national inland waterways network comprised 1,477 km (918 mi) of navigable rivers and channells in 2002. In 2004 there were approximately 30 main airports (including the two hubs of Malpensa International in Milan and Leonardo Da Vinci International in Rome) and 43 major seaports in Italy (including the seaport of Genoa, that is the country largest and the second largest in the Mediterranean Sea after Marseille). In 2005 Italy maintained a civilian air fleet of about 389,000 units and a merchant fleet of 581 ships.[125]

Italy's economy has a diversified energy sector. The energy is highly dependent on imports from abroad: in 2006 the country imported more than 86% of its total energy consumption (99.7% of the solid fuels demand, 92.5% of oil, 91.2% of natural gas and 15% of electricity)[126][127] Italy, however, ranked as the world’s sixth largest producer of wind power with an installed nameplate capacity of 3,736 GW in 2008, behind India and ahead of France and the United Kingdom.[128] The country has also built several nuclear reactors from 1963–1990, but after Chernobyl, the country stopped all work on its nuclear program. The majority of Italy’s electricity is produced by gas, oil, coal, and hydro.


The country is the world's sixth highest exporter, with US$546.9 billion exports in 2008,[129] and the fifth world's largest industrial goods producer with a US$381 billion output in 2008.[130] In 2007, Italy's total merchandise exports were at US$ 491.507 billion, US$ 118.261 billion for commercial services and they were at US$ 504.404 billion by selected region, according to the World Trade Organization.[131]

Italy's major exports are precision machinery, motor vehicles (utilitaries, luxury vehicles, motorcycles, scooters), chemicals and electric goods, but the country's more famous exports are in the fields of food and clothing.

Also, Italy is an important agricultural exporter, including the fact that it is the largest kiwifruit (415,050 tonnes), grape (8,519,418 tonnes) and artichoke (469,980 tonnes) producer worldwide. The country exports and produces the highest level of wine in the world,[132][133] exporting over 1,793 tonnes. Italy was responsible for producing approximately one-fifth of world wine production in 2005.[134]

Italy's closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European Union, with whom it conducts about 59% of its total trade. Italy's largest EU trade partners, in order of market share, are Germany (12.9%), France (11.4%), and Spain (7.4%).[26]

Public services


The Fatebenefratelli Hospital in Milan.[135]

Healthcare spending in Italy has accounted for more the 9.0% of the country's GDP, slightly above the OECD countries' average of 8.9%,[136] however, this has resulted in Italy having the world's 2nd best healthcare system,[137] 19th highest life expectancy,[26] and the world's 3rd best healthcare performance.[138] Italy's life expectancy at birth was in 2004 80.9, two years above the OECD average.[139] The infant mortality rate in Italy was 4.7 % (OECD: 5.4 %) in 2005.

Nevertheless, in Italy, just like in virtually all OECD countries, there has been an increase in the proportion of overweight and obese people. This figure rose from 7.0% in 1994 to 9.9% in the year 2005. There are now also in hospital structures in Italy for this group of people

In addition, the proportion of daily smokers fell in the same period from 1990 to 2005 from 27.8% to 22.3% (OECD: 24.3%). Since 10 January 2005, there is also a general smoke ban on all public buildings. Anyone who violates this law must pay a fine a fine from €27.5 to €275.


Italy's public education is free and compulsory from 6–14 years of age,[140] and has a five-year primary stage and an eight-year secondary stage, divided into first-grade secondary school (middle school) and second-grade secondary school (or high school). Italy has a high public education standard, surpassing that of other comparable developed countries, such as the UK and Germany.[141] The country has both public and private education systems.

According to National Science Indicators (1981–2002), a database produced by Research Services Group containing listings of output and citation statistics for more than 90 countries, Italy has an above-average output of scientific papers (in terms of number of papers written with at least one author being from Italy) in space science (9.75% of papers in the world being from Italy), mathematics (5.51% of papers in the world), computer science, neurosciences, and physics; the lowest, but still slightly above world-average, output in terms of number of papers produced is recorded in the social sciences, psychology and psychiatry, and economics and business.[142]

Turin's Castello del Valentino, which is the seat of the Polytechnic University of Turin.

Italy hosts a broad variety of universities, colleges and academies. Milan's Bocconi University, has been ranked among the top 20 best business schools in the world by The Wall Street Journal international rankings, especially thanks to its M.B.A. program, which in 2007 placed it no. 17 in the world in terms of graduate recruitment preference by major multinational companies.[143] Also, Forbes has ranked Bocconi no.1 worldwide in the specific category Value for Money.[144] In May 2008, Bocconi overtook several traditionally top global business schools in the Financial Times Executive education ranking, reaching no. 5 in Europe and no. 15 in the world.[145]

Other top universities and polytechnics include the Polytechnic University of Turin, the Politecnico di Milano (which in 2009 was ranked as the 57th technical university in the world by Top Universities, in a research conducted on behalf of Times Higher Education.[146] This was a 6-positions growth from the 63rd position in 2008. In 2009 an Italian research ranked it as the best in Italy over indicators such as scientific production, attraction of foreign students, and others [147]), the La Sapienza (which in 2005 was Europe's 33rd best university,[148] and ranks amongst Europe's 50 and the world's 150 best colleges[149]) and the University of Milan (whose research and teaching activities have developed over the years and have received important international recognitions. The University is the only Italian member of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), a prestigious group of twenty research-intensive European Universities. It also been awarded ranking positions as such: -1st in Italy and 7th in Europe (The Leiden Ranking - Universiteit Leiden).

Italy and the Western world's oldest college is the University of Bologna.[150] In 2009, the University of Bologna is, according to The Times, the only Italian college in the top 200 World Universities. The University of Padua, also remains one of Europe's oldest.


Italy has modern telephone and data services.[151] The country has 17.7 million internet hosts, 4th-most in the world,[151] and 32 million internet users, 10th highest in the world. There are 88.58 million mobile cellular telephones in Italy, far exceeding the actual population and ranking 11th in the world, and 20 million landline telephones.[151] Italy has high-capacity cables for domestic usage of phones, and numerous international connections.[151]

Media and censorship

The first form of televised media in Italy was introduced in 1939, when the first experimental broadcasting began. However, this lasted for a very short time: when fascist Italy entered World War II in 1940 all the transmission were interrupted, and were resumed in earnest only nine years after the end of the conflict, in 1954. There are two main national television networks responsible for most viewing: state-owned RAI, funded by a yearly mandatory licence fee and Mediaset, commercial network founded by current Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. While many other networks are also present, both nationally and locally, these two together reach 80% of the TV ratings.

As with all the other media of Italy, the Italian television industry is widely considered both inside and outside the country to be overtly politicized.[152] The public broadcaster RAI is, unlike the BBC which is controlled by an independent trust, under direct control of the government; the most important commercial stations in the country are, in turn, owned by the current prime minister. According to a December 2008 poll, only 24% of Italians trust television news programmes, compared unfavourably to the British rate of 38%, making Italy one of only three examined countries where online sources are considered more reliable than television ones for information.[153][154] Also, along with Turkey, Italy has one of the lowest levels of press freedom in Europe, even falling behind some ex-communist countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic.[155]


Italy has established a positive reputation worldwide (Sophia Loren, Italian actress).

Italy has been nominated 2009's sixth most internationally valued country,[25] (falling short of France, Germany, The United Kingdom, Canada and Japan, and surpassing the United States, Switzerland, Australia, Sweden and Spain), coming ninth in export branding 2008, first in tourism branding, second in cultural branding, third in people branding and ninth in immigration branding.

Social class

Italian society is often divided into different ranks of social class. Italian society is divided between the Bourgeosie, the white collar middle class, the petit urban bourgeosie, the petit rural bourgeosie, the urban working class and the rural working class.[156]


Women have equal rights as men, and have mainly the same job, business and education opportunities. Some, more traditionalist people (especially in the South) in Italian society still tend to treat women as slightly inferior, but women's rights in Italy are just as one would expect of a developed G8 country.[157]

LGBT rights

Italy legally accepts homosexuals and transgenders, however they may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal in Italy, but same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples.

Italian opinions have changed in the past and people now tend to be more supportive and liberal of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights, but tend to be more repressive than other European nations. Tolerance is seen in a peculiar way that is due to the religious influence of the Roman Catholic Church, which has been ingrained in Italian society for 1,700 years. Conservative Italian politicians such as Silvio Berlusconi have often been opposed to increasing gay rights.[158] A Eurobarometer survey published on December 2006 showed that 31% of Italians surveyed support same-sex marriage and 24% recognise same-sex couple's right to adopt (EU-wide average 44% and 33%).[159] A recent 2007 poll asking whether they supported the civil partnership law for gays. Support for the measure was at 45% support, with 47% oppose. 8% said they were unsure.[160] Homosexuals are also allowed to serve fully in military service.

Daily life and leisure

A popular beach in Sicily.

Italians' social customs and daily lives have profoundly changed since World War II, transforming the nation from a highly traditional, agricultural-based society, into a progressive and modernized one.[122]

Most Italians favour activities such as going to the cinema, reading newspapers, watching television and listening to the radio; reading books and playing sport has proved less popular.[122] According to some surveys, Italians are generally highly satisfied with social relations and family, healthcare, daily life and friendship relations; however, Italians find economic status and job opportunites generally less satisfying, especially with the fact that Southern Italy still suffers from relatively high unemployment.[122] Also, meeting up and socializing with friends in the country's abundant piazzas, going to bars, discos, pizzerias and restaurants and finding other forms of entertainment remain popular with Italians, especially the younger generations.[122] Automobiles still hold a strong part of Italian daily life, however this results in many cities being congested.[122]

Public holidays

Example of masks worn during the carnival of Venice.

List of Public holidays in Italy:

Date English Name Local Name Remarks
1 January New Year's Day Capodanno
6 January Epiphany Epifania
Movable Easter Sunday Pasqua
Monday after Easter Easter Monday Lunedì dell'Angelo, Pasquetta
25 April Anniversary of Liberation Festa della Liberazione End of World War II in Italy, 1945
1 May Labour Day Festa dei Lavoratori
2 June Republic Day Festa della Repubblica Birth of the Italian Republic, 1946
15 August Ferragosto/Assumption Day Ferragosto and Assunzione
1 November All Saints Ognissanti or Tutti i santi
8 December Immaculate Conception Immacolata Concezione (or just Immacolata)
25 December Christmas Day Natale
26 December St Stephen's Day Santo Stefano


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 (44) to date, and has rich collections of world art, culture and literature from many different periods. Italy has had a broad cultural influence worldwide, also due to the fact that numerous Italians emigrated to other countries during the Italian diaspora. 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).[161]

The arts


Piazza del Campo in Siena, a perfect example of Italian Medieval architecture.

Italy boasts a long period of different architectural styles, from Classical Roman and Greek, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Art Nouveau to Modern. The nation contains several architectural monuments, such as the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Piazza del Campo, Milan Cathedral, Florence Cathedral, the Palladian Villas of the Veneto, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Villa Olmo and the Pirelli Tower. Italy has also been home to numerous famous architects, some who even changed the course of architectural history, such as Andrea Palladio (who founded Palladianism), Filippo Brunelleschi, Bernini and Renzo Piano, to name but a few.

Classical to Gothic
The Roman Colosseum.

Italian architecture began with Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and Etruscans, when both civilizations built temples, basilicae, columns, fora, palaces, aqueducts, walls and public baths.[162] Roman architecture had great influence on that of Italy and the Western world. Because the Roman Empire extended over so great an area and included so many urbanised areas, Roman engineers developed methods for civic development on a grand scale, including the use of concrete. Massive buildings like the Pantheon and the Colosseum could never have been constructed with pre-existing techniques. Though concrete had been invented a thousand years earlier in the Near East, the Romans extended its use from fortifications to their most impressive buildings and monuments, capitalising on the material’s strength and low cost.[163] In Roman architecture, a wall's concrete core was covered with a plaster, brick, stone, or marble veneer, and decorative polychrome and gold-gilded sculpture was often added to produce a dazzling effect of power and wealth.[163]

Gothic architecture appeared in Italy in the 12th century, but did not mature into a regionally distinct style until the 13th century, partly due to geographic factors. Due to its comparatively late maturity, the influence of Byzantine and classical art, and the fact that brick —not stone— was the most common building material and marble the most common decorative material, Italian Gothic architecture maintained peculiar characteristics which differentiated its evolution from that in France, where it had originated, and in other European countries.

In particular, the architecturally daring solutions and technical innovations of the French Gothic cathedrals rarely appeared. With the exception of the Cathedral of Milan, the product of a centuries-long collaboration between Italian, French, and German minds, few Italian churches show the emphasis on vertical development, clustered shafts, ornate tracery and complex ribbed vaulting that characterise Gothic in other parts of Europe. Notable examples of Italian Gothic architecture include Basilica of Santa Croce, Orvieto Cathedral, and Siena Cathedral, where the distinctively ornate Italian realization of façade design is evident.[164]

Renaissance to Modern
The Romanesque Leaning Tower of Pisa.
The Trevi Fountain in Rome, an example of Italian Baroque architecture.

Italy of the 15th century, and the city of Florence in particular, was home to the Renaissance. It is in Florence that the new architectural style had its beginning, not slowly evolving in the way that Gothic grew out of Romanesque, but consciously brought to being by particular architects who sought to revive the order of a past "Golden Age". The scholarly approach to the architecture of the ancient coincided with the general revival of learning. A number of factors were influential in bringing this about.

Italian architects had always preferred forms that were clearly defined and structural members that expressed their purpose. Many Tuscan Romanesque buildings demonstrate these characteristics, as seen in the Florence Bapistry and Pisa Cathedral.

The presence, particularly in Rome, of ancient architectural remains showing the ordered Classical style provided an inspiration to artists at a time when philosophy was also turning towards the Classical.

Italy then became a main European centre for the baroque, with diverse baroque architectural styles emerging, especially in Sicily (see Sicilian baroque). In the 18th and 19th centuries neo-classical style buildings began to appear in Rome, Milan, Turin and all around Italy. Modern Italian architecture and design is considered world-class.[165] with Milan as the country's capital. Numerous modern Italian architects, such as Renzo Piano, are famous worldwide.[166]

Palazzi and villas
Detail of the central salone in the Palazzina di caccia of Stupinigi.
View of the gardens of the Palace of Caserta. In 1996, it was listed among the World Heritage Sites on the grounds that it was "the swan song of the spectacular art of the Baroque".[167]

Italy boasts a wide variety of palaces, in various cities, mainly Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan, Turin, Bologna and Naples, built in a wide variety of different styles, from Roman, Byzantine, Romanesque, Medieval and Gothic, to Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classical and Fascism. In Italian, the word "Palazzo" is more broadly used in Italy than its English equivalent “palace”. In Italy, a palazzo is a grand building of some architectural ambition that is the headquarters of a family of some renown or of an institution, or even what the British would call a “block of flats” or a tenement. In Venice, most palaces are referred to as "Ca'", which is short for "Casa", meaning "house" in Italian, for example Ca' Pesaro or Ca' Rezzonico.

Examples of major and famous Italian palaces include Palazzo Spada, Palazzo Laterano, Palazzo Quirinale, Palazzo Vecchio, Palazzo Pitti, Palace of Caserta, Royal Palace of Turin, Royal Palace of Capodimonte, Royal Palace (Naples), Palazzina di caccia of Stupinigi, Palazzo Litta, Palazzo del Te, Ca' d'Oro, Ca' Foscari, Doge's Palace and Ca' Rezzonico, to name a few.

Gardens and villas
Gardens of the Villa d'Este.
Villa Torrigiani in Lucca.

Italy has several villas with notable formal gardens, most of which designed as Italian gardens, such as those of Villa d'Este. Their principles are of perfect geometry and symmetry and of imposing order over nature. Italian gardens were influenced by Roman gardening and Italian Renaissance gardening, and have been copied by other courts around Europe over the centuries.

The Italian Renaissance garden emerged in the late fifteenth century at villas in Rome and Florence. Inspired by classical ideals of order and beauty, they were intended to provide a pleasurable view of the garden and the landscape beyond it, for contemplation, and for enjoyment of the sights, sounds and smells of the garden itself.

In the late Renaissance, the gardens became larger, grander and more symmetrical, and were filled with fountains, statues, grottoes, water organs and other features designed to delight their owners and amuse and impress visitors. The style was imitated throughout Europe, influencing the gardens of the French Renaissance and the English garden.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Visual art

Picture gallery with views of ancient Rome (1758), by Italian Rococo artist Giovanni Paolo Pannini.

Over the centuries, Italian art has gone through many stylistic changes. Italian painting is traditionally characterized by a warmth of colour and light, as exemplified in the works of Caravaggio and Titian, and a preoccupation with religious figures and motifs. Italian painting enjoyed preeminence in Europe for hundreds of years, from the Romanesque and Gothic periods, and through the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the latter two of which saw fruition in Italy. Notable artists who fall within these periods include Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian and Raphael.

Thereafter, Italy was to experience a continual subjection to foreign powers which caused a shift of focus to political matters, leading to its decline as the artistic authority in Europe. Not until 20th century Futurism, primarily through the works of Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla, would Italy recapture any of its former prestige as a seminal place of artistic evolution. Futurism was succeeded by the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, who exerted a strong influence on the Surrealists and generations of artists to follow.


The basis of the modern Italian language was established by the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri, whose greatest work, the Divine Comedy, is considered amongst the foremost literary statements produced in Europe during the Middle Ages. There is no shortage of celebrated literary figures in Italy: Giovanni Boccaccio, Giacomo Leopardi, Alessandro Manzoni, Torquato Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto, and Petrarch, whose best-known vehicle of expression, the sonnet, was invented in Italy.

Prominent philosophers include Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Giambattista 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, satirist and theatre author Dario Fo in 1997.[168]

Statue of Niccolo Machiavelli at the Uffizi


The important Milanese theatre and operahouse La Scala.

Italian theatre can be traced back to the Roman tradition which was heavily influenced by the Greek; as with many other literary genres, Roman dramatists tended to adapt and translate from the Greek. For example, Seneca's Phaedra was based on that of Euripides, and many of the comedies of Plautus were direct translations of works by Menander. During the 16th century and on into the 18th century, Commedia dell'arte was a form of improvisational theatre, and it is still performed today. Travelling troupes of players would set up an outdoor stage and provide amusement in the form of juggling, acrobatics, and, more typically, humorous plays based on a repertoire of established characters with a rough storyline, called canovaccio.


Italian baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi.

From folk music to classical, music has always played an important role in Italian culture. Instruments associated with classical music, including the piano and violin, were invented in Italy, and many of the prevailing classical music forms, such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata, can trace their roots back to innovations of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian music.

Italy's most famous composers include the Renaissance composers Palestrina and Monteverdi, the Baroque composers Alessandro Scarlatti, 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. While the classical music tradition still holds strong in Italy, as evidenced by the fame of its innumerable opera houses, such as La Scala of Milan and San Carlo of Naples, and performers such as the pianist Maurizio Pollini and the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Italians have been no less appreciative of their thriving contemporary music scene.

Italy is widely known for being the birthplace of opera.[169] Italian opera was believed to have been founded in the early 1600s, in Italian cities such as Mantua and Venice.[169] Later, works and pieces composed by native Italian composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, are amongst the most famous operas ever written and today are performed in opera houses across the world. La Scala operahouse in Milan is also renowned as one of the best in the world. Famous Italian opera singers include Enrico Caruso, Alessandro Bonci, the late Luciano Pavarotti, and Andrea Bocelli, to name a few.

Introduced in the early 1920s, jazz took a particularly strong foothold in Italy, and remained popular despite the anti-American cultural policies of the Fascist regime. Today, the most notable centers of jazz music in Italy include Milan, Rome, and Sicily. Later, Italy was at the forefront of the progressive rock movement of the 1970s, with bands like PFM and Goblin. Today, Italian pop music is represented annually with the Sanremo Music Festival, which served as inspiration for the Eurovision song contest, and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto. Singers such as pop diva Mina, classical crossover artist Andrea Bocelli, Grammy winner Laura Pausini, and European chart-topper Eros Ramazzotti have attained international acclaim.


The history of Italian cinema began a few months after the Lumière brothers began motion picture exhibitions. The first Italian film was a few seconds long, showing Pope Leo XIII giving a blessing to the camera. The Italian film industry was born between 1903 and 1908 with three companies: the Società Italiana Cines, the Ambrosio Film and the Itala Film. Other companies soon followed in Milan and in Naples. In a short time these first companies reached a fair producing quality, and films were soon sold outside Italy. Cinema was later used by Benito Mussolini, who founded Rome's renowned Cinecittà studio for the production of Fascist propaganda until the World War II.[170]

After the war, Italian film was widely recognised and exported until an artistic decline around the 1980s. World-famous Italian film directors from this period include Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Dario Argento. Movies include world cinema treasures such as La dolce vita, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo and Ladri di biciclette. In recent years, the Italian scene has received only occasional international attention, with movies like La vita è bella directed by Roberto Benigni and Il postino with Massimo Troisi.

Science and technology

Through the centuries, Italy has given birth to some notable scientific minds. Amongst them, and perhaps the most famous polymath in history, Leonardo da Vinci made several contributions to a variety of fields including art, biology, and technology. Galileo Galilei was a physicist, mathematician, and astronomer who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations, and support for Copernicanism. The physicist Enrico Fermi, a Nobel prize laureate, was the leader of the team that built the first nuclear reactor and is also noted for his many other contributions to physics, including the co-development of the quantum theory.

A brief overview of some other notable figures includes the astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who made many important discoveries about the Solar System; the physicist Alessandro Volta, inventor of the electric battery; the mathematicians Lagrange, Fibonacci, and Gerolamo Cardano, whose Ars Magna is generally recognized as the first modern treatment on mathematics, made fundamental advances to the field; Marcello Malpighi, a doctor and founder of microscopic anatomy; the biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani, who conducted important research in bodily functions, animal reproduction, and cellular theory; the physician, pathologist, scientist, and Nobel laureate Camillo Golgi, whose many achievements include the discovery of the Golgi complex, and his role in paving the way to the acceptance of the Neuron doctrine; and Guglielmo Marconi, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of radio.


Popular sports include football, basketball, volleyball, waterpolo, fencing, Rugby Union, Rugby League, cycling, ice hockey (mainly in Milan, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto), roller hockey and motor racing. Winter sports are most popular in the northern regions, with Italians competing in international games and Olympic venues. Turin hosted the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. Sports are incorporated into 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. Sports venues have extended from the gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome in the Colosseum to the Stadio Olimpico of contemporary Rome, where football clubs compete.

The most popular sport in Italy is football, the Serie A being one of the most famous competitions in the world. Italy's national football team is the second-most-successful team in the world, with four World Cup victories, the first one of which was in 1934. Rugby has gained popularity in Italy, and the Italian rugby union national team takes part in the Six Nations Championship.[171] Cricket is also slowly gaining popularity; the Italian national cricket team is administered by the Federazione Cricket Italiana‎ (Italian Cricket Federation). They are ranked 27th in the world by the International Cricket Council and are ranked fifth amongst European non-Test teams.


A Valentino collection.

Italian fashion is regarded as one of the most important in the world, along with French fashion, American fashion, British fashion and Japanese fashion. Milan and Rome are Italy's main capitals, however Florence, Naples, Turin, Venice, Bologna, Genoa and Vicenza are other major centres. According to the 2009 Global Language Monitor, Milan was nominated the true fashion capital of the world, even surpassing other international cities, such as New York, Paris, London and Tokyo, and Rome came 4th.[172] Major Italian fashion labels, such as Gucci, Prada, Versace, Valentino, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Fendi, Moschino, Max Mara and Ferragamo, to name a few, are regarded as amongst the finest fashion houses in the world. Also, the fashion magazine Vogue Italia, is considered the most important and prestigious fashion magazine in the world.[173]


Italy is prominent in the field of design, notably interior design, architectural design, industrial design and urban design. Italy has produced some well-known furniture designers, such as Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass, and Italian phrases such as "Bel Disegno" and "Linea Italiana" have entered the vocabulary of furniture design.[174] Examples of classic pieces of Italian white goods and pieces of furniture include Zanussi's washing machines and fridges,[175] the "New Tone" sofas by Atrium,[175] and the post-modern bookcase by Ettore Sottsass, inspired by Bob Dylan's song Memphis Blues.[175] Today, Milan and Turin are the nation's leaders in architectural design and industrial design. The city of Milan hosts the FieraMilano, Europe's biggest design fair.[176] Milan also hosts major design and architecture-related events and venues, such as the "Fuori Salone" and the "Salone del Mobile", and has been home to the designers Bruno Munari, Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni[177]


Authentic Neapolitan pizza.

Modern Italian cuisine has evolved through centuries of social and political changes, with its roots reaching back to the 4th century BC. Significant change occurred with the discovery of the New World, when vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and maize became available. However, these central ingredients of modern Italian cuisine were not introduced in scale before the 18th century.[178]

Ingredients and dishes vary by region. However, many dishes that were once regional have proliferated in different variations across the country. Cheese and wine are major parts of the cuisine, playing different roles both regionally and nationally with their many variations and Denominazione di origine controllata (regulated appellation) laws. Coffee, and more specifically espresso, has become highly important to the cultural cuisine of Italy. Some famous dishes and items include pasta, pizza, lasagna, focaccia, and gelato.

International rankings

Organization Survey Ranking
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites[179] 1 out of 148
WHO (World Health Organization) Healthcare system rankings[180] 2 out of 180
UNTWO (World Tourism Organization) Number of tourists per year rankings[181] 5 out of 58
World Bank, CIA World Factbook, International Monetary Fund GDP nominal rankings[182][183][184] 7 out of 179, 182 and 190
The Economist, International Living Quality-of-life index[9][185] 8 out of 111 according to TE, 10 out of 194 according to IL
Institute for Economics and Peace Global Peace Index[186] 36 out of 144
United Nations Development Programme Human Development Index 18 out of 182
International Monetary Fund GDP per capita (PPP)[187] 27 out of 180
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 63 out of 180
Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom[188] 74 out of 183
Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index 49 out of 175
World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 48 out of 133
European countries by press freedom index List of European countries by press freedom index 25 out of 27
Human development Education Index[189] 22 out of 176
Environmental Performance Index 18 out of 30
List of countries by public debt CIA 2008
OECD 2008
IMF 2008
103.7% (6th of World \ 1st of Europe)
113% (1st of Europe)
104.3% (6th of World \ 1st of Europe)
Gender Equity Index GEI 2008 65 out of 89 (89 = best equity Sweden)
Nationmaster Labor strikes[190] 10 out of 27

See also


1 According to Mitrica, an October 2005 Romanian report estimates that 1,061,400 Romanians are living in Italy, constituting 37.2% of 2.8 million immigrants in that country[191] but it is unclear how the estimate was made, and therefore whether it should be taken seriously.
2 See also (in Italian): L. Lepschy e G. Lepschy, La lingua italiana: storia, varietà d'uso, grammatica, Milano, Bompiani
3 Official French maps show the border detouring south of the main summit, and claim the highest point in Italy is Mont Blanc de Courmayeur (4,748 m), but these are inconsistent with an 1861 convention and topographic watershed analysis.


  • Northern Italy. APA Publications. 2004. ISBN 9812349030. 
  • Miller, Judith (2005). Furniture: world styles from classical to contemporary. DK Publishing. ISBN 075661340X. 
  • Italy. DK. 2005. ISBN 1405307811. 


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