Italy, republic in southern Europe, mainly a long, narrow, boot-shaped peninsula that extends into the Mediterranean Sea. It is bounded on the north by France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia; on the west by the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian seas; on the east by the Adriatic Sea; and to the south by the Ionian Sea. The islands of Sicily and Sardinia and numerous smaller islands are parts of its territory. Within its borders are 2 separate, sovereign states: the Republic of San Marino and the Vatican City. The capital is Rome.
Land and climate
A predominantly mountainous country, Italy is divided by a number of natural barriers into distinct regions. In the north is the great curve of the Alps, along which lie Italy's borders with its northern neighbors. In north-central and northeastern Italy are the lakes of Como, Maggiore, and Garda. The Apennine chain runs the length of the peninsula, extending in an easterly direction from Genoa to central Italy and then in a westerly direction into Calabria, the “toe” of the Italian “boot.” There are a number of crater lakes in these regions, and the volcanoes of Vesuvius near Naples, Etna in Sicily, and Stromboli in the Lipari Islands are still active. The mountains of Sicily are a continuation of the Apennines, and Sardinia is also mountainous. Italy's single large plain lies in the Po Valley, which crosses the country from west to east just below the Alps. There are narrow coastal plains on either side of the Apennines, and a low, relatively small plateau lies below the Gargano spur. These alluvial plains constitute Italy's most fertile soil. The mountainous areas are largely unproductive. The Po River is Italy's largest and most important river. The Tiber flows through Rome to the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the Arno passes through Florence and Pisa to empty into the Ligurian Sea. Both rivers rise in the Apennines. Most other rivers in Italy are seasonal, and their volume is greatly diminished during the summer. In the Alps, the Po Valley, and the high ranges of the Apennines, winters are cold and summers can be rainy and variable. The rest of the peninsula has a Mediterranean climate: hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters. Southern Italy and Sicily are especially arid, and irrigation is essential for successful cultivation. Remnants of great forests are found in the Alps, where fir and pine trees grow, and in the remote areas of the Apennines, where there are stands of chestnut, pine, oak, and beech trees. In central and southern Italy olive groves cover much of the land, while the southern regions also produce cacti, citrus trees, and palm trees. With the exception of bears, chamois, deer, and wolves in some remote mountain regions, Italy has few large mammals. Tuna, anchovies, and sardines are plentiful in offshore waters.
Rome contains imposing ruins of its past glory as capital of the western world and is of commercial and cultural importance. The cities of Milan, Turin, and Genoa in the north form the so-called industrial triangle, Milan leading in finance and commerce, Turin in heavy industry, and Genoa in international shipping. Italy's art cities—Venice, Verona, Bologna, Ravenna, Florence, and Siena—bear witness to the significance of Italian culture. Naples, the south's principal city and an international port, is a center for excursions to nearby Sorrento, the islands of Capri and Ischia, and the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Palermo, the capital of Sicily, has medieval relics of the Norman occupation.
Italy is a densely populated country (on average 192 inh./sq km). The highest concentrations are in the industrial cities of the north, the Po Valley, and the areas around Rome and Naples, more than half of the population being urban. Italian, which is derived from Latin, is the official language and is spoken by most citizens, along with a number of regional dialects. Roman Catholicism is the state religion and is taught in the public schools, but freedom of religion is guaranteed.
Foreign aid and founder membership in the European Common Market boosted postwar economy before the oil crises of the 1970s damaged it. Increased industrial output (steel, chemicals, automobiles, typewriters, machinery, textiles, and shoes) enriched the north, but a faltering agriculture kept the south poor. The main farm products are grapes, citrus fruits, olives, grains, vegetables, and cattle. Mineral resources are limited, but Italy has hydroelectric power, natural gas, and oil. There are also a few nuclear power stations. Tourism helps the trade balance.
The Romans, a Latin people of central Italy, held most of the peninsula by 200 B.C., absorbing the Etruscan civilization in the north and Greek colonies (dating from the 8th century B.C.) in the south. In the 5th-6th centuries A.D., barbarian tribes (Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Lombards) overran Italy, forming Germanic kingdoms. These kingdoms were disputed by the Byzantine Empire, whose lands in Italy became the core of the Papal States. Italy was to remain divided for over 1,000 years, although nominally part of Charlemagne's empire from 774 and part of the Holy Roman Empire from 962. In the Middle Ages the south came under Norman rule. Powerful rival city-states emerged in the center and north, from the late Middle Ages under the Medici and other dynasties. Italy pioneered the Renaissance, but Spain (from the late 1400s) and Austria (from the early 1700s) controlled much of the land until the nationalistic Risorgimento culminated in unity and independence under King Victor Emmanuel II (1861). Italy gained Eritrea, Italian Somaliland, and Libya in Africa, and fought alongside the Allies in World War I. In 1922 the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini seized power, later conquering Ethiopia and siding with Nazi Germany in World War II. Defeated Italy emerged from the war as a republic shorn of its overseas colonies and firmly allied with the West. Since the beginning of the 1990s, Italy is trying to eliminate corruption and organized crime.