Italy was once the heart of the great Roman Empire. It offers delicious food, top fashion, fast cars, historic sites, volcanoes and more. Learn about Italy.
Italy is a country in southern Europe that is a long peninsula shaped like a boot. It has a long coastline and along the Alps to the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia while within it lie the independent states of San Marino and the Vatican City. The country is officially known as the Italian Republic and contains several islands including the large islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Italy covers an area of 301,338 square kilometres (116,347 square miles) and its capital and largest city is Rome which was once the capital of the Roman Empire. Today Rome is home to over 2.7 million people. The north of the country contains several large lakes where the largest is Lake Garda. The most fertile region of Italy is along the River Po which begins in the Alps on Italy's western border and flows east across the Plain of Lombardy to the Adriatic Sea.
Population of Italy
The population of Italy was estimated at over 58.1 million people in July 2010, and 68% of the population live in urban areas. After Rome the next ten largest cities by population are Milan, Naples, Turin, Palermo, Genoa, Bologna, Florence, Bari, Catania and Venice. The average life expectancy is 77.3 years for men and 83.3 years for women and 66.3% of the population are aged between 15 and 64 years of age with over 20% of the population aged 65 and over.
The official language is Italian although a number of minority languages are used in various areas. French is co-official in the Valle d'Aosta region, Slovene is officially recognised in the Trieste-Gorizia area and German is used in parts of the Trentino-Alto Adige region. About 93.5% of the population is Italian and 1.3% is Romanian including gypsies. North Africans represent just over 1% of the population and the rest is a mix of Albanian, Chinese, Ukrainian and others.
Economy of Italy
The Italian economy is a large capitalist economy with a large number of small and medium sized businesses compared to multinational corporations. It is part of the European Union. It is estimated that the Mafia directly controls almost 15% of GDP in Italy, and this large underground economy is a major factor causing economic weakness for the country.
The country is lacking in raw materials and over 85% off energy requirements have to be imported in the form of solid fuels, oil, gas and even some electricity. Major exports are cars, chemicals, aerospace and defence technology, firearms, fashion, sports cars and yachts. Luxury products (eg Ferrari and Lambourghini) are able to compete with low priced products from Asia.
Most trade is done with other members of the European Union and major trading partners are Germany, France and Spain. Tourism is important as Italy is in the top ten of the most visited countries in the world. The Colosseum alone attracts around 4 million tourists each year and the ruins at Pompeii have around 2.5 million visitors each year.
Geography and Climate of Italy
The Alps form the northern border of Italy and the highest point of the country is Mont Blanc (4,810 m/15,782 ft). The Apennine Mountains run down the middle of Italy which means there is a lot of rugged mountainous country although there are also plains and coastal lowlands. There are 14 volcanoes in Italy including the three active ones of Vesuvius, Etna and Stromboli.
The climate is variable throughout the country. The Alps in the north have long severe winters while the south of Italy and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia have a Mediterranean climate where the summers are long, hot and dry, and winters are mild. The south and the area around Rome are affected by a hot humid wind called the sirocco in summer. This blows from Africa and can produce stiflingly high temperatures usually in August.
History of Italy
Ancient Rome was founded around the 8th century BC as a small agricultural community and later became the core of the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages the Maritime Republics of Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi were heavily involved in the Crusades then during the 15th and 16th centuries the Italian Renaissance ushered in a new era of cultural achievements. The country suffered foreignoinvasion and the Napoleonic Wars ran from 1803 to 1815.
Italy became a nation-state in 1861 when Victor Emmanual II united the states of the peninsula Sardinia and Sicily. During the early 1920s Benito Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship and his alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy's defeat in World War II. In 1946 the monarchy was replaced by the current parliamentary democratic republic.
The flag of Italy has three equal vertical bands of green (hoist side), white, and red. The design was inspired by the French flag brought to Italy by Napoleon in 1797. The colours are those of Milan (red and white) combined with the green uniform color of the Milanese civic guard.
Italian Food and Drink
Italian cuisine is popular worldwide and is well known for its pasta dishes which come in a wide variety of shapes and varieties including those like tortellini and ravioli that are filled with other ingredients. Pasta is usually served with sauce. Another Italian staple that has been adopted worldwide is pizza. Popular desserts include tiramisu, cassata and gelato.
Cheese and wine are important elements of Italian cuisine and so is coffee. Italian style coffee is known as espresso. Italy produces a large amount of wine both for export and consumption. Beer tends to be pale lager and is becoming increasingly popular. Other popular alcoholic drinks are Limoncello in the south and Grappa in the north. Three famous Italian aperitifs are Vermouth, Campari and Martini.
Main Attractions in Italy
Italy has some great cities like Rome, Florence and Venice that have attracted visitors for centuries with their art and culture. It also has 44 Unesco World Heritage Sites which is more than any other country and they are all worth a visit. Take a gondola ride in Venice or visit the financial hub of Milan or simply enjoy good Italian food and coffee in a relaxed cafÃ©.
Outside the cities you can hike in rugged mountains or ski in the Alps or visit the active volcanoes on Sicily. Italy has a long coastline where you can enjoy the Mediterranean and try diving in fantastic locations like Sardinia. Italy has varied countryside and some picturesque vineyards. It is also a place to see and buy the latest designer fashions.
2010 World Atlas