The Italian Republic or Italy (Italian: Repubblica Italiana or Italia) is a country in southern Europe. It comprises a boot-shaped peninsula and two large islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia, and shares its northern alpine boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The independent countries of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italian territory.
Main article: History of Italy
Italy has shaped the cultural and social development of the whole Mediterranean area. Important cultures and civilisations have existed there since prehistoric times, and archaeological sites of note can be found in many regions: Latium, Tuscany, Umbria and Basilicata. After Magna Graecia, the Etruscan civilization and especially the Roman Empire that dominated this part of the world for many centuries, Italy was central to European philosophy, science and art during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Modern Italy became a nation-state belatedly — on March 17, 1861, when most of the states of the peninsula and the Two Sicilies were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty, hitherto king of Sardinia, a realm that included Piedmont. The architect of Italian unification was Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Chief Minister of Victor Emmanuel. Rome itself remained for a decade under the Papacy, and became part of the Kingdom of Italy only on September 20, 1870, the final date of Italian unification. The Vatican is now an independent enclave surrounded by Italy, as is San Marino.
The Fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini that took over in 1922 led to the alliance with Germany and other Axis Powers and ultimately Italy's defeat in World War II.
On June 2, 1946, a referendum on the monarchy resulted in the establishment of the Italian republic, which led to the adoption of a new constitution on January 1, 1948. Male members of the royal family were sent into exile because of their association with the fascist regime, and were only allowed to return to their country in 2002.
Italy was a charter member of NATO and the European Union, and hence joined the growing political and economic unification of Western Europe, including the introduction of the Euro in 1999.
The name Italy (Italia) is an ancient name for the country and people of Southern Italy. Coins bearing the name Italy were minted by an alliance of Italic tribes (Sabines, Samnites, Umbrians and other) competing with Rome in the first century B.C. By the time of emperor Augustus approximately the present territory of Italy was included in Italia as the central unit of the Empire; Cisalpine Gaul, the Upper Po valley, for example was appended in 42 B.C. Ever since, "Italy" or "Italian" was the collective name for diverse states appearing on the peninsula and their overseas properties. Italy is one of the few modern countries bearing a name of such long tradition.
Main article: Politics of Italy
The 1948 constitution established a bicameral parliament (Parlamento), consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and a Senate (Senato della Repubblica), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet) (Consiglio dei ministri), headed by the prime minister (Presidente del consiglio dei ministri). The President of the Republic (Presidente della Repubblica) is elected for 7 years by the parliament sitting jointly with a small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime minister, who proposes the other ministers (formally named by the president). The Council of Ministers must retain the support (Fiducia) of both houses.
The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected by a mixed majoritarian and proportional representation system. Under 1993 legislation, Italy has single-member districts for 75% of the seats in parliament; the remaining 25% of seats are allotted on a proportional basis.
The Chamber of Deputies has officially 630 members (de facto, 619 only after the 2001 elections). In addition to 315 senators, elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other persons (no more than 5) appointed for life by the President of the Republic according to special constitutional provisions. Both houses are elected for a maximum of 5 years, but either may be dissolved before the expiration of its normal term. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both.
The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes. A constitutional court, the Corte Costituzionale, passes on the constitutionality of laws, and is a post-World War II innovation.
Main article: Regions of Italy
Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni, singular regione), of which five enjoy a special autonomous status, marked by an *:
All regions except Valle d'Aosta are further subdivided into two or more provinces.
Main article: Geography of Italy
Italy consists predominantly of a large peninsula with a distinctive boot shape that extends into the Mediterranean Sea, where together with its two main islands Sicily and Sardinia it creates distinct bodies of water, such as the Adriatic Sea to the north-east, the Ionian Sea to the south-east, the Tyrrhenian Sea to the south-west and finally the Ligurian Sea to the north-west.
The Apennine mountains form the backbone of this peninsula, leading north-west to where they join the Alps, the mountain range that then forms an arc enclosing Italy from the north.
Here is also found a large alluvial plain, the Po-Venetian plain , drained by the Po River and its many tributaries flowing down from the Alps, Apennines and Dolomites.
Other well-known rivers include the Tiber, Adige and Arno.
Its highest point is Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) at 4,810 m, but Italy is more typically associated with two famous volcanoes: the currently dormant Vesuvius near Naples and the very active Etna on Sicily.
Main article: Economy of Italy
Italy has a diversified industrial economy with roughly the same total and per capita output as France and the United Kingdom. This capitalistic economy remains divided into a developed industrial north, dominated by private companies, and a less developed agricultural south, with 20% unemployment. In comparison to its western European neighbours, it has a high number of small to medium sized enterprises (SMEes).
Most raw materials needed by industry and more than 75% of energy requirements are imported. Over the past decade, Italy has pursued a tight fiscal policy in order to meet the requirements of the Economic and Monetary Union and has benefited from lower interest and inflation rates. Italy joined the Euro from its conception in 1999.
Italy's economic performance has at times lagged behind that of its EU partners, and the current government has enacted numerous short-term reforms aimed at improving competitiveness and long-term growth. It has moved slowly, however, on implementing certain structural reforms favoured by economists, such as lightening the high tax burden and overhauling Italy's rigid labour market and expensive pension system, because of the current economic slowdown and opposition from labour unions.
Main article: Demographics of Italy
Italy is largely homogeneous in language and religion but is diverse culturally, economically, and politically. Italy has the fifth-highest population density in Europe at 196 persons per square kilometre. Indigenous minority groups are small.
Although Roman Catholicism is the majority religion (85% of native-born citizens are nominally Catholic) there are mature Protestant and Jewish communities and a growing Muslim (see: Islam in Italy) immigrant community.
Main article: Culture of Italy
Italy is well-known for its art, culture, and several monuments, among them the leaning tower of Pisa and the Roman Colosseum, as well as for its food (pizza, pasta, etc.), wine, lifestyle, elegance, design, cinema, theatre, literature, poetry, visual arts, music (notably Opera), holidays, and generally speaking, for taste.
Europe's Renaissance period began in Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries. Literary achievements, such as the poetry of Dante, Petrarch, Tasso, and Ariosto and the prose of Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and Castiglione exerted a tremendous and lasting influence on the subsequent development of Western culture, as did the painting, sculpture, and architecture contributed by giants such as Filippo Brunelleschi, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, and Michelangelo. Modern artists include the sculptor Tommaso Geraci.
The musical influence of Italian composers Palestrina, Monteverdi, Corelli and Vivaldi proved epochal; in the 19th century, Italian romantic opera flourished under composers Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Giacomo Puccini.
Contemporary Italian artists, writers, filmmakers, architects, composers, and designers continue to contribute significantly to Western culture.
Football is the main national sport and the Italians are well known for their passion for this sport. Italy has won the Football World Cup three times: in 1934, 1938 and 1982.
Main article: Languages of Italy
Italy has many more languages than just Italian. Some counts put the number of living languages spoken in Italy at 33, including Cimbrian, Emiliano-Romagnolo, Ligurian, Piemontese, Sicilian, etc.