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Repubblica Italiana
Flag of Italy Italy: Coat of Arms
Flag Coat of Arms
Location of Italy
Official language Italian1
Capital and largest city Rome
President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 71st
301,336 km²
 - Total (December 2004)
 - Density
Ranked 23rd
Unification 17 March 1861
GDP (2004)
  - Total (PPP)
  - Total (nom.)
  - GDP/capita (PPP)
  - GDP/capita (nom.)

$1.621 trillion (8th)
$1.672 trillion (6th)
$27,727 (19th)
$28,599 (20th)
HDI (2003) 0.934 (18th)
Currency Euro (€)2
Time zone
 - in summer
National anthem Il Canto degli Italiani
Internet TLD .it
Calling Code +39
1 French is co-official in the Aosta Valley; German is co-official in South Tyrol.

2 Prior to 1999: Italian Lira.

Italy (Italian: Repubblica Italiana or Italia) is a country in southern Europe. It comprises the distinctly boot-shaped Italian peninsula, the Po River valley, 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.

For more than 3,000 years, Italy witnessed many migrations and invasions from Germanic, Greek, Celtic, Franks, Byzantines, Normans, the French Angevins, and Lombard peoples. Italy was also home to many well-known and influential civilisations, including the Etruscans and the Romans.



Main article: History of Italy

Italy has shaped the cultural and social development of the whole Mediterranean area, deeply influencing European culture as well. Important cultures and civilizations have existed there since prehistoric times. After Magna Graecia, the Etruscan civilization and especially the Roman Republic and 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 were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty, which ruled over Sardinia and Piedmont. The architects of Italian unification were Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Chief Minister of Victor Emmanuel, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, a general and national hero. Rome itself remained for a decade under the Papacy, and became part of the Kingdom of Italy only on September 20 1870. The Vatican is now an independent enclave surrounded by Rome.


Main article: Politics of Italy

The 1948 Constitution of Italy 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), as well as 50 non-voting members. In addition to 315 senators, elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other people (no more than 5) appointed for life by the President of Italy, according to special constitutional provisions. There are also officials from Italy's police force and safety officers that sit at senate meetings, but do not get a vote. Officials for both houses are elected for a maximum of 5 years, but if an official shows qualities that are not fit for the job he/she is doing, they can be thrown out of office. They can be reelected for as many as seven terms. Legislative bills may originate in either the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate and must be given the okay by a majority in both.

The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law that has been modified by the Napoleonic code and after that, the statutes. A constitutional court, the Corte Costituzionale, decides if laws are constitutional. This system is a post-World War II innovation.

In order to vote for the senate, the voter must be at least 25. To vote for anything else, the voter must be at least 18.



Main article: Regions of Italy

Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni, singular regione), of which five enjoy a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their specific local matters, marked by an *:

All regions except the Aosta Valley are further subdivided into two or more provinces.


Main article: Geography of Italy

Italy lies on a large peninsula on the Meditteranean Sea. The Italian peninsula) has a boot-like 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.

The Islands

Sicily Capri Ischia Procida Aeolian Sardinia


Main article: Demographics of Italy

Italy is largely homogeneous in language and religion but is diverse culturally, economically, and politically. The country has the fifth-highest population density in Europe at 194 persons per square kilometre. Indigenous minority groups are small. For a country of 58.4 million people, Italy has a smaller number of migrants compared to France and Germany.

Since the beginning of Roman civilisation, important ethnic groups like Greek settlers, Germanic and Celtic invaders and plunderers, and Norman (French) colonisers have all left important impressions on the people today. However, they have all been absorbed in a homogenous Italian ethnic groups. (see Italian people)

The number of immigrants or foreign residents in Italy have steadily increasing to 2,402,157, according the latest figures (2004) of ISTAT. They currently make up a little more than 4 per cent of the official total population. The rise of population in Italy in recent years was due to them. According to 2004 statistics (ISTAT), the largest foreign minorities are Albanians (316,659), Moroccan (294,945), Romanian (248,849), Chinese (111,712), and Ukrainian (93,441). Remaining groups include those who are Tunisian, Macedonians, Serbians, and Filipinos etc.

An October 2005 report estimates that 1,061,400 Romanians are living in Italy, constituting 37.2% of 2.8 million immigrants in that country [1] but it is unclear how the estimate was made, and therefore whether it should be taken seriously or not.


Roman Catholicism is, by far, the most popular religion in the country. According to several sources (CIA World Fact Book 2005, Italian polls,, and BBCNews and others), from 83% to 96% of the population self-identify as Catholics, whereas around 4% to 17% identify with either other religions or none at all. Italy also has some important pilgrimages and famous Roman Catholic churches, cathedrals and sites. Recent surveys (The Detroit News, April 17, 2005) only around 30 per cent of Italians regularly attend mass.

According to Christian membership, the second largest religion in Italy are Jehovah's Witnesses with 400,000 [2] active publishers. There very few Protestant denominations in Italy. Recent numbers of immigrants had led to an increasing number of Muslims, but have recently cooled off due to the fact that more new immigrants to Italy are now majoring from Eastern Europe. Their numbers are currently 987,751 or 1.7% of the population, lower than any Western European nation except for Portugal. Around 30,000 Jews remain in Italy.


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.


See the separate article: Culture of Italy.


Main article: Languages of Italy

The official language of Italy is Standard Italian - a direct descendant of Latin (some 75% of Italian words are of Latin origin).

Prior to unification in 1861, Italian spoken throughout the country was incredibly varied - with dialects being virtually mutually incomprehensible in most of the country. Indeed, each historical region of Italy had its own dialect, with variants existing at the township-level. Massimo d'Azeglio, one of Cavour's ministers, is said to have stated, following Italian unification, that having created Italy, all that remained was to create Italians. Given the variation in Italian language throughout the peninsula, it was quickly established that 'proper' or 'standard' Italian would be based on the Florentine dialect spoken in most of Tuscany (given that it was the first region to produce authors such as Dante Alighieri, who between 1308 and 1321 wrote the Divina Commedia). A national education system was established - leading to a decrease in variation in the Italian spoken throughout the country over time. It was not until the 60s, with the advent of the state television broadcaster, RAI, that Italian truly became standardised.

Today, Italian is fully comprehensible to all throughout the country, but regional variations in the form of accents and vowel emphasis persist. In addition, particular dialects have become cherished beacons of regional variation and are becoming recently more protected (especially the Neapolitan dialect which is extensively used for the singing of popular folk-songs).

Apart from standard Italian and regional variations, a number of truly separate languages do exist. In the north, the province of South Tyrol (Südtirol in German, Alto Adige in Italian) is almost entirely German-speaking; the area was awarded to Italy following the First World War and her defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Pockets of German speakers also persist in other north-eastern Italian regions - a remnant of the old Austrian influence on this area of Italy. In total some 300,000 or so Italians speak German as their first language and indeed identify themselves as ethnic Austrians. Some 120,000 or so people live in the Aosta Valley region, where a Franco-Provençal dialect very similar to French called Patois is spoken. About 80,000 Slovene-speakers live in the north-eastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia near the border with Slovenia. Some 40,000 Ladin-speakers (Ladin is a Rhaetian language spoken in the Dolomite mountains) also live in the Trentino-South Tyrol region and in the Veneto region. A very large community of some 700,000 people in Friuli speak Friulian - an other Rhaetian language. In the Molise region of central-south Italy some 4,000 people speak Serbo-Croatian - these are the descendants of a group of people who migrated from the Balkans in the Middle Ages. Scattered across Southern Italy are a number of some 30,000 Greek-speakers - considered to be the last surviving traces of the region's Greek heritage (Ancient Greek colonists reached Southern Italy and Sicily about 2500 BC). Some 15,000 Catalan speakers reside around the area of Alghero in the north-west corner of Sardinia - believed to be the result of a migration of a large group of Catalans from Barcelona in ages past. Around 100,000 or so people in Southern Italy and in central Sicily speak Albanian - the result of past migrations. Finally, the largest group of non-Italian speakers (some 1.6 million people) are the ones who speak Sardinian - a romance language which evolved quite independently from Italian. The arrival of immigrants has generated a plethora of new languages, including Arabic, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Turkish, Kurdish, Mandarin Chinese, and others. Even today, variations in local accents allow people from one town to distinguish people from a neighbouring town which may be only a few miles away. There is a growing population of Jews and Muslims in Italy, many of whom speak Hebrew and Arabic, respectively.


  • References and bibliography can be found in the more detailed articles linked to in this article.

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