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Geography and Landscape


Italy (officially: La Republica Italiana) is a republic in the south of Europe. The total area of Italy is 301,323 square kilometers. The distance from north to south is approximately 1200 kilometers. From east to west, on the other hand, the distances are only between 54 and 170 kilometers.

Satellite photo: NASASatellite photo NASAPhoto:Public domain

In the northwest, Italy is bordered by France (488 km), in the north by Switzerland (740 km) and Austria (430 km) and in the northeast to Slovenia (232 km). The basins of the Mediterranean Sea that surround the country are called Ligurian Sea (near the Riviera) and Tyrrhenian Sea (between Italy and Sardinia) on the west side, the Ionian Sea on the south side (east of Sicily) and the Adriatic Sea on the east side.

Halfway between Rome and Naples lies the border between the south, also called the Mezzogiorno, and the center and north of Italy. The total coastline is approximately 7600 kilometers, including the 3,766 large and small islands that belong to Italy. The southernmost point of the country is the island of Lampedusa, which is closer to Tunisia in North Africa than to Italy.

Lampedusa, southernmost point of ItalyLampedusa, southernmost point of ItalyPhoto: David Allen Brulatour in the public domain

Within the geographic boundaries of Italy lie the independent republic of San Marino and the sovereign state of the Vatican City.

Located in the eastern part of the peninsula, San Marino is the oldest republic in the world, founded in the fourth century. The total area covers 62 km2 and the number of inhabitants is approximately 24,000.

Vatican City, from which the Roman Catholic Church is administered, has a total area of only 44 hectares. Vatican City is the smallest state in the world where about 200 people live permanently and about 800 people come to work every day. The state has its own legal system, shops, bank, currency, post office, radio station and newspaper, the "Osservatore Romano". The official language is Latin.


Italy consists of 78% hills and mountains, many of which are higher than 700 meters. The highest mountain area is the Monte Rosa massif on the Italian-Swiss border in the north. The highest peak is the Dufourspitze, 4634 meters high. Just across the border with France, in the northwest, the highest mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc, is 4807 meters high.

Eastern mountainside Monte Rosa, Italy Eastern mountainside Monte Rosa, ItalyPhoto: Massimo Beltrame CC 4.0 International no changes made

Italy consists of four landscapes: the Alpine region, the Po plain, the Apennine peninsula and the islands.

The Alps originated in the early Tertiary period, about 60 million years ago, when the sea floor was raised and folded.

The Alpine region encompasses the whole of Northern Italy with a wide arc (900 km long and 150–220 km wide), which starts with the Ligurian Alps and continues to the Italian-Slovenian border. With a few exceptions, the border of Italy, with France, Switzerland and Austria respectively, follows the main ridge of the Alps. A number of passes have made traffic with the countries north of the Alps possible since time immemorial.

The Alps consist of hard rocks such as granite, gneiss and slate. In the eastern part of the Alps, the Dolomites, there is a much softer rock: magnesium lime, which previously consisted of ancient coral reefs. The highest point in the Dolomites is the Marmolada, 3342 meters high.

The shape of the Alps is mainly due to weathering and erosion. In the Pleistocene the glaciers expanded and they carved out deep valleys. At the edge of the Alps, deep basins were created that filled with melt water and so Lake Maggiore, Lake Como and Lake Garda were created.

Italian AlpsItalian AlpsPhoto: Edijs Millers CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Po Valley, named after the River Po, was once part of the Adriatic Sea. At present, it is a plain, gradually filled with weathering material by the Alpine rivers, widening towards the east. This plain is about 500 km long, very fertile and is irrigated by the Po and its many tributaries. In this area, repeated flooding occurs as a result of settling in the river bed.

The relatively small Adriatic Plateau lies to the east of Venice. The eastern part of it, the Carso plateau, borders Slovenia and the soil there is very poor.

The Apennine peninsula, the famous Italian "boot", has as its backbone the Apennine Mountains, a tributary of the Alps with a length of no less than 1000 kilometers. There are hills on both sides of the mountain range and a narrow strip of lowland along the coast. The Apennines form a watershed; to the east of the mountains the rivers cut through the hills and to the west there are many plateaus between the hills.

In the south there is still active volcanism and there are still eleven volcanoes that have erupted more or less recently. In the last century there have been eruptions on Mount Vesuvius (1185 meters), Stromboli and Mount Etna in Sicily (still in 2001), the largest European volcano. There are also many sulfur (solatars), gas (fumarols) and carbonic acid sources (mofets) and mud volcanoes.

The only glacier in the Apennines, Calderone, is located in the rugged Gran Sasso area and is the most southern glacier in Europe. The highest mountain in the Apennines is the Corno Grande (2914 meters) in the region of Abruzzo.

Corno Grande, highest peak in the Apennines, Italy Corno Grande, highest peak in the Apennines, ItalyPhoto: Infinitispazi CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Sicily and Sardinia are the largest islands. For detailed information about these islands, please refer to the separate Sicily page and Sardinia page. Smaller islands include Elba, the volcanic Lipari Islands (with the volcano Stromboli), Ischia and Capri.

The Apennine peninsula and Sicily are areas of earthquakes caused by the fault edges of large basins in the Mediterranean Sea.

Rivers and lakes

The Italian lakes are partly of the Alpine type (former basins of glaciers: Lago di Garda, Lago di Como, Lago Maggiore), partly formed from old craters (Lago di Vico, Lago di Bolsena, etc.), partly (presumed) remains of a pliocene strait (Lago Trasimeno and the small lakes of Montepulciano and Chiusi).

Lake Como, ItalyLake Como, ItalyPhoto: 3Félix CC 4.0 International no changes made

Lago Trasimeno is located near Perugia and is the largest lake in Central and Southern Italy (128 km2). Many tourists visit campsites in Italy and the lake areas are especially popular.

The largest rivers are the Po (652 kilometers long) and the Adige (410 kilometers long), both of which have their source in the Alps and flow into the Adriatic Sea. With many tributaries (Dora Riparia, Dora Baltea, Ticino, Adda, Oglio, Mincio) the Po drains the water from the Alpine region, and with other rivers (Tanaro, Trebbia, Nure, Taro, Parma, Enza, Secchia) the water from the Apennines; the wide delta is shifting further and further into the Adriatic Sea due to sedimentation of silt. Part of the water from the Alpine region drains underground; in the Po plain it appears in numerous sources (fontanili).

River Po, ItalyRiver Po, ItalyPhoto: Giorgio Galeotti CC 4.0 International no changes made

The rivers running down from the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea are usually short and have a very irregular water level; the larger rivers Arno, Ombrone, Tiber, Garigliano and Volturno all flow into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Tiber (405 km) flows through Rome and Florence and Pisa are situated on the Arno river (241 km).

Climate and Weather

Italy as a whole has a Mediterranean climate. In summer, the average temperature in the lowlands is 28°C in the south and 22°C in the north. In winter, the temperature in the south and center of the country remains well above zero; in Rome the average temperature is 9°C. There is an average of 600 mm of rainfall per year throughout Italy. In some mountain areas this can rise to more than 1000 mm per year. It rains most in the spring and autumn.

Climate data RomeClimate data RomePhoto: Hedwig in Washington CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Nevertheless, a number of different climate regions can be clearly distinguished.

For example, the Po Valley has hot summers with temperatures almost as high as in Sicily, but winters are cold and humid, with a lot of mist and fog. The January temperature of Piacenza can drop below freezing point and there is often snow for days on end.

Climate data Bari, ItalyClimate data Bari, ItalyPhoto: Hedwig in Washington CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The lake area on the south side of the Alps is more sheltered and therefore has a milder climate. The northern part of the Apennines and the high areas in Tuscany and Umbria are covered with snow for months in winter. An exception is the Italian Riviera on the northwest coast, where the winter is always mild with a dry season in the summer, albeit with a fair amount of rainfall. Southern Italy has very dry and hot summers and this is a Mediterranean climate in a more extreme form with also a much higher percentage of sunshine than in the rest of the country.

In the highest mountains in the Alps is snowing all year round. The limit of the eternal snow is located in Aosta Valley at 3,108 meters and at 2,545 meters on the east side of the Alps.

There are a number of local winds on and near the Italian peninsula. Well-known is the sirocco, a warm, humid southern wind from North Africa. The fresh westerly to northwestern wind, which replaces the sirocco after passing the depression, is called tramontane.

Climate zones ItalyClimate zones ItalyPhoto: XL3 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The same name is also given to northerly or northeasterly winds, which bring in cool continental polar air. The cold mistral from the Rhône valley is also felt in the Genoa area. Local cold winds are called maestrale there. Along the northern coasts of the Adriatic Sea, in the winter half year, there is a dry, cold downwind, the bora, which originates from the Dalmatian coast and causes storms.

Climate data Palermo, ItalyClimate data Palermo, ItalyPhoto: Hedwig in Washington CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Climate data for large cities (averages)

summer temp.winter temp.rainfall (per year)
Florence24-26°C7-8°C726 mm
Milan20-23°C3-7°C819 mm
Naples22-25°C10-11°C1143 mm
Palermo25-28°C11-14°C897 mm
Rome24-26°C9-11°C770 mm
Venice21-26°C3-6°C588 mm

Plants and Animals


The vegetation in the Mediterranean low and hill country is green in winter, blooms in April and May, and scorches in summer. The original vegetation, now almost completely gone, is an evergreen deciduous forest of holm oaks. In its place, macchia, a formation of evergreen dense and thorny shrubs and dwarf shrubs, including wild olives, oleander, laurel, myrtle, holm oak, gorse and cork oak, predominates.

Macchia landscape ItalyMacchia landscape ItalyPhoto: Falk2 CC 3.0 Germany no changes made

Cypresses and olive trees are typical vegetation for all of Italy. The Umbra forest in the Gargano peninsula in Puglia, is one of the last native forests in Italy with beech and holm oak. There are also beech forests in Calabria and silver pine and pine forests in Abruzzo.

In the low mountain ranges with their colder winters, the macchia is replaced by thickets that lose their leaves in winter and are more similar to the Central European vegetation, including downy oak and yellow dogwood. In the high mountains (Alps and Dolomites) the subalpine coniferous forest belt and the alpine dwarf shrub and meadow belt (with vetch, ostrich grass and white asphodel) are very beautifully developed. The strawberry tree has been considered the national tree of Italy since the Italian unification.

National tree of Italy is the strawberry treeNational tree of Italy is the strawberry treePhoto: Jxandreani CC 2.0 Generic no changes made


The animal world has a Central European and Mediterranean character; in the north you will still find alpine forms including ibex, chamois, ermine, alpine rabbit, mountain partridge and marmot. In the Gran Paradiso national park the ibex is still found, a kind of mountain goat with long twisted horns. The chamois, a type of goat antelope with small straight horns, lives in the Central Alps. Well-known birds in the Alps are the black grouse and the rare golden eagle.

Gems, ItalyGems, ItalyPhoto: Manfred Werner / Tsui cc-by-sa3.0 no changes made

In the south, Mediterranean forms include mouflon in Sardinia, porcupine, Roman mole and a number of reptiles. The big game is highly endangered in its survival; brown bear, lynx and wolf have become very rare. In Italy there are still about 200 Apennine wolves and about 100 brown bears. The rare monk seal may still be found on the coasts of Italy.

Apennine wolf, subspecies from ItalyApennine wolf, subspecies from ItalyPhoto: Luigi Piccirillo CC 2.5 Generic no changes made

The bird world is strongly threatened by the hunting during the migration season in spring and autumn. In addition to strong pressure from hunting, deforestation has contributed to the rarity of many species since Roman times.

National symbol: Italian sparrowNational symbol: Italian sparrowPhoto: Loz (L. B. Tettenborn) CC 2.5 Generic no changes made

There are 19 national parks to protect endangered species, and five more are planned. Together they will comprise 5% of Italy's total land area. The two largest national parks are located in the Alps: Stelvio (1350 km2) and Gran Paradiso (700 km2), also the oldest national park in Italy. The smallest national park is located at Cape Circeo, along the coast, south of Rome.

Of the national parks, Gran Paradiso is known for ibex and chamois; chamois and the last brown bears live in the Abruzzo National Park. The future of Italy's wild mammals and birds is very uncertain. The attitude of a significant part of the population shows little environmental awareness and hunting regulations are not fully defined.

The land is rich in invertebrates; the study of insects and snails will certainly yield many new species. Among the latter, the family Helicidae (which includes the vineyard snail, among others) has many species, including a number of native ones.

Founded in 1874, the Maritime Biological Institute ("Stazione Zoologica") in Naples is world famous. Sharks, bluefin tuna and swordfish can be found in the southern seas. In the even warmer southern seas we find red coral and sponges.

Stazione Zoologica in Naples, ItalyStazione Zoologica in Naples, ItalyPhoto: Ruthven in the public domain


Prehistory and Antiquity, Ligurians and Etruscans

Italy Graves EtruscansItaly Graves EtruscansPhoto: NormanEinstein CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The spread of human habitations across Italy began earlier than in northern Europe. Since 2000 BC. several peoples settled on Italian territory. Around 1200 BC. the Ligurians and Italians entered Italy from the north. The Ligurians were Bronze Age settlers from southern France, and settled in central Italy, near today's Rome. The Italians came from the Danube region in Central Europe.

People from the Eastern Mediterranean explored the coast of Italy from about 5000 BC. The Phoenicians, at that time, founded Carthage in North Africa and trading posts in Italy. In the 8th century BC. the Greeks founded colonies in Sicily and southern Italy. These colonies, along with Syracuse, Agrigento, Crotone and Taranto, were called Magna Graecia (Greater Greece). In addition to trading activities, many philosophers, scientists and writers also moved to the Greek colonies in Italy. Large temples and open-air theaters were also built, including theaters in Agrigento and Paestum (near Naples).

While the Greeks colonized southern Italy and Sicily, Etruscans founded cities in Central Italy.

The Etruscans are still more or less a mystery and no one is sure where exactly they came from. Initially the Etruscans occupied the areas around the rivers Arno and Tiber and the mountains of the Apennines, later they moved to the Po Valley and towards Rome. A federation of twelve city-states, including Volterra, Fiesole, Arezzo, Perugia and Chiusi, emerged in Central Italy in the region we now know as Etruria.

The Etruscans became rich through the iron, copper, and silver mines and trade in the eastern Mediterranean. Their cities were perched and surrounded by fortifications. They also built bridges, streets and canals.

Rome and the Romans

The genesis of Rome is unclear. As the city became powerful, legends arose about the foundation and origin of the city and its empire. The "official" version became that Aeneas, son of Aphrodite, came from Troy to Latium. His son Ascanius founded Alba Longa. Finally, Romulus and Remus, twin sons of Mars and Rhea Silvia, daughter of the king of Alba Longa, founded the city of Rome. The founding year was 752 BC.

King's Age and Republic

Italy Julius CaesarItaly Julius CaesarPhoto: Clara Grosch in the public domain

The official history of Rome starts with the merger of the Palatinus and the Quirinalis, the two oldest inhabited hills. However, this city soon came under Etruscan rule, so there was no Roman empire yet. After the exiled king Tarquinius Superbus in 496 BC. was finally defeated and the Romans and Latins made an alliance, which is considered, to some extent, as the beginning of the Roman Empire. There was also a struggle with the Volsci, the Sabines and the Aequi. An established fact of this period is the conquest of Veji by Camillus; this battle lasted from 405 BC. to 396 BC.

The invading Gauls halted the advance of the Romans in 387 BC. The neighboring peoples like the Etruscans and the Volsci also revolted against Roman rule. In 358 BC. the Latini and the Hernici capitulated while a treaty was concluded with the Etruscans. In the Second Samnite War, the Romans suffered a major defeat at Caudium in 321 BC. Yet they saw an opportunity to take over the power in Central and Southern Italy for good.

In the Third Samnite War (298-290 BC), rebellious Etruscans, Gauls and Umbrians were finally defeated at Sentinum. Due to the expansion of power in Campania and Samnium, Rome came into conflict with Taranto. The city of Taranto, even with the help of the Greek king Pyrrhus of Epirus could not prevent a defeat in 275 BC. at Beneventum.

Ultimately, peace reigned throughout Italy. The authority of the Romans was maintained by a sophisticated system of colonies and the roads that ran through them. Some cities were granted city rights and had a high degree of self-government. The only obligation they had was to provide soldiers for the Roman army.

Due to the conquests in southern Italy, the Romans met strong resistance from the Sicilians and the Carthaginians in North Africa. Three Punic Wars against Carthage took place in the period 264-146 BC. In the First Punic War (264-241 BC), Sicily became the first Roman province and Sardinia and Corsica were annexed. After the Second Punic War, Spain became a Roman territory and the Carthaginians' allies, the Macedonians, were defeated. Syria was also finnaly defeated by the Romans in 190 BC. and forced to make peace that severely curtailed its power. In the Third Punic War, Carthage was destroyed in 146 BC. and became a Roman province. In 168 BC. Perseus of Macedonia was defeated and his empire and Greece in 146 BC. were incorporated as a province. The great trade competitor Corinth was also devastated in 146 BC., and western Asia Minor was destroyed in 133 BC. and added to the expanding empire.

All these conquests created a completely different social structure in the Roman Empire. Tax leaseholders in the provinces became richer and more powerful, causing the peasant population to suffer greatly. The Senate, the most powerful body in the empire, soon lost control and the ruling class became deeply divided. This situation would eventually lead to a number of civil wars in the 90-30 BC period, and always the cause were disputes between generals, politicians and other interest groups.

The First Civil War (88-81 BC) was about supreme command of the army between Marius and Sulla. Marius was first expelled by Sulla but later Marius's supporters returned to power. In 82 BC. the supporters of the now dead Marius were defeated by Sulla, who restored the power of the Senate and put an end to the dictatorship.

After Sulla's death in 79 BC. a battle arose over his succession. No one was able to seize power alone, and therefore the so-called "First Trinity" with Crassus, Pompey and Julius Caesar was created. Crassus was soon killed in 53 BC. and Caesar left in 58 BC. to northern Gaul, which he managed to subdue in eight years, and in this way also he managed to gain the confidence of the army. Pompey turned more and more towards the senate and in 52 BC. he had acquired so much power that he could almost be called dictator. A conflict between Caesar and Pompey was unavoidable and in the Second Civil War (49-45 BC) Pompey was defeated and killed.

Caear was now the sole ruler and began the reconstruction of the Roman state, laying the foundation for the future empire. In 44 BC. he was assassinated by republican senators. A confused time followed, culminating in the founding of the Second Trinity in 43 BC, which consisted of Octavian, Lepidus and Mark Antony. These "three men" divided the empire but Lepidus was soon put aside.

Anthony ruled the east and Octavian got the west. However, Anthony fell under the influence of the beautiful Egyptian Cleopatra and a Third Civil War in 31 BC. was the result. Antony and Cleopatra were defeated at Actium, and Egypt became a special domain of Octavian within the Roman Empire. This victory assured Rome a political supremacy in both the western and eastern Roman Empire.

Principate (31 BC - 284 AD)

Italy AugustItaly AugustPhoto: Till Niermann CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Republic came to an end with Octavian, who called himself "princeps", which means the first, and the period that followed is called the "Principate" because his successors also were called "princeps". In 27 BC. Octavian deposited his proxies, but had them restored by the Senate, and then received the honorary title of Augustus. Under his leadership, the empire achieved order and prosperity and managed to consolidate natural borders.

Augustus was succeeded by his adopted stepson Tiberius who ruled from 14 to 37 AD. and faced somewhat over-zealous senators accused of high treason. Under his extravagant successor Caligula, disorder reigned in the empire that was restored under Claudius II (41-54). After this it went wrong again. Agrippina, the wife of Claudius, had him poisoned in order to put her son Nero on the throne who would rule from 54 to 68. At that time it was going well in Rome, but under Nero it was largely lost again due to his excessive behavior. He had, among other things, his own mother murdered and is said to have been responsible for the great fire of Rome. Then a revolt broke out and he was killed by a slave, bringing the Julian-Claudian dynasty to an end.

Nero's reign was followed by a Year of the Three Emperors with Galba, Otho and Vitellius. Vitellius was overthrown by Vespasian, the commander of the eastern legions. Under his rule, revolts arose in both the east and the west, also among the Jews in Jerusalem, crushed by Titus, and in the west by the Batavians, crushed by Civilis. Titus, the son of Vespasian, only reigned for a few years, dealing with the volcanic disaster that hit Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79. Titus was succeeded again by Domitian who reigned until 96. After Domitian's murder, no male successor was available and the senate chose Nerva as emperor. With him began a whole series of emperors who were supposedly chosen by adoption. Trajan was the first emperor not even born in Italy. It was he who went on the conquest again and conquered Dacia, later Romania, among others. Mesopotamia was also temporarily occupied by the Romans.

The Roman Empire was now at the height of its power but it soon became apparent that it was no longer controllable due to its size. Hadrian, for example, stopped his conquests in the east and was forced to fortify himself along all borders, including construction of the "Hadrian's Wall" in Great Britain. After Hadrian, two more emperors with the name Antonius followed and the line of emperors-by-adoption was closed. The reign of Antoninus Pius lasted until 161 and was characterized by calm throughout the empire.

Under his successor Marcus Aurelius, many problems arose, both at home and abroad, and the empire was ravaged by epidemics. His son Commodus and his successor Pertinax were even murdered. After some problems with the succession, Septimius Severus, an African, was able to get the rule in 193. He became known for limiting the influence of the senate and conquering a new province: Northern Mesopotamia.

Caracalla (211-217) and his successor Macrinus (217-218) were murdered. Alexander Severus reigned until 235 and was the last of the Severo-Syrian dynasty. Around this time, the senate regained its influence. But campaigns against the Sassanids in the east and Germans in the west did not end well, and Severus was eventually killed by a rebellious general. Under one of his successors, Decius (249-251), Christianity was fiercely contested, but the empire had long been threatened by other things, including the financially poor condition, the Germans who united and became increasingly dangerous. The differences between rich and poor also caused many internal tensions.

After 250 the chaos was complete. The Goths continued to advance and large parts of the immense empire were occupied and plundered by all kinds of peoples without much opposition from the Romans. Under Gallienus (253-268) there was some recovery and under his successor, the Goths who had already penetrated into Serbia, were defeated. A partial reconstruction of the empire followed under Aurelian. After the murder of Aurelian, another time of fighting emperors followed, which ended with Diocletian who was proclaimed emperor by his soldiers.

Dominate (284–476)

Italy Diocletianus Italy DiocletianusPhoto: Jebulon in the public domain

Diocletian was an absolute ruler/autocrat who deufued himself during his life and his title spoke for itself: "dominus et deus" (lord and god). On the other hand, he divided supreme authority among two Augusti (including himself), each of whom had two Caesares under him; one therefore speaks of the "tetrarchy". The special position of Italy as a whole came to an end and the empire was divided as follows: the east with Nicomedia as its capital under Diocletian; Italy and Africa with the capital Milan under Maximianus; Gaul, Spain and Britain with Trier as capital under Constantius Chlorus; and Illyricum and Greece with Sirmium as capital under Galerius.

The Roman Senate was only a municipal council for Rome, which no longer even remained the capital of an empire and had to cede this function to Milan. The senators, however, remained a formidable economic factor because they were, together with the emperor, the largest landowners. By bureaucratising and militarizing the administration, the Romans managed to keep the Persians at a distance and could maintain unity within the empire. In 305, Diocletian and Maximian resigned and civil wars promptly broke out with at one point six Augusti vying for supremacy.

This was accompanied by the necessary massacres and it was not until Constantine the Great that a period (324-337) of one-man government began again. Under Constantine, Christians were again favored, and after the Edict of Milan in 313, religious freedom reigned in the Roman Empire. This was also done out of self-interest to gain support from both pagan and Christian sides for the policy of imperial unity, and the capital thus became Constantinople, at the intersection of cultures and routes to all parts of the empire.

The family struggle for supremacy after Constantine's death was won by Constantius II, who ruled from 353 to 361. Constantius was succeeded again by Julian, who had been proclaimed emperor by the army as the only surviving relative of Constantine. Julianus Apostata, the "Apostate" is said to be the last non-Christian emperor (361-363). His Christian successors Jovian and Valentian (364-375) were confronted with strongly divided Christians and danger from outside due to the great Germanic migration. Several family members had been appointed co-regents for the East, which inevitably led to a time of unrest and civil war.

This time of turmoil was brought to an end by Emperor Theodosius I who divided the empire among his two sons in 395. However, what was meant to be an administrative separation turned out in practice to result in a separation in two separate states. Arcadius got the east that was under regency from Rufinus. Honorius got the west under regency of Stilicho.

The impending doom of the Roman Empire was getting closer and closer. The western part of the empire fell apart after many wars in the 5th century. The Visigoths threatened to invade, after which the legions from the west were called back. This had a counterproductive effect because it allowed Germanic peoples to advance further and further.

After the murder of Stilicho, the Goths invaded Italy and even Rome was sacked in 410. In 415 the Visigoth Empire was founded in southern France, Spain and Africa, which was important to the Romans because it served as a granary. The empire was further weakened by the mutual jealousy of the generals. There was therefore no question of joint action against the advancing Huns led by Atilla de Hun. General Aëtius managed to stop Attila in 451, but a year later the Huns invaded Italy but were unable to get through to Rome. Aëtius was killed by the emperor and the emperor himself was murdered by a Germanic soldier, bringing the last imperial dynasty, the Theodosian, to an end.

In 455 the Vandals landed in Italy and took Rome in a very bloody way. Until about 476 emperors were appointed by the commander of the Germanic troops, Ricimer, and equally easily deposed. After the death of Ricimer, the German Orestes appointed his son as emperor. This Romulus was deposed by the Germanic Odoaker who in 476 called himself "king of the Germans in Italy". This marked the definitive end of the emperorship and the Roman Empire in the western part of the empire. The Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire flourished again and did not collapse until 1453 after the fall of Constantinople.

Middle Ages

Italy Justinianus I Italy Justinianus IPhoto: Public domain

In 493 the (then) capital Ravenna was conquered by the king of the Ostrogoths, Theodoric the Great. He thereby also gained control of all of Italy, but his successors had no chance against the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, who occupied Italy in 535. In 568, northern and central Italy was conquered by the Lombards while the rest of Italy remained under Byzantine rule and Rome was entrusted to the authority of the bishop, i.e., the Pope.

The Longobards founded the kingdom of Pavia and the dependent duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. The regions under Byzantium were ruled by "duces", regional governors of the emperor.

Already at the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I had claimed the primacy of the ecclesiastical over the secular authority; his successors, notably Gregory the Great, emphasized this even more strongly, which prevented Byzantium's military support against the Lombards. In the 8th century the popes sought support elsewhere against the threatening Lombards, and ended up with the Franks. These people first came to Italy around the mid-8th century and their rule quickly expanded. They placed the papacy under their protectorate and laid the foundations for the Papal State.

Charlemagne established himself as king of the Lombards (774) and was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III on Christmas night in Rome 800 AD, thus definitively linking the emperorship of the west to the papacy. This imperial support would last about two centuries and was desperately needed to fend off all kinds of opponents and enemies. In 887, Charles the Fat lost control of Italy and large areas of southern Italy were lost to the Saracens. In Northern Italy, a number of rulers fought for hegemony.

In 962, the German king Otto the Great was crowned emperor of the Holy Roman-German Empire, raising the papacy to greater prestige. However, he made it subordinate to politics, but laid the foundation for the later power of the church. In the meantime, the history of southern Italy developed according to its own pattern. Dukes, mostly representatives of the Byzantine bishops and Saracens, ruled, and at the beginning of the 11th a number of city republics (including Gaeta, Naples and Amalfi) became very powerful. In 1016 the Normans infiltrated Italy after being used in the fight against the Saracens. In 1071, the Norman Robert Guiscard conquered Bari, ending Byzantine power in Italy. By the year 1200, almost all of the southern Italy was Norman territory and Sicily was also conquered from the Saracens.

In the Investiture Controversy (the conflict between Pope and Emperor over the Church in the Roman Empire that lasted from 1075 to 1122), the whole of Italy had taken sides. After the Concordat of Worms (1122), the struggle was shifted from ideological to purely political territory: fellow players were the Pope, the Emperor and the Normans in the south.

All this led to the increasing power of the northern and central Italian cities. However, the Hohenstaufen retained Sicily as an important point of support because Emperor Henry VI married the heiress of Sicily, Constantia d'Altavilla. Sicily therefore remained a threat to the papacy. Imperial authority in Italy disappeared with Emperor Frederick II making a failed attempt to evade papal authority. In the course of the 13th century, more and more city-states emerged in the north of Italy, where military personnel held power. In 1268, the Pope awarded the Sicilian Empire to Charles of Anjou, who then became King of Naples and Sicily. This could happen after the death of Frederick II's successor, Manfred. It was soon clear that Charles wanted to have dominion over all of Italy, but the Pope managed to break his power. And after the Sicilian Vespers (= the uprising that broke out in Palermo in Sicily on March 31, 1282 and from there spread all over the country) he even lost Sicily that was assigned to the Spanish Aragón. After the "Babylonian" captivity, the worldly power of the Pope came to an end.

In the 15th century, the struggle for power took place between Florence, Venice and Milan. German and French rulers, as well as smaller city republics in Italy themselves, took sides. In the south, Aragón decided the battle against Anjou and southern Italy as the kingdom of Naples fell to Alfons V of Aragón, who was already king of Sicily at that time. Around 1450, what appeared to be an Italian equilibrium between north and south emerged, but various mutual wars showed a very shaky balance.

In the cultural field, Italy took a tremendous lead in the Renaissance and had a profound influence on the rest of Europe.

From the End of the Middle Ages to Unification

Italy Catherine de MediciItaly Catherine de MediciPhoto: Public domain

At the end of the 15th century, a decline begun and Italy became a toy of the great European powers, with the battle between Habsburg and Valois mainly fought in Italy. In 1494 Charles VIII of France entered Italy because he believed he could claim Naples. After all, he was the heir to the House of Anjou. Aan unholy alliance with the Pope, the Emperor, Milan and Venice, among others, meant that Charles had to withdraw from Italy as early as 1495. Charles's successor, Louis XII, embarked on the same adventure and claimed Milan in addition to Naples.

This city was occupied in 1499 and Naples was conquered with the help of Ferdinand II of Aragón. In 1505, however, the French withdrew from this coalition, making the entire kingdom of Spanish Aragón. The French tried again, and now Venice was besieged in 1508. Again, they were forced to withdraw because allies turned against the French king (1513). In 1556 Milan came to Spain as a feef from the German Empire. In Florence, the Medici family came to power, although entirely dependent on the Habsburgs. In 1559, France recognized Spanish possessions and influences at the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis. At that time only the Republic of Venice remained independent.

In addition to the major political changes, the cultural boom of the Renaissance also came to an end. In addition, the Counter-Reformation led to a reform of the Church in Europe that eliminated the Catholic Church from participating in the struggle for secular authority, but instead concentrated on becoming the world's religious and moral superpower. Yet the Roman Catholic Church remained a power of significance by making alliances with Roman Catholic powers and powerful monastic orders such as e.g. the Jesuits.

At that time, Italy was economically ruined by, among other things, wars and the shift of world trade to the coasts of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Due to the decline of Germany as an economic hinterland, Northern Italy was hit hard. In fact, only the Republic of Venice survived these harsh economic times.

In the 17th century, the political rise of Savoy was an important development, as it would become the strongest state in Italy in all respects by the 18th century. After the War of the Spanish Succession, Duke Victor Amadeus was assigned Sicily and immediately assumed the title of king. In 1720 he acquired Sardinia in exchange for Sicily, which was ceded to Austria. The War of the Spanish Succession also caused changes in the south of Italy. Austria got Sardinia and Naples and in 1738 these two areas were given to a representative of the Spanish House of Bourbon. The condition was that the southern Italian empire would never again fall to the Spanish king. Milan had already passed into Austrian hands in 1713 and the united duchies of Parma and Piacenza had belonged to the Spanish House of Bourbon since 1748. It is clear that in the 18th century there was little left of any Italian political or military power except Tuscany. In 1768 Corsica, a long Genoese possession, was transferred to France. The only positive thing was that Italy was able to recover in the cultural field, a development that would also occur in political and social fields in the 19th century.

In 1796, Napoleon entered Italy and took with him the ideas of the French Revolution. Politically Italy was completely turned upside down,

Savoy (with Piedmont) was annexed to France; in the Po Valley, the Cis and Transpadan Republics were united to form the Cisalpine Republic; Genoa became the Ligurian Republic; the Papal State became the Roman Republic; Naples (without Sicily) became the Parthenopean Republic and Venice was added to Austria. Papal status was restored in 1799 and a Bourbon king returned to Naples. In 1801, Tuscany was made the Kingdom of Etruria and the Cisalpine Republic into the Italian Republic. In 1805 the Italian republic, enlarged with Venice, was proclaimed Kingdom of Italy under Napoleon I Bonaparte; Naples became a French vassal kingdom under Joseph Bonaparte in 1806 and replaced by Joachim Murat in 1808; Genoa and Parma were annexed to France. In 1807 France also annexed Etruria and in 1808 the Papal States.

Italy Pius IX Italy Pius IX Photo:Public domain

In 1815, the Restoration also began in Italy and the political division then became as follows: the kingdom of Sardinia / Genoa, Tuscany, Modena, Parma and Lucca (in fact Austrian vassal states), the Lombard-Venetian kingdom under direct Austrian sovereignty, the Ecclesiastical State, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Principality of Monaco and the Republic of San Marino. Lucca joined Tuscany in 1847. In all these states, the old or new rulers adopted a strict regime of repression and reaction. The French institutions were cleaned up and the ancien régime was restored to its full extent. However, the development that had started under the influence of the French ideas and institutions could no longer be stopped. Resistance to the existing order continued and soon gained an ideological basis in liberalism. Expulsion of all non-Italian rulers and the formation of a single national Italian state on a modern basis became the common ideal and this movement was called the Risorgimento. In 1820 and 1821 there was actual resistance from, among others, the Carbonari, a number of societies that played a major role in the struggle for freedom in Italy, but also in other countries.

In 1830 the July Revolution made its mark in Italy and the status quo could only be restored with the help of Austrian weapons.

In 1846, the liberal Pope Pius IX was elected, and many placed their hopes in him. In the revolutionary year of 1848, constitutions were promulgated in Naples, Tuscany, Sardinia and the Papal States, and revolutions broke out in Milan and Venice, after which Charles Albert of Sardinia declared war on Austria. However, the Sardinians lost at Custozza in July 1848 and an armistice was signed. The revolution in Naples had meanwhile been suppressed. Shortly thereafter, the radicals successfully seized power in the Papal State. Pius IX had to flee and February 9, 1849, the Roman republic was proclaimed. In March 1849, Charles Albert resumed the fight against Austria, but after the defeat at Novara he resigned for his son Victor Emanuel II, who made peace with Austria on 9 August. In April, meanwhile, the French had launched an attack on the Roman republic in favor of the Pope. By the end of August 1849, the old order had been restored everywhere in Italy. Constitutions were abolished everywhere, except in Sardinia (with King Victor Emanuel), where Cavour came to the fore, who, both supported and thwarted by Garibaldi, achieved that on March 17, 1861, the independent kingdom of Italy could be proclaimed. The kingdom encompassed all of Italy, with the exception of San Marino and Venice and the core area of the Papal States. Monaco was separated from the Italian territory by the area distance of Sardinia from France in 1860.

The young state and its problems

Italy Victor Emanuel III Italy Victor Emanuel IIIPhoto: Public domain

Venice-Lombardy was not relinquished by Austria in 1859 due to the opposition of the French emperor Napoleon III, and in Rome French troops took Pope Pius IX into protection, who would not relinquish secular authority over the Papal State. The Italians took control of Venice by alliance with Prussia against Austria in 1866, even though the Italian troops were defeated in this war.

After the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Napoleon III withdrew his troops from Rome, so that territorial unity could be completed with the annexation of the capital in September 1870. Pius IX refused to accept the loss of his territory and afterwards relations with the Italian government remained difficult. It was not until 1929 that a concordat was established, recognizing the kingdom of Italy and papal sovereignty over Vatican City. Around that time, Italy became bicameral with a Senate appointed by the king and an elected Chamber. For the first decades, the authority of the government was undermined by the strife between the political parties - the liberals and the radicals - and the personal scandals of politicians. The most important political figures at this time were Agostino Depretis and Francesco Crispi. The financial policies of the various governments turned out badly because of he bad economic situation. Industry developed in the north, but the social conditions were terrible; the large landholdings in the south created a deep divide between the poor part of the population and the rich. It was therefore not surprising that many Italians emigrated, especially to the United States. This situation was a perfect breeding ground for the flourishing socialism and anarchism. King Umberto I, who had succeeded his father Victor Emanuel II, who died in 1878, was assassinated by an anarchist in 1900, after which Victor Emanuel III ascended the throne.

It was also during this era that Italy acquired its colonial possessions that appeal to the imagination: Eritrea (1882–1890), Italian Somaliland (1899–1905) and, after a war against Turkey, the Dodekánesos, and Libya. An attempt to subdue Abyssinia (Ethiopia) ended in a shameful defeat at Adoea in 1896. Relations with France were not very cordial at first, and Italy sought to link up with Austria and Germany. In 1882 Italy concluded the so-called Three-fold Covenant with these countries. Nationalist Italians, however, were not satisfied with the boundaries reached and claimed some areas inhabited in part by Italians: the French Nizza (Nice) and Savoy, Trent, Istria with the city of Trieste and Fiume, present-day Rijeka. This endeavor was called the "Italia irredenta". (Irredentism is the pursuit of annexation of areas under the sovereignty of a neighboring country but inhabited by a population closely related to the native community.)

When the First World War broke out, Italy initially remained neutral, because the Triple Alliance with Germany and Austria had a defensive character. Nationalists, irredentists and republicans, however, preferred to cooperate with England and France. After the Allies pledged generous territory expansion by the Treaty of London, Italy declared war on Austria in May 1915 and on Germany in August 1916. There were actually no military successes to report, but in the peace of Versailles, Italy was rewarded with Istria and Trieste, Zara (Zadar) in Dalmatia and the whole of South Tyrol, which from then on would remain a point of contention between Italy and Austria. Initially declared a free state, Fiume was arbitrarily occupied in 1919–1920 by the poet Gabriele d'Annunzio.

Fascism and Mussolini

Italy Mussolini Italy MussoliniPhoto: Public domain

The end of the war, as elsewhere in Europe, brought Italy to the brink of collapse due to a weak liberal government and poor economic conditions. As a result, discontent grew and strikes and disturbances broke out and communist workers occupied a number of factories. The communists clashed with the fascist movement of Benito Mussolini, founded in 1919. In October 1922, the fascists organized a march to Rome, after which Mussolini was appointed Prime Minister by King Victor Emanuel. Mussolini initially headed a coalition cabinet, but in late 1924 he eliminated the opposition and has ruled like a real dictator ever since.

The government of the Fascist party, the Great Fascist Council, was given far-reaching powers, but rarely if ever met. Mussolini, who allowed himself to be called "duce" (= leader), had great influence on the composition of the Council. Authority was thus imposed from above, both economically and socially.

Mussolini wanted to make Italy a great power and therefore invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935, which was annexed to the Italian colonial empire in May 1936. The League of Nations imposed some economic sanctions as a punishment, but they amounted to little. In the Spanish Civil War, Mussolini sided with the rebellious General Franco. With the allied regime of Adolf Hitler that came to power in Germany in 1933, the relationship was initially cool, sometimes even tense, because of German aspirations towards Austria. As a result of the war in Abyssinia, however, a rapprochement arose and in October 1936 a cooperation agreement was concluded, the "Axis Rome-Berlin". In the spring of 1939 Albania was occupied and annexed by Italy. Mussolini used his influence to acquiesce the British and French at the Munich Conference in 1938 in German demands against Czechoslovakia, but when the Germans also invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, his mediation was ineffective. On June 10, 1940, when the French army had already been defeated, Italy declared war on Britain and France in the hope of realizing its claims to Nice, Corsica and Tunisia. During the war itself, the Italian army turned out to be of dubious quality again and the war against Greece, which started at the end of 1940, could only be settled in April 1941 thanks to German help. In East Africa the Italians were no match for the British and the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Abeba, fell April 6, 1941. In Libya the Italians were still helped by the German field marshal Rommel, but the British won under Montgomery after the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. On July 10, 1943, the Allies landed in Sicily with the United States, and on July 25, Mussolini was deposed by the Great Fascist Council. His successor, Marshal Badoglio, signed an armistice with the Allies on September 3 and declared war on Germany on October 13, 1943. On September 8, 1943 the Allies landed at Salerno. The battle for Italy was completely taken over by the Germans, who were slowly pushed back to the north, after which Rome was liberated on June 4, 1944. In Northern Italy, Mussolini, who was freed from captivity by the Germans on 12 Sept. 1943, proclaimed the Italian Social Republic, and he returned to the extreme socialist politics of his early years. On April 29, 1945 the German armies capitulated; Mussolini had fled the day before but was seized by resistance fighters and murdered. Italy remained officially occupied by the Allies until January 1, 1947. In the peace ratified on February 10, 1947, the country lost its colonies and had to cede Dalmatia, Fiume, Istria and part of the province of Venice to Yugoslavia and Greece received the Dodekánesos. The zone of Trieste, placed under international administration, returned mostly to Italy on October 25, 1954, and a final agreement was reached with Yugoslavia in 1976.

The Italian Republic

Italy De Gasperi Italy De GasperiPhoto: Publc domain

After the war, the big question was again of Italy should become a monarchy or a republic. Victor Emanuel III, compromised by his positive attitude towards fascism, tried to save the throne by abdicating on May 10, 1946 in favor of his son Umberto II, but the Italians spoke in a referendum on June 2 1946 by 12 to 10 million votes for the republic. On the same day, a constitutional assembly was elected, in which the left and right received about the same number of seats. The Christian Democrat De Gasperi, who had formed a government with socialists and communists (PCI) in December 1945, remained prime minister.

In May 1947 the left parties left the government and the communists under Togliatti together with the left socialists under Nenni (PSI) united to form a Popular Front, which, with the support of the trade unions, shook the government through strikes and disturbances. The April 1948 parliamentary elections, thanks in part to the stance of the Vatican and the United States, yielded an absolute majority for Democrazia Cristiana (DC), ensuring the continued existence of a democratic and closely linked regime and affiliation with NATO and the European Community could be realized.

In the 1953 elections, the Democrazia Cristiana lost its absolute majority and relied on the support of coalition partners on both the right and left. This, of course, came at the expense of political stability and led to rapidly alternating cabinets led by right-wing and left-wing Christian Democrats. The 1958 elections brought gains to the Christian Democrats and the Nenni Socialists (named after party chairman of the socialist party Pietro Nenni), but this did not change the confusing situation.

Changing coalitions

Italy Aldo Moro Italy Aldo MoroPhoto: Public domain

The 1963 elections brought some clarity. The Christian Democrats lost considerably while the Communists won more than a quarter of the vote. The Christian Democrats were now forced to open to the left to keep the communists out of government. This became possible after the Nenni socialists severed their ties with the communists for good.

In 1963, the party secretary of the Christian Democrats, Aldo Moro, managed to form a coalition government between the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats, the Nenni Socialists and the Republicans. This coalition remained in power until the elections of May 1968, but was not followed up because the socialists lost many votes to the communists and entered the opposition. There was no other solution but to form a minority cabinet that, however, already resigned in November of that year.

Another cabinet of Christian Democrats, Republicans and Socialists followed under Mariano Rumor, which led to the fall of the cabinet in July 1969 after a split in the Socialist Party.

This was followed by a democratic minority government and a center-left coalition again under Rumor, which fell after only a few months.

His successor and fellow party member Colombo faced widespread social unrest, growing extremism and terrorism and was forced to resign in January 1972 due to the continuing disagreement between the coalition partners. The prime minister of an interim cabinet, Giulio Andreotti, decided early elections and a government of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and (conservative) liberals led by Andreotti was established in June 1972. In July 1973 the center-left coalition under Rumor was restored. In November 1974, after enduring two cabinet crises, Rumor's government had to make way for a Moro cabinet made up of Christian Democrats and Republicans.

In June 1975 the communists received almost 39% of the vote in the parliamentary elections as a result of the many corruption scandals among the other parties. International relaxation between East and West ensured that the communists came back into the picture. At that time, however, it was impossible to form coalitions between the different parties and in July 1976 Andreotti was forced to form a minority government that was tolerated by all parties. However, the communists continued to strive for government responsibility.

In early 1978 Andreotti was forced to resign, after which the crisis was resolved by Aldo Moro. He ensured that the communists would in fact co-rule, but would not formally participate in the government and a Catholic-communist form of cooperation actually emerged. However, this soon came to an end on March 10, 1978 after the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro by the left-wing terrorist organization Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse). Catholic-communist cooperation then continued until January 1979, when the government was forced to resign.

It became increasingly clear to the communists that their compliant attitude in recent years has meant that they have lost more and more votes. Early elections were again held in June 1979, with the communists losing 4%. Two cabinets followed under Cossiga and Forlani, with varying combinations between Christian Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Social Democrats and, since 1980, the Socialists.

These parties were eventually united in the "pentapartito", a five-party coalition. In 1981, the Christian Democratic Party had to relinquish its premiership under the influence of a scandal surrounding the Freemason Lodge P2.

Declining influence of Christian Democrats

In July 1981, Republican Italy's first non-Christian Democratic head of government, Spadolini, came to power. He would lead the government until November 1982. In July 1983, Bettino Craxi came to power and his government would become the longest-serving in post-war parliamentary history from July 1983 to March 1987. After the early 1987 elections, the situation basically remained the same and existing government cooperation continued. Up to and including June 1992, four cabinets succeeded each other in rapid succession.

Corruption and mafia

Italy Structure MafiaItaly Structure MafiaPhoto: Public domean

Giuliano Amato's new government took office in June 1992, but had to resign in April 1993 due to corruption. Well-known politicians involved in the dirty practices included Socialist leader Bettino Craxi and Minister of Justice Carlo Tognoli, all of whom had to resign. It was positive during this period that the mafia was tackled harder and harder and with success.

For example, the leaders of the Neapolitan Camorra and the chief of an important group of Sicilian mafia clans, Carmine Alfieri and Salvatore Riina respectively, were arrested. The latter was sentenced to life.

At the end of September 1995, the trial began against former Prime Minister Andreotti, who was also accused of having links with the Mafia. Meanwhile, in a referendum in 1993, the people had already decided to change the electoral system in order to reduce corruption.

The political spectrum expanded to include media mogul Silvio Berlusconi's party, Forza Italia, and the Lega Nord movement, which sought secession of the prosperous North. Berlusconi won a major victory in the March 1994 elections, but his government resigned at the end of 1994. He was increasingly associated with corruption and bribery practices and did not want to separate his business from his political activities. There were also several lawsuits against him and his business empire Fininvest.

The Lega Nord movement emerged in 1996 when their leader Bossi who proclaimed the independent state "Padania", an action that obviously could not be taken seriously. After several major defeats in midterm elections, Bossi backed down and announced that he did not want to secede unilaterally.

In 1998 Berlusconi was indicted and sentenced to prison terms, but due to lengthy appeal procedures and parliamentary immunity, there has been no actual imprisonment so far.

In June 1998, twelve politicians were convicted and imprisoned, including former Prime Minister Arnaldo Forlani and Lega Nord leader Umberto Bossi.

Center-left cabinets

Italy Prodi Italy ProdiPhoto: Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr CC 3.0 Brazil no changes made

Italy was in a serious economic trouble around that time. The Dini government, which pursued a successful austerity policy, was succeeded in May 1996 by a center-left coalition government, the so-called Olive Coalition, led by the progressive Christian Democrat Prodi. For the first time in post-war history, a center-left government came to power.

He immediately made a big effort by coming up with far-reaching proposals for constitutional reform and budget reform. He also pursued rapid entry into the European Monetary Union (EMU) through far-reaching austerity plans and restructuring proposals. The latter was successful and Italy was allowed to join the EMU on 1 January 1999.

The political reforms did not get off the ground because of disagreements within the special parliamentary committee in which both the Senate and the House of Representatives were represented.

Prodi led a minority government but was regularly abandoned by the radical communist PRC, and even often remained in power thanks to the opposition. In October 1998, the government was sent home by parliament after the PRC rejected the new budget proposals.

Prodi was succeeded by PDS leader Massimo d'Alema, who concluded a coalition agreement with, among others, the old Olive coalition. The Prodi line was continued, but soon there was division within the coalition about the course to follow. In March 1999 Prodi was appointed President of the European Commission. However, he continued to interfere in Italian politics and in October 1999 made D'Alema a proposal to resume cooperation. Cossiga's center-right UDR would then be discharged and the Democrats' participation in the government could create a more stable coalition. D'Alema wanted to, but did not dare to risk a vote of confidence in parliament.

In December, D'Alema resigned and formed a new cabinet (with the Democrats and without the UDR), which gained the confidence of parliament on December 23.

21st century

Midterm regional elections in April 2000 yielded a major victory for the right-wing parties, further weakening D'Alema's position. He again offered the resignation of his government, and on April 26, Giulio Amato was asked to form a new government based on the same coalition. This coalition received parliamentary approval on 28 April.

Amato made a name for itself by implementing rigorous privatizations in 2000, including the airline Alitalia, Telecom Italia and the Banca Commerciale Italiana. However, divisions within the center-left coalition continued and new parliamentary elections were held on May 13, 2001. These elections were gloriously won by Silvio Berlusconi's Freedom Alliance and lost by Francesco Rutelli's Olive Coalition. On June 11, 2001, Berlusconi was sworn in as prime minister and deputy prime minister became post-fascist Gianfranco Fini. The leader of the Lega Nord protest party, Umberto Bossi, was also given a ministerial post.

At the end of December 2002, Prince Vittorio Emanuele returned to Italy after 56 years of exile. The Italian government gave the last king's son permission to set foot on Italian soil in November. The members of the House of Savoie have lived in Switzerland in recent years and have often tried before the Court of Strasbourg to obtain permission to return on the basis of human rights. The family was exiled in 1946 because Vittorio's father had collaborated with the fascist regime.

The parliamentary elections held in early April 2006 were won by Romani Prodi. An attempt by the Berlusconi government to enforce a recount of invalidated votes failed. The Court of Cassation ruled that no irregularities had been found in the elections that affected the result. Prodi eventually won the election with a narrow majority of 25,224 votes (out of a total of more than 38 million voters).

Thanks to a bonus arrangement for the center-left coalition, the win secured a fairly comfortable 64-seat majority in the House of Representatives. In the Senate, Prodi had only two more seats than the center-right. Finally, the government fell on January 24, 2008 after the small party Udeur (3 seats in the Senate) led by Minister Mastella withdrew its support. With this, the government could no longer fall back on a majority in the Senate and Prodi had to offer his resignation to President Napolitano.

President Napolitano decided, after failing to form an interim government, to call elections for April 2008.

Italy Berlusconi Italy BerlusconiPhoto: Ricardo Stuckert/PR CC 3.0 Brazil no changes made

After the fall of the Prodi government, the right-wing bloc was still headed by Silvio Berlusconi.

The left-wing bloc was led by Walter Veltroni, ex-mayor of Rome, and party leader of the Partito Democratico (PD). A real game to the left of the middle, which should replace Ulivo. The consituent parts of the PD (including the largest such as DS and Margherita) have committed themselves to a merger into the new PD.

On the center-right side, a new large party has also emerged, in which Forza Italia and Alleanza Nazionale, among others, have merged. Led by Silvio Berlusconi, Il Popolo della Libertà took on Veltroni's PD in the 2008 parliamentary elections. Berlusconi won these elections by a big lead over Veltroni. He is now the new Prime Minister of Italy for the third time. In November 2008 Italy fell into recession due to the credit crisis. In April 2009 there was a major earthquake in Abruzzo. In March 2010 Berlusconi won the regional elections.

Italy Georgio Napolitano Italy Georgio NapolitanoPhoto: Roberto Ferrari CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

In the years 2011 and 2012, Italy is sinking deeper economically. Several lawsuits are pending for corruption against Berlusconi. When he is finally convicted in December 2012, his party pulls the plug on the coalition government led by the technocrat Mario Monti. Giorgio Napolitano decided to stand for re-election after the election of a new president in April 2013 ended in an impasse. His re-election was confirmed by an absolute majority. Enrico Letta takes office as prime minister of a coalition. In December 2013, the mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi becomes the new strongman of the center left party. In February 2014, Letta leaves the field for Renzi, who says he will help Italy out of the economic problems. Giorgio Napolitano resigns in January 2015, Sergio Mattarella succeeds him. Many refugees will arrive in Southern Italy in 2015 and 2016. In November 2016, Renzi resigns after his constitutional reforms were voted down in a referendum. He will be succeeded by coalition partner Paolo Gentiloni. In October 2017, residents of wealthy Veneto and Lombardy voted for more autonomy in a non-binding referendum.

Italy Giuseppe ConteItaly Giuseppe ContePhoto: Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri CC 3.0 no changes made

Giuseppe Conte was sworn in in June 2018 as prime minister of Western Europe's first populist government, whose aim was to cut taxes, boost welfare spending and overhaul European Union rules on budgets and immigration. Mr Conte, a law professor, was the choice of the far-right League and the radical 5-Star Movement, which formed a governing coalition and ended three months of political deadlock following inconclusive elections.

In August 2019, League leader Matteo Salvini withdrew from the government in the hope of triggering early elections and boosting his party's position in parliament.But the 5-Star Movement and centre-left Democratic Party frustrated this plan by agreeing a new coalition without the League, with Giuseppe Conte retaining his position as prime minister. In 2020 Italy was severely hit by Corona with devastating effects on the already troublesome economy.

Mario Draghi, ItalyMario Draghi, ItalyPhoto: World Economic Forum CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Conte will step down in January 2021 and will be succeeded in February by the non-party former president of the Centtral European Bank, Mario Draghi, who will lead a cabinet of national unity with many technocrats in his cabinet. His main task remains to lead the fight against the pandemic.


The 2022 Italian presidential election is being held since 24 January 2022. The President will be elected by a joint assembly composed of the  Italian President and regional representatives. The election process started on 24 January 2022, and is expected to take multiple days.


The population of Italy originated from the amalgamation of various peoples and includes Etruscan, Gallic, Italic, Punic and Germanic elements. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the rapid growth of the Italian population led to a large wave of emigration. The Northern Italians mainly moved to Central and Western Europe, the Central and Southern Italians left for the United States, Brazil and (especially) Argentina. However, many emigrants returned to their native country after a number of years. Emigration decreased in the 1930s. After the Second World War, it increased again, albeit of a considerably lesser extent. Since 1983, however, immigration has outpaced emigration. Between 1860 and 1973, 26 million Italians emigrated to other countries, mainly to North and South America.

Famous Italians through the ages Famous Italians through the agesPhoto: 115ash CC 4.0 International no changes made

Illegal immigration through southern Italian ports and beaches, mostly from Albania and Turkey, is still significant. In April 2000, the Italian and Albanian governments reached an agreement on the annual admission of 5000 Albanians into Italy.

In addition to emigration, there was also extensive internal migration during the rapid economic growth after the Second World War; Part of the rural population, especially in the south, has moved mainly to the industrial areas of Turin, Genoa and Milan in the north. Hundreds of thousands of migrants also fled to Naples and Rome .

The population of Italy in 2017 was 62,137,1802 million. The population density is approximately 206 inhabitants per km2.

Population density Italy by province (2020) Population density Italy by province (2020)Photo: Nerdy.maps CC 4.0 International no changes made

Population development

1901 33.778.000
1911 36.921.000
1921 37.856.000
1931 41.043.000
1936 42.399.000
1951 47.516.000
1961 50.624.000
1971 54.137.000
1981 56.557.000
1991 56.778.000
2001 57.679.825

The areas around the major cities have the highest population density. Approx. 69% of the population lives in urban areas.

Number of inhabitants in the largest cities (2017):

Rome 3.718.000
Milan 3.099.000
Naples 2.202.000
Turin 1.765.000
Palermo 853.000

Large parts of the population live in Lombardy, Campania and Lazio. Molise and Aosta Valley, on the other hand, are home to a much smaller portion of the population.

Until the 1970s, Italy had a strong natural population growth. In the period from 1986 to 1988, the birth rate averaged 9.9 percent and the mortality rate 9.4 percent, resulting in a natural population growth of 0.5 per 1,000 inhabitants. In the period 1990 to 1995, the Italian population has grown by 0.1 percent per year. Natural population growth in the period 1998 to 2015 amounts to 0.3% per year. In 2017 the population growth was 0.17%

The birth rate is much higher in the poor agricultural south than in the prosperous industrial north. Here the population is also much more influenced by the ideas of the Roman Catholic Church.

The population is also getting older; in 2017 only 13.6% was younger than 15 years old; 21.5 of the population was over 65 years old.

Life expectancy at birth was 79.6 years for men and 85.1 years for women in 2017.

Age structure of population (2017):

00-15 jaar 13,65%
15-24 jaar 9,66%
25-54 jaar 42,16%
55-64 jaar 12,99%
65+ jaar 21.53%

Elderly Sardinian manElderly Sardinian man, ItalyPhoto: Jean Bajean CC Alike 2.5 Generic no changes made



Italian is the official national language, but in the province of Bolzano (South Tyrol) German is spoken (approx. 200,000 persons), in some of the valleys of Piemonte and Valle d'Aosta a lot of French is spoken (approx. 100,000 persons); in the valleys of the Dolomites and in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, people speak Raeto Romanesque. In the region of Basilicata, in southern Italy, part of the population even speaks Albanian. Italian is also spoken in the Swiss canton of Ticino (Ticino), in four mountain valleys in the Swiss Graubünden, in the Republic of San Marino and in the Vatican City. Italian dialects can also be found on (French) Corsica, on the Côte d'Azur to Nice (Nizza), in Monaco and in the urban centers of Istria. Outside Italy there are more than 1 million Italian speakers in Europe and in Africa and North and South America together more than 10 million.

Flag of the Italian language: with the Italian flag and from top to bottom the coats of arms of Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican City Flag of the Italian language: with the Italian flag and from top to bottom the coats of arms of Switzerland, San Marino and Vatican CityPhoto:Enrinipo CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Italian language

Overview of Romanesque languagesOverview of Romanesque languagesPhoto: Koryakov Yuri CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Italian language is a Romanesque language and a direct continuation and development of (Vulgar) Latin. The question of whether Italian should be based on the Florentine dialect or contain elements of other dialects has given rise to many and protracted discussions and controversies (which continued into the 18th century): the so-called "questione della lingua". The language of civilized circles in the Tuscan cities and in Rome is currently the standard.

Some Italian words and expressions:


Compared to those of other Romance languages such as French and Spanish, the Italian dialects appeared relatively late as a written language. Latin was maintained here as an official and learned language for much longer than elswhere: in full until the early 17th, sporadically even until the end of the 18th century.

The first attempts at creating a written vernacular started with the Sicilian poetry school (first half of the 13th century), followed a little later by the north and Tuscany. For historical and geographic reasons, but mainly by Dante, followed by Petrarch and Boccaccio, Tuscan, especially its Florentine idiom, prevailed over all other dialects in the 14th century.

Due to the typical shape of the country, with its many isolated areas, but also due to the former political division, approximately 1500 dialects have been created. Only two percent of Italians would not be able to speak some dialect.

Italian dialects Italian dialectsPhoto: Public domain

The Italian dialects are generally divided into:

A central and southern Italian group, including Sicily, which has a line from the east of Rome to Ancona as its northern border.

A Tuscan group, whose northern boundary is the arc of the Apennines (Spezia and Rimini), which also includes most of the Corsian accents.

An Upper Italian group, namely Piemonte, Lombardy (including Ticino), Liguria, Emilia-Romagna, the so-called Gallo-Italic dialects, as well as Venice.

From a linguistic point of view, Sardinian is regarded as an independent Romance language, while the languages of Friuli and Central Ladin are considered to be Raeto Romanesque; the Val d'Aosta is Franco-Provencal.

The name "Italia" first appeared in a tribe in Calabria, who called themselves "Vitaloi". This name Greeked to "Italoi" and in 42 BC. the Roman Octavian gave the whole area the official name "Italia".a".


Duomo of Milan, seen from the Piazza del DuomoDuomo of Milan, seen from the Piazza del DuomoPhoto: Jiuguang Wang CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

More than 85% of the population officially belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. Until 1984 Roman Catholicism was the state religion, enshrined in the 1929 Lateran treaties. The treaty was concluded between the Italian leader Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI. This also meant that the Roman Catholic Church was given privileges over other religions in many areas.

On February 12, 1984, the Italian government and the Vatican signed a concordat abandoning the principles of the Lateran Treaty and ending the privileges of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church is divided into about 300 areas, namely special resorts such as free prelatures, abbeys under an abbot or abbas nullius, archdioceses and dioceses, some of which fall directly under the Holy See.

There are also about 500,000 Protestants and Orthodox and about 35,000 Jews. The main Protestant church is the Waldensian Church (Italian: Chiesa Valdese), which was only recognized by law since 1947. Other Protestant churches include Lutherans of the German-speaking communities of the Northeast, Methodists, and Baptists. Together they form the Bond of Protestant Churches.

Waldensian church in Piazza Cavour, in the Borgo district of Rome Waldensian church in Piazza Cavour, in the Borgo district of RomePhoto: Scalleja CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

The Union of Italian Jewish Municipalities comprises 22 Jewish municipalities. There is also a small Muslim community in the south of Italy and in the big cities in the north. Most Muslims (about 300,000) are originally from North Africa.

Masjid of Rome is the biggest mosque in the Western worldMasjid of Rome is the biggest mosque in the Western worldPhoto: Tykeoutdoljoklp CC 4.0 International no changes made


State structure

Italy's Parliament is located in the Palazzo MontecitorioItaly's Parliament is located in the Palazzo MontecitorioPhoto: Manfred Heyde CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The Italian Parliament consists of a Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) with 630 members and a Senate (Senato) with 315 members. In theory, Italians can go to the polls every five years to elect the representatives of the parliament and of the regional councils. In practice, early elections often take place in Italy.

The president has a seven-year term and is elected by a joint session of the two houses supplemented by three representatives from each regional council. The president has the right to dissolve the parliament and appoint the prime ministers. After his term of office, he automatically becomes a member of the Senate for life. The President of the Senate is a deputy to the President.

Cabinets last only about 11 months on average after World War II. For more about the political situation see the chapter about History.

Administrative division

Regioni ItalyRegioni ItalyPhoto: TUBS CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

There are 20 regioni (regions), which are subdivided into 95 provinces and 8091 municipalities (comuni). These administrative units are governed by councils, which are elected every five years, and an executive body. The executive body is accountable to the board.

Five regions (Sicily, Sardinia, Aosta Valley, Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia) have a certain degree of autonomy (regioni a statuto Speciale), due to the fact that they are either islands or they border other countries .

The largest region is Sicily, the smallest Aosta Valley.

Below is an overview of the 20 regions with their respective capital:


Italy Perugia UniversityItaly Perugia UniversityPhoto: Francesco Gasparetti CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Pre-school education for 3 to 5 year olds is not compulsory. Education in public and private schools is generally paid for by the state. The public institutions are all state-owned.

In Italy, compulsory schooling is between ages six and fourteen and includes five years of primary education (scuola elementare) and three years of lower secondary education (scuola media). The government has made a proposal to increase compulsory education to ten years, from five to fifteen years.

Primary education is aimed at children aged six to eleven and consists of two cycles, one of two years and one of three years. The students automatically transfer from the first to the second cycle.

After five years of primary education, pupils take the exams for the diploma that gives access to lower secondary education.

Secondary education is for pupils aged eleven to fourteen and consists of three classes that form a complete study cycle.

Higher secondary education is open to young people aged 14 to 19. Compulsory education follows cycles of three, four or five years, after which one can continue studying at university or continue with a higher education or after which one can start working.

The Entrance to Liceo Massimo Classico e Scientifico InternazionaliThe Entrance to Liceo Massimo Classico e Scientifico InternazionaliPhoto: PaoloGeno CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

All schools after compulsory education fall under upper secondary education and can be divided into the following categories:

Classical and scientific courses (scuole di tipo classico): the "liceo classico" and the "liceo scientifico" prepare students for university and other forms of higher education.

Art courses: the "liceo artistico" and the "istituti d'arte", courses lasting respectively four and three years.

Technical training: there are different types of "istituti tecnici": agriculture, trade, business administration and foreign languages, tourism, surveying, industry, foreign trade, shipping; these courses last five years.

Vocational training: five years divided into a three-year qualification cycle and a two-year follow-up cycle, at the end of which one can transfer to higher education.

Higher university education is provided at public and private universities, technical colleges and other university institutions. University higher education comprises three cycles, which are respectively:

A "diploma universitario" after two or three years of study

A "diploma di laurea", after four or six years of study

A "diploma di specializzazione" after at least two years and a doctorate ("diploma di dottorato di ricerca") after at least three years.

There are three academic degrees in Italy, namely the "diploma", the "laurea" and the "dottorato di ricerca". The last two academic degrees entitle to the title of Dr. ("Dottore").

University education is provided exclusively in Italian. Non-university higher education can be followed by different types of higher education; this applies especially to art education, such as academies and conservatories.

In 1995-1996, there were 47 general universities, two universities of Italian studies for foreigners and three specialized universities (commerce; education; Catholicism); three polytechnic universities; seven specialized university institutes for architecture, bio-medicine, modern languages, marine studies, oriental studies, social issues and teacher training. The oldest university in Italy, and even in all of Europe, is that of Bologna (c. 1200). In the 13th century, universities were also founded in Genoa, Macerata, Naples, Padua and Perugia.


Home areas Italian mafiaHome areas Italian mafiaPhoto: NordNordWest CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The mafia (Sicilian, from the Arabic afah = protection; Italian: mafia), is a collective name for secret, network-like organizations that were created in Western Sicily at the beginning of the 19th century and that operate in a violent manner. The members of those organizations are called mafiosi. The word mafioso was first used in 1863. The ambivalent relationships that the mafia has with representatives of the government (fighting them on the one hand, and cooperating with them on the other) sets them apart from other criminal organizations. In Naples the secret crime organization is called camorra, in Calabria 'ndrangheta and in Sicily Cosa Nostra. In the 20th century, around 1900, a mafia also emerged in the United States, also called Cosa Nostra, with many descendants of Sicilian immigrants.

The mafia has developed in Sicily mainly around Palermo, an area rich in large estates (latifundia). The mafiosi took the place of the landowners residing in Palermo and behaved like overseers and big tenants. They maintained intensive contacts with the landlords in the city. In return for securing their estates and later also for support in elections, the landlords offered the mafia protection against the government.

The mafia as one organization, with one central management, has never actually existed. The networks of local organizations, called cosche (plural of cosca, artichoke; the members of the local mafias are symbolized by the leaves of the artichoke), each controlled one particular territory and interacted with each other in all kinds of ways and through all kinds of organizations. They also fought each other to the death.

Both in Italy and in the United States, attempts by the government to combat the mafia were initially unsuccessful. Over the years, a series of anti-mafia laws came into force in Italy, which had little effect due to the lack of willingness by the local authorities to cooperate . Subsequently, a permanent parliamentary committee was set up by the government, which was to supervise compliance with these laws. After the murder of General Dalla Chiesa, prefect of Palermo, in 1982, a High Commissioner was appointed to coordinate the fight against the mafia. However, the first successes were not achieved until 1986 with the arrest in the United States of Tommaso Buscetta, the main “boss” of the Sicilian mafia. Hundreds of arrests were then made, followed by mass trials, including in Palermo. However, many convicts were soon released, probably because of the mafia's links with high political and judicial authorities. The murders of Mafia fighters and judges Giovanni Falcone and his successor Paolo Borsellino in 1992 gave new impetus to the fight against the mafia. In total, eleven mafia judges have been murdered so far.

Totò Riina, big man of the Cosa Nostra, arrestedTotò Riina, big man of the Cosa Nostra, arrestedPhoto: Shirto CC 4.0 International co changes made

Thanks to the cooperation of many Mafia members (pentiti = repentants) who received freedom from punishment and protection in exchange for their statements, the leaders of the organization could also be arrested, such as the big boss in Sicily, Salvatore (Totò) Riina and the The Mafia's second man, Nitto Santapaolo. Riina was sentenced to life in March 1995. At the end of 1992, there were already more than four hundred of these repentants. The efforts of the Milan prosecutor led by the prosecutor Antonio di Pietro revealed the links between organized crime, politics and business. All this dealt heavy blows to the mafia, but it in no way meant that the organization had been wiped out. Even re-elected President Silvio Berlusconi in 2001 is suspected of having close links with organized crime. From 1973, for example, a certain Vittorio Mangano worked on one of Berlusconi's estates, who had strong links with the Sicilian mafia.

The mafia bosses now rule in silence. Drug trafficking and extortion are still the order of the day. The highest boss of the Cosa Nostra at the moment is Matteo Messina Denaro (1962), a fugitive since 1993, who succeeds Bernardo Provenzano (1933), who was arrested in April 2006.

The 'Ndrangheta, a mafia organization in mainland Italy, was founded around 1860 in mountainous Calabria, in the south of Italy. The 'Ndrangheta, with a different structure from the Cosa Nostra, now has branches all over the world, and since the 1990s has surpassed Cosa Nostra as the most powerful crime organization in the world. In January 2021 a mega-trial started against at least 350 members of the 'Ndrangheta, including one capo, Luigi Mancuso, also called 'The Uncle', 'The Wolf ' or 'The Fat Man'.



After World War II, Italy turned into a modern industrial nation. Between 1950 and 1980, the gross national product (GNP) per capita grew by 200%. After 1980 it all went a bit less and growth fell to an average of 1.3% per year. In recent years, Italy has faced a severe economic crisis and the economy shrinks by -2.4% in 2012 and -1.8% in 2013. After this, the economy will recover somewhat, but will lag behind at European level. The growth in 2017 was 1.5%. As a result, the unemployment rate rose to 11.3% in 2017 and a public debt grew.

 Italian current account balance, % of GDP (1950-2014) Italian current account balance, % of GDP (1950-2014)Photo: T,C&S at Italian Wikipedia CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

A striking feature of the Italian economy is the large difference in prosperity and development between the industrialized north and the still predominantly agricultural south.

The causes must be sought in differences in historical development, geographic location and physical environment. Since 1950, with the establishment of a development fund for the south (Cassa per il Mezzogiorno), the government has been trying to close the existing wealth gap. Initially, most of the enormous investment money was used to modernize the agricultural sector and improve infrastructure. However, when it turned out that the modernization of the agricultural sector did not increase employment, but rather reduced employment, the emphasis shifted to investments for rapid industrialization. Although the income level in the south has risen sharply as a result, the gap with the north is still far from being eliminated.

The turbulent economic growth after 1945 is therefore almost entirely due to the industrial expansion that took place in the north. The industrial complexes created in the south are not very labor-intensive, static units, which can often only be maintained with public support.

The major role of the government was characteristic of the Italian economy. Not only the local supply companies, the railways and the airlines are state-owned companies, but also the oil and natural gas companies, the steel industry, the ship and train building, the machine industry and the blast furnaces were for the most part state-owned. Large-scale privatizations must increase the effectiveness of the business community and reduce the government deficit. In 1997 it was decided to dismantle the state-owned company IRI in 3 years, which would facilitate the sale of various state-owned companies.

The remarkable thing about Italy as a modern industrial state is the fact that 90% of Italian (family) companies have between 11 and 500 employees, so there are a lot of small and medium-sized businesses. On the other hand, 40% of companies with less than 50 employees depend mainly on exports.

Agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishing


Only 3.9% of the population was employed in agriculture in 2017. The share of this sector in GNP was 2.1% in the same year. Many farms are very small: approx. 75% of the farms have an area of less than 5 hectares. Agriculture in central and southern Italy has a mainly traditional character and is the main means of subsistence south of the Arno River. In the wet season maize is grown in the south and viticulture and olive cultivation are also very characteristic of these regions.

 Field near Ogliano, Conegliano in ItalyField near Ogliano, Conegliano in ItalyPhoto: Tiia Monto CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The precipitation frequency is important for the type of crops that can be grown. Furthermore, Italy consists of only 20% low plains, so that the steep slopes can actually only be used for forestry or as pasture land. The size of the agricultural businesses varies greatly from region to region. However, small businesses still dominate, but areas in the Alps and Apennines are also home to many large companies. The Po Valley is the most productive agricultural area in Italy. The lowlands of Campania are the best agricultural area in southern Italy due to the volcanic soil.

The main cereals are of course wheat as the raw material for the many pastas, followed by corn and rice. Wheat is mainly grown in central and southern Italy, maize in the plains north of the Po and rice in the Po plain around Milan between the rivers Dora Baltea and Adda.

Other widely cultivated crops are legumes (also for export: Italy is Europe's largest producer of soybeans) throughout Italy, potatoes mainly in central Italy, tobacco in Apulia, hemp around Naples and in the Podelta and cotton in Sicily. The cultivation of fruit and vegetables is spread all over Italy and the flower cultivation is found in Liguria, among other places.

Tree cultures are also typical of the agricultural landscape, with many grapes, olives and citrus fruits.

Village in the Chianti Hills, Tuscany, ItalyVillage in the Chianti Hills, Tuscany, ItalyPhoto: CC 4.0 International no changes made

Viticulture occurs throughout Italy and consists of two thirds of red and one third of white wine. The famous Chianti wine comes from the Tuscany region. Four different grape varieties are used for this wine, which are grown in the Chianti mountains. Olive cultivation takes place mainly in Apulia and Calabria and the olives are mainly processed into olive oil. Oranges and lemons are mainly grown in the southern regions of Sicily, Campania and Calabria. Apples, pears and plums are becoming much more common in the north, e.g. Emilia-Romagna and South Tyrol.

The mulberry trees for silk cultivation are mostly in the Po Valley. The region around Alba, in Piedmont, and the area around Norcia and Spoleto, in Umbria, are the truffle paradises of Italy. Today truffles are traced by dogs instead of pigs.

Livestock farming

Cattle farming is mainly found in Lombardy, Veneto, Piemonte and Emilia-Romagna. Milk production is almost entirely concentrated in Northern Italy. However, milk is mainly imported from Germany

Sheep and goat farming is becoming more common in the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. The pig farms are mainly located in Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy.

Tuscan Chianina breed, where the Florentine steaks come from Tuscan Chianina breed, where the Florentine steaks come fromPhoto: Monica from Anghiari (AR), Italy CC 2.0 Generic no changes made


About 23% of the Italian land area is covered by forests, which are used for wood and fuel supply. Sixty percent of the Italian forests are located in Northern and Central Italy. Forty percent can be found in southern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia.

For hundreds of years, large-scale deforestation has taken place and reforestation is currently taking place to reduce erosion. Real wood regions are Trentino-Alto Adige and Lombardy.


The Italian fishery mainly takes place off the Adriatic coast and the main species fished for are anchovies, sardines, tuna, squid and crustaceans.

Mining and energy supply

Italy is very poor in raw materials. Coal, for example, is almost completely absent and iron ore is found in small quantities. Lead and zinc are mainly found in Sardinia and in the Alps. Italy used to be one of the largest producers of mercury. Marble is exploited at Carrara.

In Italy, about 80% of the energy required is imported from abroad. Natural gas is mainly imported from Algeria and Russia and oil from the Middle East.

One third of the electricity production comes from hydropower plants (mainly in the Alpine region) and the rest comes almost entirely from thermal power plants.


In 2017, 28.3% of the labor force worked in the industrial sector, which contributed 23.9% to GDP. Italy is the fourth industrial state in Europe after Germany, France and England.

The largest industries are distributed across the country as follows:

Iron and steel industry

Machine industry is mainly found in the north:

Turin: cars (especially Fiat), motorcycles and planes.

Milan: electrical engineering, locomotives, cars, scooters and motorcycles.

Genoa: shipyards.

Other important industrial cities in the north are: Bologna, Vicenza, Ivrea (Olivetti), Brescia, Pavia and Legnano (textile machines).

Logo Fiat, ItalyLogo Fiat, ItalyPhoto: SurfAst CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Chemical industry

Italy's chemical industry is one of the largest in the world due to the presence of raw materials and ports where imported raw materials such as petroleum, coal and phosphate are processed.

Turin: rubber and plastics (Pirelli tires).

Milan: petrochemicals (Montedison).

Palermo, Crotone, Porto Empedocle: fertilizers because of the livestock farming there.

Textile industry

Northwest Po plain: textile industry.

Como: silk industry that is still the most important in Western Europe.

Varese-Bergamo-Milan, Val Seriana: cotton industry.

Lombardy, Piedmont, Naples, Calabria: rayon yarn and synthetic fibers.

Food, beverages and tobacco industry

The companies in this industry are distributed all over the country.

Southern Italy and Sicily: pasta factories.

Naples and Salerno: food industry related to the presence of vegetable and tomato cultivation (pasta sauces).

Perugia: chocolate.

Milan: panettone, a type of Christmas pastry.

Other industries

Como, Brescia and the south of Piemonte: cement industry due to the presence of lime and marl.

Milan, Como and Pisa: wood processing, furniture manufacture.

Vigevano, Varese province: shoe industry.


The most important import products are petroleum, raw materials for the metal and textile industry, wood, machinery, cars and food (including meat). The main import partners in 2017 were: Germany (16.3%), France (8.8%), China (7.1%), the Netherlands (5.6%), Spain (5.3%) and Belgium (4 , 5%).

The main exports are textiles, citrus, wine, machinery, cars, computers, plastics and petroleum products.

Export products ItalyExport products ItalyPhoto: Alexander Simoes, Cesar Hidalgo, et. al. CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

The main export partners in 2017 were: Germany (12.5%), France (10.3%), United States (9%), Spain (5.2%), United Kingdom (4.7%) and Switzerland (4 , 6%).


The Alps and to a lesser extent the Apennines are gigantic obstacles to traffic. Despite this, Italy has an excellent network of transport connections. The Italian road network is of reasonable quality. The total length is more than 300,000 km, of which 70,000 km is autostrada. The most famous motorway is the "autostrada del sole", which runs along the west side of the boot and thus forms the main artery for all of Italy.

The railway network covers 20,000 km, of which more than 12,000 km is electrified.

Due to siltation and silting on the one hand and the rocky arched coasts on the other, the coast is not very attractive for shipping, but Italy still has a number of good natural harbors.

Genoa is the main port, followed by Venice, Naples, Savona, Livorno, La Spezia, Taranto and Trieste. Inland shipping is not of big importance.

The largest airports are located in Rome (Fiumicino) and Milan (Linate). The state airline is Alitalia.

Airbus A320-216 of Alitalia, national airline of ItalyAirbus A320-216 of Alitalia, national airline of ItalyPhoto: ERIC SALARD CC 2.0 Generic no changes made

Holidays and Sightseeing

Italy is the most popular holiday destination in the world after France, the United States and Spain. About 35 million tourists visit Italy every year. For tourists, Italy is a country of mainly sun, water and culture. The tourists therefore generally go to the Adriatic and Ligurian coast, the major cultural centers of Rome, Florence and Venice and the winter sports resorts in Trentino-Alto Adige. The lakes in the north of Italy are also very attractive for tourism.

Almost half of all tourists visit the northeastern region, where Venice is located. One in four tourists visits the three major tourist cities: Rome, Florence and Venice. The south attracts about 20% of all tourists.

Bologna is a large university city in the north of Italy with a beautiful medieval center. Not only Pisa has a leaning tower, Bologna even has two! They were built in the Middle Ages by wealthy families. The Asinelli and the Garisenda in Piazza di Porta Ravegnana are made of brick and are 97 and 48 meters high respectively. The Asinelli can be climbed, the Garisenda cannot. One thing is certain: the towers together form the landmark of Bologna. The Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio is a beautiful old university building. Today the building serves as a library and houses one of the Bologna's greatest attractions: the Teatro Anatomica. The theater dates from the 17th century and was used as an autopsy site until 1803. The dissections took place under the watchful eye of a priest who immediately intervened if the autopsy would detract from religious norms and values.

Teatro Anatomico, Bologna, ItalyTeatro Anatomico, Bologna, ItalyPhoto: Palickap CC 4.0 International no changes made

There is an incredible amount to see in Florence, below are some of the most famous sights, especially from the Renaissance. The famous and enormous Uffizi Gallery is located on the banks of the Arno River and the beautiful art collection is decorated to illustrate the art story of Florence. There are many famous masterpieces on display, such as Botticelli's Birth of Venus, Titian's Venus of Urbino, Michelangelo's Holy Family and Piero della Francesca's “Duke and Duchess of Urbino”. The museum owns the art collection of the de Medici family, which was bequeathed to Florence in 1737, on condition that it would never leave the city. Partly because of this, the Uffizi Gallery remains one of the most important art museums in the world. The Bargello is a huge building built in 1255 and it was originally the police headquarters and also a prison. The Bargello is now home to the National Museum, which contains one of the most impressive collections of Renaissance sculpture in the world. Highlights include works of art such as Michelangelo's 'Drunken Bacchus', Donatello's 'David', Giambologna's 'Mercury' and also the designs submitted by Brunelleschi for the doors of the Duomo. The Duomo, or Florence Cathedral, is in the heart of the city. Dominating the city with its enormous dome, the Church was designed in 1334 by the city architect Giotto and completed in 1359, although it took almost two centuries to finally complete it. Today it is still the tallest building in Florence and one of the city's most famous landmarks. The huge dome was designed by Brunelleschi and it was a revolutionary achievement as it was the largest dome of the time and was built without scaffolding. The inner shell provided a platform for the beams that supported the outer structure. There are 463 steps that lead to the top of the dome, where visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the city. Other highlights include the many beautiful frescoes, detailed ceiling mosaics and stained glass windows created by some of the great artists of the time, such as Vasari, Zuccari, Donatello, Uccello and Ghiberti.

Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, ItalyGalleria degli Uffizi, Florence, ItalyPhoto: Michelle Maria CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Milan is one of the most important and stylish cities in Italy. Most of the main attractions in Milan are in the center and there is plenty to see. The most important church is the enormous Duomo, the fourth largest cathedral in the world, which was built for about four centuries. There is also the Castello Sforzeco, a fortress built in 1368, which was later converted into an elegant and beautiful Renaissance residence. The Scala (Opera House) was completed in 1776 and shows beautiful theatrical productions. The Santa Maria delle Grazie is a beautiful church dating back to 1463, where 'The Last Supper' by the famous painter Leonardo da Vinci can be seen.

Scala, Milan, ItalyScala, Milan, ItalyPhoto: Jakub Halun CC 4.0 International no changes made

Naple's historic city center is the largest in Europe, covering 1,700 hectares. In 1995 it was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In the vicinity of the city there are many interesting sights such as Pompeii and the Bay of Naples. Naples itself is a vibrant and bustling city, full of remarkable historical and artistic treasures and narrow, winding streets with small shops. The top sights are the Palace of Caserta and the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Pompeii with the volcano Vesuvius in the background, Naples, Italy Pompeii with the volcano Vesuvius in the background, Naples, ItalyPhoto: Qfl247 CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Rome has been the capital of Italy since 1871. It is a gigantic city with almost 3 million inhabitants. Rome has a rich history in which the city has been the most powerful place of Antiquity, the Roman Empire and the Catholic world. Rome and the Vatican City are really overflowing with interesting sights. An attraction in Rome that really appeals to the imagination is the glorious Colosseum from the time when Rome was the center of the Roman Empire. Construction of the gigantic complex was completed in AD 80 under the authority of Emperor Titus. The name of the structure most likely refers to the colossal size of the amphitheater. With a height of 57 meters, a width of 156 meters and a length of 188 meters, it was not only the largest amphitheater in Rome, but in the entire Roman Empire. Every year many interested people go to Rome to visit the Vatican City. The Vatican does not officially belong to Rome and Italy; it is an autonomous state within the city. The Vatican City is the smallest independent country in the world and it is also affectionately referred to as a miniature state. Vatican City was founded in 1929 and is the Catholic power center of the world, the head of the Vatican City is therefore the Pope.

Inside the Colosseum, Rome, ItalyInside the Colosseum, Rome, ItalyPhoto: Nicolelouisee CC 4.0 International no changes made

Trieste is often mistakenly overlooked by tourists who usually choose to visit the more famous Italian cities with their highly developed tourist infrastructure, such as Venice (162 km to the west). Trieste is one of the most unique cities in Italy and much of its former grandeur is still clearly visible in the form of imposing buildings with beautiful neoclassical facades. With its many cultural attractions, quality museums, coffee houses and ancient Roman remains, Trieste is the perfect base for those wishing to explore the region. The beautiful central square is without a doubt the most typical image of Trieste. It is the largest square, facing the sea, in Europe and covers 12,280 m². The square's name has undergone numerous changes over more than 700 years. Originally it was known as St. Peter's Square, after the church of the same name. Also, for a long time, it was simply referred to as Piazza Grande, before taking the name of Piazza Unità after the city became part of the Kingdom of Italy after WWI. The square is lined with some of the city's most impressive and important buildings, as well as several great monuments and a few historic cafes and coffee houses.

Piazza dell'Unità d'Italia, Trieste, ItalyPiazza dell'Unità d'Italia, Trieste, ItalyPhoto: Joergsam CC 4.0 International no changes made

Venice is breathtaking and completely unique. The city was founded about 1500 years ago and consists of more than 100 different islands connected by 150 canals, 400 bridges and many old streets. Venice's historic center is divided into six districts (sestieri) - Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Marco, San Polo and Santa Croce. All buildings in Venice are propped up with posts driven deep into the ground to create a solid foundation. Piazza San Marco is the beating heart of Venice. This square has been a popular tourist attraction for centuries and is also home to many hundreds of pigeons. The square is the center of Venetian life and there is always an exciting atmosphere in this busy square, with many cafes with often live music. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful squares in the whole world, St. Mark's Square is surrounded on three sides by arcades with public buildings. The beautiful round domes of the remarkable Basilica San Marco add to the atmosphere. As well as the 15th-century Torre dell'Orologio tower and the two pillars with the city's patron saints: the figure of Theodore and of course the winged lion of San Marco himself.

Piazza San Marco, Venice, ItalyPiazza San Marco, Venice, ItalyPhoto: Tiia Monto, CC 3.0 Unported no changes made

Verona is best known for serving as the backdrop for William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. There are a number of sights that are directly related to this, such as the Montechi House (house of Romeo) and the balcony in the Casa di Guilietta. Verona has a beautiful old center with interesting buildings and squares, a cathedral, a fortress and several church buildings that are more than worth a visit. Historical highlights include the Roman arena, the 18th-century Piazza Bra and the many surrounding palaces and the beautiful Renaissance garden, the Giardino Giusti, where Mozart is said to have regularly walked there.

Verona Arena, ItalyVerona Arena, ItalyPhoto: Claconvr CC 4.0 International no changes made

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Raintree Steck-Vaughn Publishers


Europese Unie : vijftien landendocumentaties
Europees Platform voor het Nederlandse Onderwijs

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Macmillan Press

CIA - World Factbook
BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated December 2021
Copyright: Team Landenweb