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

.621 trillion ( 8th)
.672 trillion ( 6th)
,727 ( 19th)
,599 ( 20th)
HDI (2003) 0.934 ( 18th)
Currency Euro (€)2
Time zone
- in summer
CET ( UTC+1)
National anthem Il Canto degli Italiani
Internet TLD .it
Calling Code +39
1 French is co-official in the Aosta Valley; German is co-official in South Tyrol.
2 Prior to 1999: Italian Lira.
Italy, officially the Italian Republic ( Italian: Italia or Repubblica Italiana), is a country in southern Europe. It comprises the boot-shaped Italian peninsula, the Po River valley, and two large islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia, and shares its northern alpine boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The independent countries of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italian territory.For more than 3,000 years Italy witnessed many migrations and invasions from Germanic, Celtic, Frankish, Byzantine Greek, Saracens, Norman, and the French Angevin, and Lombard peoples. Italy was also home to many well-known and influential civilisations, including the Etruscans, Greeks and the Romans.Italy is called Belpaese (Italian for beautiful country) by its inhabitants, due to the beauty and variety of its landscapes and for its world's largest artistic patrimony; the country is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (40 until January 1, 2006).Presently, Italy is a highly developed country with the 6th GDP in 2004, a member of G8 and a founding member of what is now the European Union signing the Treaty of Rome in 1957.

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History - Contents

Italy has influenced the cultural and social development of the whole Mediterranean area, deeply influencing European culture as well. Important cultures and civilizations have existed there since prehistoric times. After Magna Graecia, the Etruscan civilization and especially the Roman Republic and Empire that dominated this part of the world for many centuries, Italy was central to European science and art during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.Modern Italy became a nation-state belatedly — on March 17, 1861, when most of the states of the peninsula were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty, which ruled over Sardinia and Piedmont. The architects of Italian unification were Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Chief Minister of Victor Emmanuel, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, a general and national hero. Rome itself remained for a little less than a decade under the Papacy, and became part of the Kingdom of Italy only on September 20, 1870. The Vatican is now an independent enclave surrounded by Rome.

Politics - Contents

Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, President of the Italian Republic since 1999.
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, President of the Italian Republic since 1999.
The 1948 Constitution of Italy established a bicameral parliament (Parlamento), consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and a Senate (Senato della Repubblica), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers ( cabinet) (Consiglio dei ministri), headed by the prime minister (Presidente del consiglio dei ministri). The President of the Republic (Presidente della Repubblica) is elected for 7 years by the parliament sitting jointly with a small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime minister, who proposes the other ministers (formally named by the president). The Council of Ministers must retain the support (fiducia) of both houses.The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected by a mixed majoritarian and proportional representation system. Under 1993 legislation, Italy has single-member districts for 75% of the seats in parliament; the remaining 25% of seats are allotted on a proportional basis. The Chamber of Deputies has officially 630 members (de facto, 619 only after the 2001 elections). In addition to 315 senators, elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other persons (no more than 5) appointed for life by the President of the Republic according to special constitutional provisions. Both houses are elected for a maximum of 5 years, but either may be dissolved before the expiration of its normal term. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both. The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes. A constitutional court, the Corte Costituzionale, passes on the constitutionality of laws, and is a post-World War II innovation.All the Italian citizens older than 18 can vote. To vote for the senate, the voter must be at least 25.

Regions - Contents

Map of Italy
Map of Italy
Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni, singular regione). Five of these regions enjoy a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their specific local matters, and are marked by an *:
  • Abruzzo (with capital L'Aquila)
  • Aosta Valley*, Valle d'Aosta / Vallée d'Aoste ( Aosta)
  • Apulia, Puglia ( Bari)
  • Basilicata ( Potenza)
  • Calabria ( Catanzaro)
  • Campania ( Naples, Napoli)
  • Emilia-Romagna ( Bologna)
  • Friuli-Venezia Giulia* ( Trieste)
  • Latium, Lazio ( Rome, Roma)
  • Liguria ( Genoa, Genova)
  • Lombardy Lombardia ( Milan, Milano)
  • Marche ( Ancona)
  • Molise ( Campobasso)
  • Piedmont, Piemonte ( Turin, Torino)
  • Sardinia*, Sardegna ( Cagliari)
  • Sicily*, Sicilia ( Palermo)
  • Trentino-South Tyrol*, Trentino-Alto Adige / Südtirol ( Trento)
  • Tuscany, Toscana ( Florence Firenze)
  • Umbria ( Perugia)
  • Veneto ( Venice, Venezia)
All regions except the Aosta Valley are further subdivided into two or more provinces.

Geography - Contents

Italy consists predominantly of a large peninsula (the Italian peninsula) with a distinctive boot shape that extends into the Mediterranean Sea, where together with its two main islands Sicily and Sardinia it creates distinct bodies of water, such as the Adriatic Sea to the north-east, the Ionian Sea to the south-east, the Tyrrhenian Sea to the south-west and finally the Ligurian Sea to the north-west.The Apennine mountains form the backbone of this peninsula, leading north-west to where they join the Alps, the mountain range that then forms an arc enclosing Italy from the north. Here is also found a large alluvial plain, the Po-Venetian plain, drained by the Po River--which is the Italy's biggest river--and its many tributaries flowing down from the Alps, Apennines and Dolomites.Other well-known rivers include the Tiber, Adige and Arno.Its highest point is Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) at 4,810 m, but Italy is more typically associated with two famous volcanoes: the currently dormant Vesuvius near Naples and the very active Etna on Sicily. Sicily and Sardinia are the two major islands of Italy ( comprehensive list).

Demographics - Contents

Italy is largely homogeneous in language and religion but is diverse culturally, economically, and politically. The country has the fifth-highest population density in Europe at 194 persons per square kilometre. Indigenous minority groups are small. For a country of 58.4 million people, Italy has a smaller number of migrants compared to France and Germany.Since the beginning of Roman civilisation, important ethnic groups like Greek settlers, Germanic and Celtic invaders and plunderers, and Norman colonisers have all left important impressions on the people today. However, they have all been absorbed in a homogeneous Italian ethnic group.The number of immigrants or foreign residents in Italy have steadily increased to reach 2,402,157, according to the latest figures (1/2005) of ISTAT. They currently make up a little more than 4 % of the official total population. According to these statistics, the largest foreign minorities are Albanians (316,659), Moroccan (294,945), Romanian (248,8491), Chinese (111,712), and Ukrainian (93,441). Remaining groups include those who are Tunisian, Macedonians, Serbians, and Filipinos etc.

Religion - Contents

Roman Catholicism is by far the most popular religion in the country. According to estimates by (CIA World Fact Book 2005, Italian polls,, BBCNews and others), it is safe to conclude that 87% of the Italian population self-identify as Roman Catholic, whereas around 13% identify with either other religions or none at all. Italy also has some important pilgrimages and famous Roman Catholic churches, cathedrals and sites. According to many other books (Reference) surveys (from Gallup, Christian Science Monitor, and others) Italy can claim above 40% weekly church attendance rate.The second largest Christian group in Italy are Jehovah's Witnesses with some 400,000 [2] active members, and are growing annually. There are few Protestant denominations in Italy, mostly Waldensians. Recent immigration from the North Africa has led to an increasing number of Muslims, but has cooled off due to larger immigration from Eastern Europe. The Muslim population currently stands at 825,000[3] (legal immigrants) or 1.4% of the population, lower than many Western European nations. Around 30,000 Jews, and 30,000 Buddhists live in Italy.

Economy - Contents

A member of the G8 group of leading industrialised countries, it ranked as the sixth- largest economy in the world in 2004, behind the United States, Japan, Germany, UK, and France. According to the OECD, in 2004 Italy was the world's sixth-largest exporter of manufactured goods. This capitalistic economy remains divided into a developed industrial north, dominated by private companies, and a less developed agricultural south (with 20% unemployment).Most raw materials needed by industry and more than 75% of energy requirements are imported. Over the past decade, Italy has pursued a tight fiscal policy in order to meet the requirements of the Economic and Monetary Union and has benefited from lower interest and inflation rates. Italy joined the Euro from its conception in 1999.Italy's economic performance has at times lagged behind that of its EU partners, and the current government has enacted numerous short-term reforms aimed at improving competitiveness and long-term growth. It has moved slowly, however, on implementing certain structural reforms favoured by economists, such as lightening the high tax burden and overhauling Italy's rigid labour market and expensive pension system, because of the current economic slowdown and opposition from labour unions.
  • List of Italian companies

Languages - Contents

The official language of Italy is Standard Italian - a direct descendant of Latin (some 75% of Italian words are of Latin origin).When Italy was unified, in 1861, Italian existed mainly as a literary language, and was spoken by less than 3% of the population. Different languages were spoken throughout Italian peninsula, many of which were romance languages which had developed in every region, due to political fregmentation of Italy2. Indeed, each historical region of Italy had its own so-called "dialect" (with "dialect" usually meaning, improperly, a non-Italian romance language), with variants existing at the township-level.Massimo d'Azeglio, one of Cavour's ministers, is said to have stated, following Italian unification, that having created Italy, all that remained was to create Italians. Given the high number of languages spoken throughout the peninsula, it was quickly established that 'proper' or 'standard' Italian would be based on the Florentine dialect spoken in most of Tuscany (given that it was the first region to produce authors such as Dante Alighieri, who between 1308 and 1321 wrote the Divina Commedia). A national education system was established - leading to a decrease in variation in the languages spoken throughout the country over time. It was not until the 60s, with the advent of the state television broadcaster, RAI, that Italian truly became broadly-known and quite standardised.Today, Italian is fully comprehensible to all throughout the country, but regional variations in the form of accents and vowel emphasis persist. In addition, particular dialects have become cherished beacons of regional variation and are becoming recently more protected (especially the Neapolitan dialect which is extensively used for the singing of popular folk-songs).Apart from standard Italian, regional variations and "dialects", a number of truly separate languages do exist. In the north, the province of South Tyrol (Südtirol in German, Alto Adige in Italian) is almost entirely German-speaking; the area was awarded to Italy following the First World War and her defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Pockets of German speakers also persist in other north-eastern Italian regions - a remnant of the old Austrian influence on this area of Italy. In total some 300,000 or so Italians speak German as their first language and indeed identify themselves as ethnic Austrians. Some 120,000 or so people live in the Aosta Valley region, where a Franco-Provençal dialect very similar to French called Patois is spoken. About 80,000 Slovene-speakers live in the north-eastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia near the border with Slovenia. Some 40,000 Ladin-speakers (Ladin is a Rhaetian language spoken in the Dolomite mountains) also live in the Trentino-South Tyrol region and in the Veneto region. A very large community of some 700,000 people in Friuli speak Friulian - another Rhaetian language. In the Molise region of central-south Italy some 4,000 people speak Serbo-Croatian - these are the descendants of a group of people who migrated from the Balkans in the Middle Ages. Scattered across Southern Italy are a number of some 30,000 Greek-speakers - considered to be the last surviving traces of the region's Greek heritage (Ancient Greek colonists reached Southern Italy and Sicily about 1500 BC). Some 15,000 Catalan speakers reside around the area of Alghero in the north-west corner of Sardinia - believed to be the result of a migration of a large group of Catalans from Barcelona in ages past. Around 100,000 (the Arbëreshë) in Southern Italy and in central Sicily speak Albanian - the result of past migrations. Finally, the largest group of non-Italian speakers (some 1.6 million people) are the ones who speak Sardinian - a romance language which evolved quite independently from Italian. The arrival of immigrants has generated a plethora of new languages, including Arabic, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Turkish, Kurdish, Mandarin Chinese, and others. Even today, variations in local accents allow people from one town to distinguish people from a neighbouring town which may be only a few miles away. There is a growing population of Jews and Muslims in Italy, many of whom speak Hebrew and Arabic, respectively.
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