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Italy (Italian: Italia), officially the Italian Republic, (Italian: Repubblica Italiana), is located on the Italian Peninsula in Southern Europe, and on the two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia. Italy shares its northern Alpine boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The independent states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within the Italian Peninsula, while Campione d'Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland.


Italy has been the home of many European cultures, such as the Etruscans and the Romans, and later was the birthplace of the movement of the Renaissance, that began in Tuscany and spread all over Europe. Italy's capital Rome has been for centuries the center of Western civilization, and is the seat of the Catholic Church.

Today, Italy is a democratic republic, and a developed country with the 7th-highest GDP, the 8th-highest Quality-of-life index, and the 20th-highest Human Development Index rating in the world. It is a founding member of what is now the European Union (having signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957), and also a member of the G8, NATO, the Council of Europe, the Western European Union, and the Central European Initiative. Beginning January 1, 2007 Italy became a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

The origin of the term "Italy" (It: Italia), from Latin Italia, is uncertain. According to one of the more common explanations, the term was borrowed through Greek, from Oscan Víteliú, meaning "land of young cattle" (cf. Lat vitulus "calf", Umb vitlo "calf") and named for the god of cattle, Mars. The bull was a symbol of the southern Italian tribes and is often depicted goring the Roman wolf as a defiant symbol of free Italy during the Samnite Wars.

The name Italia applied to a part of what is now southern Italy. According to Antiochus of Syracuse, it originally only referred to the southern portion of the Bruttium peninsula (modern Calabria), but by his time Oenotrians and Italy had become synonymous, and the name also applied to most of Lucania as well. The Greeks gradually came to use the name "Italia" for a greater region, but it was not until the time of the Roman conquests that the term was expanded to cover the entire peninsula.

1. Prehistory to Magna Graecia - Excavations throughout Italy reveal human presence dating back to the Palaeolithic period (the "Old Stone Age") some 200,000 years ago. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, driven by unsettled conditions at home, Greek colonies were established in places as widely separated as the eastern coast of the Black Sea and Massilia (what is now Marseille, France). They included settlements in Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula. The Romans called the area of Sicily and the foot of the boot of Italy Magna Graecia (Latin, “Greater Greece”), since it was so densely inhabited by Greeks.

2. Ancient Rome - The Colosseum in Rome, perhaps the most enduring symbol of ItalyAncient Rome was a civilization that grew from a small agricultural community founded on the Italian Peninsula circa the 8th century BC to a colossal empire straddling the Mediterranean Sea. In its twelve-century existence, Roman civilization shifted from a monarchy, to a republic based on a combination of oligarchy and democracy, to an autocratic empire. It came to dominate Western Europe and the entire area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea through conquest and assimilation.

Italia, under the Roman Republic and later Empire, was the name of the Italian Peninsula. During the Republic, Italia (which extended at the time from Rubicon to Calabria) was not a province, but rather the territory of the city of Rome, thus having a special status: for example, military commanders were not allowed to bring their armies within Italia, and Julius Caesar passing the Rubicon with his legions marked the start of the civil war.

From the 3rd century, the Roman Empire went into decline. The western half of the empire, including Hispania, Gaul, and Italy, broke into independent kingdoms in the 5th century. The eastern empire, governed from Constantinople, is usually referred to as the Byzantine Empire after 476, the traditional date for the "fall of Rome" and for the subsequent onset of the Early Middle Ages, also known as the Dark Ages.

3. Middle Ages - The Iron Crown with which Lombard rulers were crowned. They established a Kingdom of Italy which lasted until 774, when it was conquered by the Franks. Their influence on Italian political geography is plainly visible in the regional appellation LombardyIn the sixth century AD the Byzantine Emperor Justinian reconquered Italy from the Ostrogoths. The invasion of a new wave of Germanic tribes, the Lombards, doomed his attempt to resurrect the Western Roman Empire but the repercussions of Justinian's failure resounded further still. For the next thirteen centuries, whilst new nation-states arose in the lands north of the Alps, the Italian political landscape was a patchwork of feuding city states, petty tyrannies, and foreign invaders.

For several centuries the armies and Exarchs, Justinian's successors, were a tenacious force in Italian affairs - strong enough to prevent other powers such as the Arabs, the Holy Roman Empire, or the Papacy from establishing a unified Italian Kingdom, but too weak to drive out these "interlopers" and recreate Roman Italy. Later Imperial orders such as the Carolingians, the Ottonians and Hohenstaufens also managed to impose their overlordship in Italy. But their successes were as transitory as Justinian's and a unified Italian state remained a dream until the nineteenth century.

No ultramontane Empire could succeed in unifying Italy—or in achieving more than a temporary hegemony—because its success threatened the survival of medieval Italy's other powers: the Byzantines, the Papacy, and the Normans. These—and the descendants of the Lombards, who became fused with earlier Italian ethnic groups—conspired against, fought, and eventually destroyed any attempt to create a dominant political order in Italy. It was against this vacuum of authority that one must view the rise of the institutions of the Signoria and the Comune.

4. Comuni and Signorie - Palazzo Vecchio, originally called the Palazzo della SignoriaIn Italian history the rise of the Signorie (sing.: Signoria) is a phase often associated with the decline of the medieval commune system of government and the rise of the dynastic state. In this context the word Signoria (here to be understood as "Lordly Power") is used in opposition to the institution of the Commune or city republic.

Indeed, contemporary observers and modern historians see the rise of the Signoria as a reaction to the failure of the Communi to maintain law-and-order and suppress party strife and civil discord. In the anarchic conditions that often prevailed in medieval Italian city states, people looked to strong men to restore order and disarm the feuding elites. In times of anarchy or crisis, cities sometimes offered the Signoria to individuals perceived as strong enough to save the state. For example, the Tuscan state of Pisa offered the Signoria to Charles VIII of France in the hope that he would protect the independence of Pisa from its long term enemy Florence. Similarly, Siena offered the Signoria to Cesare Borgia.

5. Types of Signoria - The composition and specific functions of the Signoria varied from city to city. In some states (such as Verona under the Della Scala family or Florence in the days of Cosimo de Medici and Lorenzo the Magnificent) the polity was what we would term today a single party state in which the dominant party had vested the Signoria of the state in a single family or dynasty.

In Florence this arrangement was unofficial as it was not constitutionally formalized before the Medici were expelled from the city in 1494.

In other states (such as the Milan of the Visconti) the dynasty's right to the Signoria was a formally recognized part of the Commune's constitution, which had been "ratified" by the People and recognized by the Pope or the Holy Roman Empire.

6. Maritime Republics - Jack of the Italian Navy, sporting the coat of arms of the four main Repubbliche Marinare Italy at this time was notable for its merchant Republics, including the Republic of Florence and the Maritime Republics. They were city-states and they were generally republics in that they were formally independent, though most of them originated from territories once belonging to the Byzantine Empire (the main exceptions being Genoa and Pisa). All these cities during the time of their independence had similar (though not identical) systems of government in which the merchant class had considerable power. Although in practice these were oligarchical, and bore little resemblance to a modern democracy, the relative political freedom they afforded was conducive to academic and artistic advancement.

The four classic Maritime Republics in Italy are Venice, Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi and they are always given in that order, reflecting the temporal sequence of their dominance. However, other towns in Italy also have a history of being Maritime Republics, though historically less prominent. These include Gaeta, Ancona, Molfetta, Trani and, in Dalmatia (under Italian cultural influence), Ragusa and Zara.

Venice and Genoa were Europe's gateway to trade with the East, and a producer of fine glass, while Florence was a capital of silk, wool, banks and jewelry. The wealth such business brought to Italy meant that large public and private artistic projects could be commissioned. The Maritime Republics were heavily involved in the Crusades, providing support but most especially taking advantage of the political and trading opportunities resulting from these wars. The Fourth Crusade, notionally intended to "liberate" Jerusalem, actually entailed the Venetian conquest of Zara and Constantinople.

Each of the Maritime Republics over time had dominion over different overseas lands, including many of the islands of the Mediterranean and especially Sardinia and Corsica, lands on the Adriatic, and lands in the Near East and North Africa.

7. Renaissance - The unique political structures of late Middle Ages Italy have led some to theorise that its unusual social climate allowed the emergence of a rare cultural efflorescence. Italy was divided into smaller city states and territories: the kingdom of Naples controlled the south, the Republic of Florence and the Papal States the centre, the Genoese and the Milanese the north and west, and the Venetians the east. Fifteenth-century Italy was one of the most urbanised areas in Europe. Most historians agree that the ideas that characterised the Renaissance had their origin in late 13th century Florence, in particular with the writings of Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Francesco Petrarch (1304–1374) and Giovanni Boccaccio (c. 1313–1375), as well as the painting of Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337).

The Renaissance was so called because it was a "rebirth" of certain classical ideas that had long been lost to Europe. It has been argued that the fuel for this rebirth was the rediscovery of ancient texts that had been forgotten by Western civilisation, but were preserved in some monastic libraries and in the Islamic world, and the translations of Greek and Arabic texts into Latin.

Renaissance scholars such as Niccolò de' Niccoli and Poggio Bracciolini scoured the libraries in search of works by such classical authors as Plato, Cicero and Vitruvius. The works of ancient Greek and Hellenistic writers (such as Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, and Ptolemy) and Muslim scientists were imported into the Christian world, providing new intellectual material for European scholars.

The Black Death in 1348 inflicted a terrible blow to Italy, killing one third of the population.

The recovery from the disaster led to a resurgence of cities, trade and economy which greatly stimulated the successive phase of the Humanism and Renaissance (15th-16th centuries) when Italy again returned to be the center of Western civilisation, strongly influencing the other European countries with Courts like Este in Ferrara and De Medici in Florence.

8. Foreign Domination (16th - 19th Centuries) - After a century where the fragmented system of Italian states and principalities were able to maintain a relative independence and a balance of power in the peninsula, in 1494 the French king Charles VIII opened the first of a series of invasions, lasting half of the sixteenth century, and a competition between France and Spain for the possession of the country. Ultimately Spain prevailed (the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559 recognised the Spanish possession of the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples) and for almost two centuries became the hegemon in Italy. The holy alliance between Habsburg Spain and the Holy See resulted in the systematic persecution of any Protestant movement, with the result that Italy remained a Catholic country with marginal Protestant presence. During its long rule on Italy, Spain systematically spoiled the country and imposed heavy taxation. Moreover, Spanish administration was slow and inefficient.

Austria succeeded Spain as hegemon in Italy after the Peace of Utrecht (1713), having acquired the State of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. The Austrian domination, thanks to the Enlightenment embraced by Habsburgic emperors, was a considerable improvement. The northern part of Italy, under the direct control of Vienna, gained economic dynamism and intellectual fervour.

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic War (1796-1815) introduced the ideas of equality, democracy, law and nation. The peninsula was not a main battle field as in the past but Napoleon (born in Corsica in 1769, one year after the cession of the island from Genoa to France) changed completely its political map, destroying in 1799 the Republic of Venice, which never recovered its independence. The states founded by Napoleon with the support of minority groups of Italian patriots were short-lived and did not survive the defeat of the French Emperor in 1815.

9. Risorgimento (1848-1870) - Giuseppe Garibaldi, the "Hero of the Two Worlds"The creation of the Kingdom of Italy was the result of concerted efforts by Italian nationalists and monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula.

The Kingdom of Sardinia industrialised from 1830 onward. A constitution, the Statuto Albertino was enacted in the year of revolutions, 1848, under liberal pressure. Under the same pressure, the First Italian War of Independence was declared on Austria. After initial success the war took a turn for the worse and the Kingdom of Sardinia lost.

After the Revolutions of 1848, the apparent leader of the Italian unification movement was Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi. He was popular amongst southern Italians. Garibaldi led the Italian republican drive for unification in southern Italy, but the northern Italian monarchy of the House of Savoy in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia whose government was led by Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, also had the ambition of establishing a united Italian state. Though the kingdom had no physical connection to Rome (deemed the natural capital of Italy), the kingdom had successfully challenged Austria in the Second Italian War of Independence, liberating Lombardy-Venetia from Austrian rule. The kingdom also had established important alliances which helped it improve the possibility of Italian unification, such as Britain and France in the Crimean War.

In 1866, Prussian Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck offered Victor Emmanuel II an alliance with the Kingdom of Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War. In exchange Prussia would allow Italy to annex Austrian-controlled Venice. King Emmanuel agreed to the alliance and the Third Italian War of Independence began. The victory against Austria allowed Italy to annex Venice. The one major obstacle to Italian unity remained Rome.

In 1870, Prussia went to war with France starting the Franco-Prussian War. To keep the large Prussian army at bay, France abandoned its positions in Rome in order to fight the Prussians. Italy benefited from Prussia's victory against France by being able to take over the Papal State from French authority. Italian unification was completed, and shortly afterward Italy's capital was moved to Rome.

10. Liberalism to Fascism (1870-1922) - Benito Mussolini, Fascist dictator of Italy 1922-43In Northern Italy, industrialisation and modernisation began in the last part of the nineteenth century. The south, at the same time, was overcrowded, forcing millions of people to search for a better life abroad. It is estimated that around one million Italian people moved to other European countries such as France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. Parliamentary democracy developed considerably in the twentieth century. The Sardinian Statuto Albertino of 1848, extended to the whole Kingdom of Italy in 1861, provided for basic freedoms, but the electoral laws excluded the non-propertied and uneducated classes from voting. In 1913, male universal suffrage was allowed. The Socialist Party became the main political party, outclassing the traditional liberal and conservative organisations. Starting from the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Italy developed its own colonial Empire. Italian colonies were Somalia and Eritrea. In addition, in 1911, Giovanni Giolitti's government agreed to sending forces to occupy Libya. Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire which held Libya. The annexation of Libya and of the Dodecanese (a group of island in the Aegean Sea) caused nationalists to advocate Italy's domination of the Mediterranean Sea by occupying Greece as well as the Adriatic coastal region of Dalmatia.

The path to a modern liberal democracy was interrupted by World War I. At first Italy stayed neutral, but in 1915, under pressure from the United Kingdom and France, Italy signed the London Pact by which she became an allied belligerent. In return, the two Powers promised that, at the end of the war, Italy would receive Trento, Trieste, Istria, Dalmatia and some territories in Turkey. Italy managed to defeat the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in November 1918, but only with the considerable help of French and British army divisions and the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Army. During the war, 600,000 Italians died and the economy collapsed with high inflation and unemployment. In the Peace treaty, Italy obtained just Trento, Trieste and Istria but not other lands scheduled from the Pact of London, so this victory was defined as "mutilated". Subsequently, after the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, Italy formally annexed the Dodecanese (Possedimenti Italiani dell'Egeo), that she had occupied during the war.

11. Fascism and World War II (1922-1945) - After the devastations of World War I, many Italian workers joined lengthy strikes to demand more rights and better working conditions. Some, inspired by the Russian Revolution, began taking over their factories, mills, farms and workplaces. The liberal establishment, fearing a socialist revolution, started to endorse the small National Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini, whose violent reaction to the strikes (by means of the "Blackshirts" party militia) was often compared to the relatively moderate reactions of the government. After several years of struggle, in October 1922 the fascists attempted a coup (the "Marcia su Roma", i.e. March on Rome); the fascist forces were largely inferior, but the king ordered the army not to intervene, formed an alliance with Mussolini, and convinced the liberal party to endorse a fascist-led government. Over the next few years, Mussolini (who became known as "Il Duce", Italian for "the leader") eliminated all political parties (including the liberals) and curtailed personal liberties under the pretext of preventing revolution.

In 1935, Mussolini declared war on Ethiopia on a territorial pretext. Ethiopia was subjugated in a few months. This resulted in the alienation of Italy from its traditional allies, France and the United Kingdom, and its support for Nazi Germany. A first pact with Germany was concluded in 1936, and in 1938 (the Pact of Steel). Italy supported Franco's revolution in the Spanish civil war and Hitler's pretensions in central Europe, accepting the annexation of Austria to Germany in 1938, although the disappearance of a buffer state between Germany and Italy was unfavourable for the country.

In October 1938, Mussolini brought together the United Kingdom, France and Germany at the expense of Czechoslovakia's integrity.

The Italian Empire in 1940. On April 7, 1939 Italy occupied Albania, a de-facto protectorate for decades, but in September 1939, after the invasion of Poland, Mussolini decided not to intervene on Germany's side, due to the poor preparation of the armed forces. Italy entered the war in 1940 when France was beaten. Mussolini hoped that Italy would be able to win in a very short time.

Italy invaded Greece in October 1940 via Albania but was forced to withdraw after a few months. After Italy conquered British Somalia in 1940, a counter-attack by the Allies led to the loss of the whole Italian empire in the Horn of Africa. Italy was also defeated by Allied forces in North Africa and was saved only by the German armed forces led by Erwin Rommel.

After several defeats, Italy was invaded in June 1943. King Vittorio Emanuele and a group of fascists set themselves against Mussolini. In July 1943, Mussolini was arrested. As the old pre-Fascist political parties resurfaced, secret peace negotiations with the Allies were started. In September 1943, Italy surrendered. Immediately Germany invaded the country and Italy was divided for almost two years and became a battlefield. The Nazi-occupied part of the country, where a fascist state under Mussolini was reconstituted, saw a savage civil war between Italian partisans ("partigiani") and Nazi and fascist troops. The country was liberated on April 25, 1945. The liberation is still celebrated on April 25.

12. The First Republic (1946-1992) - In 1946, Vittorio Emanuele III's son, Umberto II, was forced to abdicate. Italy became a Republic after the result of a popular referendum held on June 2, 1946, a day celebrated since as Republic Day. This was the first election in Italy allowing women to vote. The Republican Constitution was approved and came into force on January 1, 1948.

Under the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, the eastern border area was annexed by Yugoslavia. In 1954, the free territory of Trieste was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia. In 1949, Italy became an ally of the United States, which helped to revive the Italian economy through the Marshall Plan. Moreover, Italy became a member of the European Economic Community, which later transformed into the European Community (EC) and subsequently the European Union (EU). In 1950's and 1960's the country enjoyed prolonged economic growth.

Italy faced political instability in the 1970's, which ended in the 1980's. Known as the Years of Lead, this period was characterised by widespread social conflicts and terrorist acts carried out by extra-parliamentary movements. The assassination of the leader of the Christian Democracy (DC), Aldo Moro, led to the end of a "historic compromise" between the DC and the Communist Party (PCI). In the 1980's, for the first time, two governments were managed by a republican and a socialist (Bettino Craxi) rather than by a member of DC.

At the end of the Lead years, the PCI gradually increased their votes thanks to Enrico Berlinguer. The Socialist party (PSI), led by Bettino Craxi, became more and more critical of the communists and of the Soviet Union; Craxi himself pushed in favour of US president Ronald Reagan's positioning of Pershing missiles in Italy.

In 2000, a Parliament Commission report from The Olive Tree left-of-centre coalition concluded that the strategy of tension had been supported by the United States to "stop the PCI, and to a certain degree also the PSI, from reaching executive power in the country". The report was not approved by the right-of-centre coalition. A source in the U.S. Embassy in Rome characterised the report as "allegations that have come up over the last 20 years" and have "absolutely nothing to them", while other commentators deemed it nothing more than "a manoeuvre dictated primarily by domestic political considerations".

13. The Second Republic (1992-Present) - From 1992 to 1997, Italy faced significant challenges as voters disenchanted with political paralysis, massive government debt, extensive corruption, and organized crime's considerable influence collectively called the political system Tangentopoli. As Tangentopoli was under a set of judicial investigations by the name of Mani pulite (Italian for "clean hands"), voters demanded political, economic, and ethical reforms. The Tangentopoli scandals involved all major parties, but especially those in the government coalition: between 1992 and 1994 the DC underwent a severe crisis and was dissolved, splitting up into several pieces, among whom the Italian People's Party and the Christian Democratic Center. The PSI (and the other governing minor parties) completely dissolved.

The 1994, elections also swept media magnate Silvio Berlusconi (leader of "Pole of Freedoms" coalition) into office as Prime Minister. Berlusconi, however, was forced to step down in December 1994 when the Lega Nord withdrew support. The Berlusconi government was succeeded by a technical government headed by Prime Minister Lamberto Dini, which left office in early 1996.

In April 1996, national elections led to the victory of a centre-left coalition under the leadership of Romano Prodi. Prodi's first government became the third-longest to stay in power before he narrowly lost a vote of confidence, by three votes, in October 1998. A new government was formed by Democrats of the Left leader and former communist Massimo D'Alema, but in April 2000, following poor performance by his coalition in regional elections, D'Alema resigned. The succeeding centre-left government, including most of the same parties, was headed by Giuliano Amato (social-democratic), who previously served as Prime Minister in 1992-93, from April 2000 until June 2001. In 2001 the centre-right formed the government and Silvio Berlusconi was able to remain in power for a complete five year mandate, but with two different governments. The first one (2001-2005) became the longest government in post-war Italy. Berlusconi participated in the US-led military coalition in Iraq.

The last elections in 2006 returned a centre-left majority to Italy (albeit a slim one in the Senate), allowing Prodi to form his second government. In the first year of his government, Mr. Prodi has followed a cautious policy of economic liberalization and reduction of public debt. So far Mr. Prodi has resigned because of rejection by the parliament, and President Giorgio Napolitano has dismissed the parliament. New elections will be held in April 2008.

1. Topography - Italy occupies a long, boot-shaped peninsula, surrounded on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the east by the Adriatic Sea. It is bounded by France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia to the north. The Apennine Mountains form the peninsula's backbone; the Alps form its northern boundary. The largest of its northern lakes is Garda (143 sq mi; 370 km²); the Po, its principal river, flows from the Alps on Italy's western border and crosses the Padan plain to the Adriatic Sea. Several islands form part of Italy; the largest are Sicily (9,926 sq mi; 25,708 km²) and Sardinia (9,301 sq mi; 24,090 km²).

2. Volcanoes - There are several active volcanoes in Italy: Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe; Vulcano; Stromboli; and Vesuvius, the only active volcano on the mainland of Europe.

3. Climate - The climate in Italy is highly diverse and can be far from the stereotypical Mediterranean climate depending on the location. Most of the inland northern areas of Italy (for example Turin, Milan and Bologna) have a continental climate often classified as Humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa). The coastal areas of Liguria and most of the peninsula south of Florence generally fit the Mediterranean stereotype (Köppen climate classification Csa). The coastal areas of the peninsula can be very different from the interior higher altitudes and valleys, particularly during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions have mild winters and warm and generally dry summers, although lowland valleys can be quite hot in summer.

Government and Politics:
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 Italian Republic (Presidente della Repubblica) is elected for seven 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 obtain a confidence vote from both houses of Parliament. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both.

The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected through a complex electoral system (latest amendment in 2005) which combines proportional representation with a majority prize for the largest coalition (Chamber). All Italian citizens older than 18 can vote. However, to vote for the senate, the voter must be at least 25 or older. The electoral system in the Senate is based upon regional representation. During the elections in 2006, the two competing coalitions were separated by few thousand votes, and in the Chamber the centre-left coalition (L'Unione; English: The Union) got 345 Deputies against 277 for the centre-right one (Casa delle Libertà; English: House of Freedoms), while in the Senate L'Unione got only two Senators more than absolute majority. The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members and the Senate 315 elected senators; in addition, the Senate includes former presidents and appointed senators for life (no more than five) by the President of the Republic according to special constitutional provisions. As of May 15, 2006 there are seven life senators (of which three are former Presidents). Both houses are elected for a maximum of five years, but both may be dissolved by the President before the expiration of their normal term if the Parliament is unable to elect a stable government. In the post war history, this has happened in 1972, 1976, 1979, 1983, 1994, 1996 and 2008.

A peculiarity of the Italian Parliament is the representation given to Italian citizens permanently living abroad (about 2.7 million people). Among the 630 Deputies and the 315 Senators there are respectively 12 and 6 elected in four distinct foreign constituencies. Those members of Parliament were elected for the first time in April 2006 and they have the same rights as members elected in Italy.

The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes. The Constitutional Court of Italy (Corte Costituzionale) rules on the conformity of laws with the Constitution and is a post-World War II innovation.

Foreign Relations:
Italy was a founding member of the European Community—now the European Union (EU). Italy was admitted to the United Nations in 1955 and is a member and strong supporter of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade/World Trade Organization (GATT/WTO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe. Its recent turns as rotating Presidency of international organisations include the CSCE (the forerunner of the OSCE) in 1994 G8, the EU in 2001 and from July to December 2003.

Italy supports the United Nations and its international security activities. Italy deployed troops in support of UN peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Mozambique, and East Timor and provides support for NATO and UN operations in Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania. Italy deployed over 2,000 troops to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in February 2003. Italy still supports international efforts to reconstruct and stabilize Iraq, but it has withdrawn its military contingent of some 3,200 troops as of November 2006, maintaining only humanitarian workers and other civilian personnel.

In August 2006, Italy sent about 3,000 soldiers to Lebanon for the ONU peacekeeping mission UNIFIL. Furthermore, since 2 February 2007 an Italian, Claudio Graziano is the commander of the UN force in the country.

Article 11 of the Italian Constitution says: "Italy rejects war as an instrument of aggression against the freedoms of others peoples and as a means for settling international controversies; it agrees, on conditions of equality with other states, to the limitations of sovereignty necessary for an order that ensures peace and justice among Nations; it promotes and encourages international organizations having such ends in view".

The Italian armed forces are under the command of the Italian Supreme Defense Council, presided over by the President of the Italian Republic. The total number of military personnel is approximately 308,000. Italy has the eighth-highest military expenditure in the world.

1. Population - The latest population estimate from ISTAT (Italian Statistics Office) shows 59,206,382 inhabitants in Italy in February 2007, an increase of 49,084 persons from a month earlier. Italy has the fourth largest population in the European Union (after Germany, France and the United Kingdom), and the 22nd in the world. Gradual increase of population is mainly supplemented by immigrants and an increase in life expectancy of 79.81 years. Despite population growth, Italy is rapidly aging. Though the Italian fertility rate is climbing gradually, it sits at 1.35 children per woman, almost one in five Italian inhabitants is a pensioner; if this aging trend continues, the Italian population could shrink by a quarter by 2050.

Italy has the fifth highest population density in Europe with 196 persons per square kilometre. The highest density is in Northwestern Italy, as two regions out of twenty (Lombardy and Piedmont) combined, contain one quarter of the Italian population, where an estimated 7.4 million people live in the Milan metropolitan area. The literacy rate in Italy is 98% overall, and school is mandatory for children aged 6 to 18. Approximately two thirds of the population live in urban areas, which is much lower than other Western European nations.

2. Migration - Italy is a destination for immigrants from all over the world. At the end of 2006, foreigners comprised 5% of the population or 2,938,922 persons, an increase of 270,000 since the previous year. In some Italian cities, such as Brescia, Milan, Padua, and Prato, immigrants total more than 10% of the population.

The most recent wave of migration has been from surrounding European nations, particularly Eastern Europe, replacing North Africans as a major source of migrants. Around 500,000 Romanians are officially registered as living in Italy, but unofficial estimates put the actual number at double that figure or perhaps even more. As of 2006, migrants came from Eastern Europe (39.14%), North Africa (17.77%), Asia (17.43%), Latin America (8.90%). Smaller groups came from sub-Saharan Africa, North America and other European Union nations.

Roman Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the country. Although the Catholic Church is no longer officially the state religion, it still plays a role in the nation's political affairs, partly due to the Holy See's location in Rome. 87.8% of Italians identified as Roman Catholic, although only about one-third of these described themselves as active members (36.8%).

Other Christian groups in Italy include more than 700,000 Eastern Orthodox Christians, including 470,000 newcomers PDF (65.4 KiB) and some 180,000 Greek Orthodox, 550,000 Pentecostals and Evangelicals (0.8%), of whom 400,000 are members of the Assemblies of God, 235,685 Jehovah's Witnesses (0.04%), 30,000 Waldensians, 25,000 Seventh-day Adventists, 22,000 Mormons, 15,000 Baptists (plus some 5,000 Free Baptists), 7,000 Lutherans, 5,000 Methodists (affiliated to the Waldensian Church).

The country's oldest religious minority is the Jewish community, comprising roughly 45,000 people. It is no longer the largest non-Christian group.

As a result of significant immigration from other parts of the world, some 825,000 Muslims (1.4%) live in Italy, though only 50,000 are Italian citizens. In addition, there are 110,000 Buddhists (0.2%) 70,000 Sikhs, and 70,000 Hindus (0.1%) in Italy.

According to GDP calculations, Italy was ranked as the seventh largest economy in the world in 2006, behind the United States, Japan, Germany, China, UK, and France, and the fourth largest in Europe. 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.

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 introduction 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 economic slowdown and opposition from labour unions.

Italy has a smaller number of world class multinational corporations than other economies of comparable size. Instead, the country's main economic strength has been its large base of small and medium size companies. Some of these companies manufacture products that are technologically moderately advanced and therefore face increasing competition from China and other emerging Asian economies which are able to undercut them on labour costs. These Italian companies are responding to the Asian competition by concentrating on products with a higher technological content, while moving lower-tech manufacturing to plants in countries where labour is less expensive. The small average size of Italian companies remains a limiting factor, and the government has been working to encourage integration and mergers and to reform the rigid regulations that have traditionally been an obstacle to the development of larger corporations in the country.

Italy's major exports are motor vehicles (Fiat Group, Aprilia, Ducati, Piaggio), chemicals, petrochemicals (Eni), electricity (Enel, Edison), home appliances (Merloni, Candy), aerospace and defense tech (Alenia, Agusta, Finmeccanica), firearms (Beretta); but the country's more famous exports are in the fields of fashion (Armani, Valentino, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Benetton, Prada, Luxottica), food industry (Ferrero, Barilla Group, Martini & Rossi, Campari, Parmalat), luxury vehicles (Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Pagani) and motoryachts (Ferretti, Azimut).

Tourism is very important to the Italian economy: with over 37 million tourists a year, Italy is ranked as the fifth major tourist destination in the world.

The railway network in Italy totals 19,394 kilometres (12,051 mi), ranking the country 16th in the world, and is operated by Ferrovie dello Stato. High speed trains include ETR-class trains, of which the ETR 500 travels at 300 km/h (190 mph).

In 1991, Treno Alta Velocità SpA was created, a special purpose entity owned by RFI (itself owned by Ferrovie dello Stato) for the planning and construction of high-speed rail lines along Italy's most important and saturated transport routes. These lines are often referred as "TAV" lines. The purpose of TAV construction is to aid travel along Italy's most saturated rail lines and to add tracks to these lines, namely the Milan-Naples and Turin-Milan-Venice corridors. One of the focuses of the project is to turn the rail network of Italy into a modern and high-tech passenger rail system in accordance with updated European rail standards. A secondary purpose is to introduce high-speed rail to the country and its high-priority corridors. When demand on regular lines is lessened with the opening of dedicated high-speed lines, those regular lines will be used primarily for low-speed regional rail service and freight trains. With these ideas realised, the Italian train network can be integrated with other European rail networks, particularly the French TGV, German ICE, and Spanish AVE systems.


There are approximately 654,676 km(406,797 mi) of serviceable roadway in Italy, including 6,957 km (4,323 mi) of expressways.


There are approximately 133 airports in Italy, including the two hubs of Malpensa International (near Milan) and Leonardo Da Vinci International (near Rome).

There are 27 major ports in Italy, the largest is in Genoa, which is also the second largest in the Mediterranean Sea, after Marseille. 2,400 km (1,500 mi) of waterways traverse Italy.

Italy, as a state, did not exist until the unification of the country in 1861. Due to this comparatively late unification, and the historical autonomy of the regions that comprise the Italian Peninsula, many traditions and customs that we now recognise as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin. Despite the political and social isolation of these regions, Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe remain immense. Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites to date.

1. Visual Art - Italy has been a seminal place for many important artistic and intellectual movements that spread throughout Europe and beyond, including the Renaissance and Baroque. Italy's vast artistic heritage includes the achievements of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian and Raphael, among many others.

2. Literature - With the basis of the modern Italian language established through the Florentine poet, Dante Alighieri, whose greatest work, the Divina Commedia, is considered amongst the foremost literary statements produced in Europe during the Middle Ages, there is no shortage of celebrated literary figures; the writers and poets Giovanni Boccaccio, Giacomo Leopardi, Alessandro Manzoni, Torquato Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto, and Petrarch, whose best known vehicle of expression, the sonnet, was invented in Italy. Prominent philosophers include Giordano Bruno, Marsilio Ficino, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Giambattista Vico. Modern literary figures and Nobel laureates are nationalist poet Giosuè Carducci in 1906, realist writer Grazia Deledda in 1926, modern theatre author Luigi Pirandello in 1936, poets Salvatore Quasimodo in 1959 and Eugenio Montale in 1975, satiryst and theatre author Dario Fo in 1997.

3. Science - In science, Galileo Galilei made advancements toward the scientific revolution, and Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance Man. Italy has been the home of scientists and inventors: the physicist Enrico Fermi, leader of the team that built the first nuclear reactor; the astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini; the physicist Alessandro Volta, inventor of the electric battery; the mathematicians Lagrange and Fibonacci; Nobel Prize in Physics laureate Guglielmo Marconi, inventor of the radio; and Antonio Meucci, candidate for inventor of the telephone.

4. Music - From folk music to classical, music has played an important role in Italian culture. Having given birth to opera, Italy provides many of the foundations of the classical music tradition. Instruments associated with classical music, including the piano and violin, were invented in Italy, and many of the existing classical music forms can trace their roots back to innovations of sixteenth and seventeenth century Italian music (such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata). Italy's most famous composers include the Renaissance composers Palestrina and Monteverdi, the Baroque composers Alessandro Scarlatti, Corelli and Vivaldi, the Classical composers Paganini and Rossini, and the Romantic composers Verdi and Puccini. Modern Italian composers such as Berio and Nono proved significant in the development of experimental and electronic music.

5. Sport - Popular sports include football, basketball (2nd national team sport since the '50s), volleyball, waterpolo, fencing, rugby, cycling, ice hockey (mainly in Milan, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto), roller hockey and F1 motor racing.

Winter sports are most popular in the Northern regions, with Italians competing in international games and Olympic venues. Sports are incorporated into Italian festivities like Palio (see also Palio di Siena), and the Gondola race (regatta) that takes place in Venice on the first Sunday of September.

Sports venues have extended from the Gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome in the Colosseum to the Stadio Olimpico of contemporary Rome, where football clubs compete.

The most popular sport in Italy is football (soccer), the Serie A being one of the most famous competitions in the world.

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