The Italian Republic or Italy is a country in the south of Europe, consisting mainly of a boot-shaped peninsula together with two large islands in the Mediterranean Sea: Sicily and Sardinia. To the north it is bound by the Alps, where it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
|National motto: None|
|Official language||Italian (+ German and Ladin in South Tyrol, Slovenian in Friuli-Venezia Giulia[?])|
|President||Carlo Azeglio Ciampi|
|Prime minister||Silvio Berlusconi|
- % water
|Ranked 69th |
- Total (2002)
March 17, 1861
|Currency||Euro¹, Italian euro coins|
|Time zone||UTC +1|
|National anthem||Fratelli d'Italia|
|(1) Prior to 1999: Lira|
Italy's history is perhaps the most important one for the cultural and social development of the Mediterranean area as a whole. The country has been host to important human activities in prehistoric times, and thusly archaeological sites of note can be found in many regions: Latium and Tuscany, Umbria and Basilicata. After Magna Graecia, the Etruscan civilisation and especially the Roman Empire that came to dominate this part of the world for many centuries, came the medieval Humanism and the Renaissance that further helped to shape European philosophy and art. The city of Rome contains some of the most important examples of the Baroque.
The Italy of modern time became a nation-state belatedly - on March 17, 1861 when the states of the peninsula and the Two Sicilies were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty, hitherto ruler of Piedmont and kings of Sardinia. The architect of Italian unification, however, was Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Chief Minister of Victor Emmanuel. Rome itself remained for a decade under the Papacy, and became part of the Kingdom of Italy only on September 20, 1870, the final date of Italian unification. The Vatican is now an independent enclave surrounded by Italy, as is San Marino.
The Fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini that took over in 1922 led to a disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany and Japan, and ultimately Italy's defeat in World War II. On June 2, 1946 a referendum on the monarchy resulted in the establishment of the Italian republic, which led to the adoption of a new constitution on January 1, 1948. Members of the royal family were sent into exile because of their association with the fascist regime.
The 1948 constitution established a bicameral parliament (Parlamento), consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and a Senate (Senato della Repubblica), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet), headed by the president of the council (prime minister). The president of the republic 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 (mostly, but not necessarily composed of members of parliament) must retain the confidence (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 630 members. In addition to 315 elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other persons appointed for life 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, which passes on the constitutionality of laws, is a post-World War II innovation.
Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni, singular regione), of which five enjoy a special autonomous status, marked by a *:
A region can be further subdivided into provinces[?].
Italy consists predominantly of a large peninsula 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 Appennine[?] mountains form the backbone of this peninsula, leading north-west to where they join the Alps, the mountain range that then forms an arc enclosing Italy from the north. Here is also found a large alluvial plain, the Po-Venetian plain[?], drained by the Po River and its many tributaries flowing down from the Alps, Appennines and Dolomites. Other well-known rivers include the Tiber, Adige[?] and Arno.
Its highest point is the 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.
Italy has a diversified industrial economy with roughly the same total and per capita output as France and the United Kingdom. This capitalistic economy remains divided into a developed industrial north, dominated by private companies, and a less developed agricultural south, with 20% unemployment.
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 Unions and has benefited from lower interest and inflation rates and joined the Euro from its conception in 1999.
Italy's economic performance has 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 needed structural reforms, 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.
Italy is largely homogeneous linguistically and religiously but is diverse culturally, economically, and politically. Italy has the fifth-highest population density in Europe at 196 persons per square kilometre. Minority groups are small, the largest being the German speaking in South Tyrol (1991: 287.503 german and 116.914 italian speaking) and the Slovenians around Trieste.
Other minority groups with partly official languages include the French speaking minority in the Valle d'Aosta[?] region; the Sardinian language on Sardinia); the Ladin language in the Dolomites mountains; and the Friulian language[?] in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia[?] region, all four being Romance languages. In addition there exist several small local minorities, such as the Occitans in the southern Piedmont valleys; the Catalans in the town of Alghero on Sardinia; Albanians in villages in Calabria and Sicily; and ancient Greek dialects in villages of Calabria.
Italy is well-known for its art, culture, and several monuments, among them the leaning tower of Pisa and the Roman Colosseum, as well as for its food (pizza, pasta, etc.), wine, lifestyle, elegance, design, cinema, theatre, literature, poetry, visual arts, music (notably Opera), holidays, and generally speaking, for taste.
Europe's Renaissance period began in Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries. Literary achievements, such as the poetry of Petrarch, Tasso, and Ariosto and the prose of Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and Castiglione exerted a tremendous and lasting influence on the subsequent development of Western culture, as did the painting, sculpture, and architecture contributed by giants such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, and Michelangelo.
The musical influence of Italian composers Monteverdi, Palestrina, and Vivaldi proved epochal; in the 19th century, Italian romantic opera flourished under composers Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Giacomo Puccini. Contemporary Italian artists, writers, filmmakers, architects, composers, and designers continue to contribute significantly to Western culture.
Football is the main national sport. Italy has won the Football World Cup three times: in 1934, 1938 and 1982. Italian football has produced some of world's best football players and teams. The latter include A.C. Milan and Inter Milano FC from Milan, A.S. Roma and S.S. Lazio from Rome, Juventus from Turin, and Fiorentina from Florence.