Excavations throughout Italy reveal a modern human presence dating back to the Paleolithic period, some 200,000 years ago. The Italic tribes of pre-Roman Italy, such as the Umbrians, the Latins (from which the Romans emerged), Volsci, Samnites, the Celts and the Ligures which inhabited northern Italy, and many others are most of Indo-European stock; main historic peoples of non-Indo-European heritage include the Etruscans, the Elymians and Sicani in Sicily and the prehistoric Sardinians.
Between the 17th to the 11th century BC Mycenaean Greeks established contacts with Italy and in the 8th and 7th centuries BC Greek colonies were established all along the coast of Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula became known as Magna Graecia. Also the Phoenicians established colonies on the coasts of Sardinia and Sicily.
Ancient Rome was at first a small agricultural community founded c. the 8th century BC, that grew over the course of the centuries into a colossal empire encompassing the whole Mediterranean Sea, in which Ancient Greek and Roman cultures merged into one civilization. This civilization was so influential that parts of it survive in modern law, administration, philosophy and arts, forming the ground that Western civilization is based upon. In a slow decline since the late 4th century AD, the empire finally broke into two parts in 395 AD: the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire. The western part, under the pressure of the Franks, the Vandals, the Huns, the Goths and other populations from Eastern Europe, finally dissolved, leaving the Italian peninsula divided into small independent kingdoms and feuding city states for the next 1,300 years. The eastern part sole heir to the Roman legacy.
In the 6th century the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I reconquered Italy from the Ostrogoths. The invasion of a new wave of Germanic tribes, the Lombards late in the same century, reduced the Byzantine presence to the Exarchate of Ravenna and other lands in southern Italy. The Lombard reign of northern and central Italy was absorbed into the Frankish Empire by Charlemagne in the late 8th century. The Frankish kings also helped the Popes to establish a true state in central Italy, extending from Rome to Ravenna, although for most of the Middle Ages they effectively controlled only what is now Lazio. Until the 13th century, Italian politics was dominated by the relationship between the German Holy Roman Emperors and the popes, with most of the Italian states siding for one or another depending from momentary convenience.
It was during this vacuum of authority that the region saw the rise of institutions such as the Signoria and the medieval commune. 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. Despite the devastation of the numerous wars, Italy maintained, especially in the north, a relatively developed urban civilization, which later evolved in the peculiar phenomenon of its merchant Republics. These city-states, oligarchical in reality, had a dominant merchant class which under relative freedom nurtured academic and artistic advancement. Notable amongst them, in northern Italy, was Milan: in the 12th century it led the Lombard League in the defeat of the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa, which led to a process granting effective independence to most of northern and central Italian cities.
During the same period, Italy saw the rise to numerous Maritime Republics, the most famous of which were Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi. These maritime republics were also heavily involved in the Crusades, taking advantage of the new political and trading opportunities. Venice and Genoa soon became Europe's main gateways to trade with the East, establishing colonies as far as the Black Sea and often controlling most of the trades of the Byzantine Empire and with the Islamic Mediterranean world. Milan also formed a state of its own, the Duchy of Milan, occupying western Lombardy. Piedmont evolved from the unimportant county of Savoy to a mid-size duchy in the late Middle Ages. Florence developed into a highly organized commercial and financial city, becoming for many centuries the European capital of silk, wool, banks and jewelry.
In the south, Sicily became an Islamic emirate in the 9th century, and thrived until the Normans conquered it in the late 11th century, together with most of the Lombard and Byzantine states of southern Italy. Through a complex series of events, southern Italy remained an unified kingdom, first under the House of Hohenstaufen, then under the House of Anjou and, from the 15th century, the house of Aragon (although Sicily was separate, under Aragon, from the late 13th to the 15th century). In Sardinia, the former Byzantines provinces became independent states known as giudicati, although most of the island was under Genoese or Pisan control, until the Aragonese conquered it in the 15th century.
The Black Death pandemic in 1348 left its mark on Italy by killing one third of the population. However, the recovery from the disaster of the Black Death led to a resurgence of cities, trade and economy which greatly stimulated the successive phase of the Humanism and Renaissance, that best known for its cultural achievements.
Accounts of Renaissance literature usually begin with Petrarch (best known for the elegantly polished vernacular sonnet sequence of Il Canzoniere and for the craze for book collecting that he initiated) and his friend and contemporary Boccaccio (author of the Decameron). Famous vernacular poets of the 15th century include the renaissance epic authors Luigi Pulci (Morgante), Matteo Maria Boiardo (Orlando Innamorato), and Ludovico Ariosto (Orlando Furioso). 15th century writers such as the poet Poliziano and the Platonist philosopher Marsilio Ficino made extensive translations from both Latin and Greek. In the early 16th century, Castiglione (The Book of the Courtier) laid out his vision of the ideal gentleman and lady, while Machiavelli cast a jaundiced eye on "la verita effetuale delle cose" — the actual truth of things — in The Prince, composed, humanist style, chiefly of parallel ancient and modern examples of Virtù.
Italian Renaissance painting exercised a dominant influence on subsequent European painting (see Western painting) for centuries afterwards, with artists such as Giotto di Bondone, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, and Titian. The same is true for architecture, as practiced by Brunelleschi, Leone Alberti, Andrea Palladio, and Bramante. Their works include Florence Cathedral, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, and the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini (to name a only a few, not to mention many splended private residences: see Renaissance architecture). Finally, the Aldine Press, founded by the printer Aldo Manuzio, active in Venice, developed Italic type and the small, relatively portable and inexpensive printed book that could be carried in one's pocket, as well as being the first to publish editions of books in Ancient Greek.
The history of Italy in the early modern period was characterized by foreign domination: following the Italian Wars (1494 to 1559), Italy saw a long period of relative peace, first under Habsburg Spain (1559 to 1713) and then under Habsburg Austria (1713 to 1796).
The Black Death repeatedly returned to haunt Italy throughout the 14th to 17th centuries. The plague of 1575–77 claimed some 50,000 victims in Venice. In the first half of the 17th century a plague claimed some 1,730,000 victims, or about 14% of Italy’s population. The Great Plague of Milan occurred from 1629 through 1631 in northern Italy, with the cities of Lombardy and Venice experiencing particularly high death rates. In 1656 the plague killed about half of Naples' 300,000 inhabitants.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the northern part of the country was invaded and reorganized as a new kingdom of Italy, that was a client state of the French Empire from 1796 to 1814, while the southern half of the peninsula was administered by Joachim Murat, Napoleon's brother in law, that was crowned as King of Naples. The Congress of Vienna (1814) restored the situation of the late 18th century, which was however quickly overturned by the incipient movement of Italian unification.
The creation of the Kingdom of Italy was the result of efforts by Italian nationalists and monarchists loyal to the House of Savoy to establish a united kingdom encompassing the entire Italian Peninsula. In the context of the 1848 liberal revolutions that swept through Europe, an unsuccessful war was declared on Austria. Giuseppe Garibaldi led the Italian republican drive for unification in southern Italy, while the northern Italian monarchy of the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia whose government was led by Camillo Benso, conte di Cavour, had the ambition of establishing a united Italian state under its rule. The kingdom successfully challenged the Austrian Empire in the Second Italian War of Independence with the help of Napoleon III, liberating the Lombardy-Venetia. It established Turin as capital of the newly formed state. In 1865 the capital was moved to Florence. In 1866, Victor Emmanuel II aligned the kingdom with Prussia during the Austro-Prussian War, waging the Third Italian War of Independence which allowed Italy to annex Venice. In 1870, as France during the disastrous Franco-Prussian War abandoned its positions in Rome, Italy rushed to fill the power gap by taking over the Papal State from French sovereignty.
Italian unification finally was achieved, and shortly afterwards Italy's capital was moved from Florence to Rome. Whilst keeping the monarchy, the government became a parliamentary system, dominated by the liberals.
As Northern Italy became industrialized and modernized, Southern Italy and rural areas of the north remained under-developed and stagnant, forcing millions of people to migrate to the emerging Industrial Triangle or abroad. The Sardinian Albertine Statute 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 adopted. The Italian Socialist Party increased in strength, challenging the traditional liberal and conservative organisations. The highest point of Italian emigration was reached in 1913, when 872,598 persons left Italy.
Starting from the last two decades of the 19th century, Italy developed into a colonial power by forcing Somalia, Eritrea and later Libya and the Dodecanese under its rule. During World War I, Italy at first stayed neutral but in 1915 signed the Treaty of London, entering Entente on the promise of receiving Trento, Trieste, Gorizia and Gradisca, Istria and northern Dalmatia from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as parts of Ottoman Empire. During the war, more than 650,000 Italian soldiers died, and the economy collapsed. Under the Peace Treaties of Saint-Germain, Rapallo and Rome, Italy obtained most of the promised territories, including the town of Fiume. Nevertheless, the victory was described as "mutilated" by the nationalists, since most of Dalmatia was assigned to Yugoslavia.
The turbulence that followed the devastation of World War I, inspired by the Russian Revolution, led to turmoil and anarchy. The liberal establishment, fearing a socialist revolution, started to endorse the small National Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini. In October 1922 the fascists attempted a coup (the Marcia su Roma, "March on Rome"), supported by king Victor Emmanuel III. Over the next few years, Mussolini banned all political parties and curtailed personal liberties, thus forming a dictatorship. In 1935, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, resulting in an international alienation and leading to Italy's withdrawal from the League of Nations. Consequently, Italy allied with Nazi Germany and Empire of Japan and strongly supported Franco in the Spanish civil war. In 1939, Italy occupied Albania, a de facto protectorate for decades, and entered World War II in 1940 on the side of the Axis powers. Mussolini, wanting a quick victory like Hitler's Blitzkriegs in Poland and France, invaded Greece in October 1940 but was forced to accept a humiliating stalemate after a few months. At the same time, Italy, after initially conquering British Somalia and parts of Egypt, saw an allied counter-attack lead to the loss of all possessions in the Horn of Africa and in North Africa.
Italy was then invaded by the Allies in July 1943, leading to the collapse of the Fascist regime and the fall of Mussolini. In September 1943, Italy surrendered. The country remained a battlefield for the rest of the war, as the allies were moving up from the south as the north was the base for loyalist Italian fascist and German Nazi forces, fought also by the Italian resistance movement.The hostilities ended on 2 May 1945. Nearly half a million Italians (including civilians) died in the conflict, and the Italian economy had been all but destroyed; per capita income in 1944 was at its lowest point since the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1946, Victor Emmanuel III's son, Umberto II, was forced to abdicate. Italy became a republic after a referendum held on 2 June 1946, a day celebrated since as Republic Day. This was also the first time that Italian women were entitled to vote. The Republican Constitution was approved and came into force on 1 January 1948. Under the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, the eastern border area was lost to Yugoslavia, and, later, the free territory of Trieste was divided between the two states. Fears in the Italian electorate of a possible Communist takeover proved crucial for the first universal suffrage electoral outcome on 18 April 1948, when the Christian Democrats, under the leadership of Alcide De Gasperi, obtained a landslide victory. Consequently, in 1949 Italy became a member of NATO. The Marshall Plan helped to revive the Italian economy which, until the late 1960s, enjoyed a period of sustained economic growth commonly called the "Economic Miracle". In 1957, Italy was a founding member of the European Economic Community (EEC), which became the European Union (EU) in 1993.
From the late 1960s until the early 1980s, the country experienced the Years of Lead, a period characterized by economic crisis (especially after the 1973 oil crisis), widespread social conflicts and terrorist massacres carried out by opposing extremist groups, with the probable involvement of US intelligence. The Years of Lead culminated in the assassination of the Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro in 1978, an event that deeply impressed the whole country. In the 1980s, for the first time since 1945, two governments were led by non-Christian-Democrat premiers: a liberal (Giovanni Spadolini) and a socialist (Bettino Craxi); the Christian Democrats remained, however, the main government party. During Craxi's government, economy recovered and Italy became the world's fifth largest industrial nation, gaining entry into the G7 Group. However, as a result of his spending policies, the Italian national debt skyrocketed during the Craxi era, soon passing 100% of the GDP.
In the early 1990s, Italy faced significant challenges, as voters, disenchanted with political paralysis, massive government debt and the extensive corruption system (known as Tangentopoli) uncovered by the 'Clean Hands' investigation, demanded for radical reforms. The scandals involved all major parties, but especially those in the government coalition: the Christian Democrats, which ruled for almost 50 years, underwent a severe crisis and eventually disbanded, splitting up into several factions. The Communists reorganized as a social-democratic force. During the 1990s and the 2000s, center-right (dominated by media magnate Silvio Berlusconi) and center-left coalitions alternatively governed the country.
Italy is located in Southern Europe and comprises the boot-shaped Italian Peninsula and a number of islands including the two largest, Sicily and Sardinia. It lies between latitudes 35° and 48° N, and longitudes 6° and 19° E. Although the country occupies the Italian peninsula and most of the southern Alpine basin, some of Italy's territory extends beyond the Alpine basin and some islands are located outside the Eurasian continental shelf. These territories are the comuni of: Livigno, Sexten, Innichen, Toblach (in part), Chiusaforte, Tarvisio, Graun im Vinschgau (in part), which are all part of the Danube's drainage basin, while the Val di Lei constitutes part of the Rhine's basin and the island comune of Lampedusa e Linosa is on the African continental shelf.
The country is situated at the meeting point of the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate, leading to considerable seismic and volcanic activity. There are 14 volcanoes in Italy, three of which are active: Etna (the traditional site of Vulcan’s smithy), Stromboli and Vesuvius. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe and is most famous for the destruction of Pompeii and Herculanum. Several islands and hills have been created by volcanic activity, and there is still a large active caldera, the Campi Flegrei north-west of Naples.
After its quick industrial growth, Italy took a long time to confront its environmental problems. After several improvements, it now ranks 84th in the world for ecological sustainability. National parks cover about five percent of the country. In the last decade, Italy has became one of the world's largest producers of renewable energy, ranking as the world’s fifth largest solar energy producer in 2009 and the sixth largest producer of wind power in 2008.
However, air pollution remains a severe problem, especially in the industrialised north, reaching the tenth highest level worldwide of industrial carbon dioxide emissions in the 1990s. Italy is the twelfth largest carbon dioxide producer. Extensive traffic and congestion in the largest metropolitan areas continue to cause severe environmental and health issues, even if smog levels have decreased dramatically since the 1970s and 80s, and the presence of smog is becoming an increasingly rarer phenomenon and levels of sulphur dioxide are decreasing.
Many watercourses and coastal stretches have also been contaminated by industrial and agricultural activity, while due to rising water levels Venice has been regularly flooded throughout recent years. Waste from industrial activity is not always disposed of by legal means and has led to permanent health effects on inhabitants of affected areas, as in the case of the Seveso disaster. The country has also operated several nuclear reactors between 1963 and 1990 but, after the Chernobyl disaster and a referendum on the issue the nuclear program was terminated, a decision that was overturned by the government in 2008. A deal was signed with France in 2009 for the construction of up to four new nuclear plants. Deforestation, illegal building developments and poor land management policies have led to significant erosion all over Italy's mountainous regions, leading to major ecological disasters like the 1963 Vajont Dam flood, the 1998 Sarno and 2009 Messina mudslides.
The climate of Italy is highly diverse and can be far from the stereotypical Mediterranean climate, depending on location. Most of the inland northern regions of Italy, for example Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, have a climate variously described as humid continental or temperate. Adriana Rigutti (in Meteorologia, Giunti 2005) states that the climte of the “Po valley region continental ... with harsh winters and hot summers”. The coastal areas of Liguria and most of the peninsula south of Florence generally fit the Mediterranean stereotype (Köppen climate classification Csa). Conditions on peninsular coastal areas can be very different from the interior's higher ground 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.
Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni, singular regione). Five of these regions have a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their local matters; these are marked by an asterisk (*) in the table below. The country is further divided into 110 provinces (province) and 8,100 municipalities (comuni).
Italy is a unitary parliamentary republic since 2 June 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by a constitutional referendum. The President of the Italian Republic (Presidente della Repubblica), currently Giorgio Napolitano since 2006, is Italy's head of state. The President is elected for a single seven years mandate by the Parliament in joint session. Italy has a written democratic constitution, resulting from the work of a Constituent Assembly formed by the representatives of all the anti-fascist forces that contributed to the defeat of Nazi and Fascist forces during the Civil War.
Silvio Berlusconi, since 8 May 2008, has been Prime Minister, leading a center-right coalition. The Italy's four major political parties are the People of Freedom, the Democratic Party, the Northern League and the Italy of Values. During the 2008 general elections these four parties won 590 out of 630 seats available in the Chamber of Deputies and 308 out of 315 seats available in the Senate of the Republic. Most of the remaining seats were won by minor parties that only contest election in one part of Italy, like the South Tyrolean People's Party and the Movement for Autonomies. However, during the last 3 years, a so called "Third Pole" emerged, merging the Christian Democrats of UDC with some dissident MPs coming from Mr. Berlusconi's cabinet. A peculiarity of the Italian Parliament is the representation given to Italian citizens permanently living abroad (about 3.6 million people): 12 Deputies and 6 Senators elected in four distinct overseas constituencies. In addiction, the Italian Senate is characterized also by a small number of senators for life, appointed by the President of the Italian Republic "for outstanding patriotic merits in the social, scientific, artistic or literary field". Former Presidents of the Republic are ex officio life senators.
The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes. The Supreme Court of Cassation is the highest court in Italy for both criminal and civil appeal cases. The Constitutional Court of Italy (Corte Costituzionale) rules on the conformity of laws with the Constitution and is a post–World War II innovation. Since their appearance in the middle of the 19th century, Italian organized crime and criminal organizations have infiltrated the social and economic life of many regions in Southern Italy, the most notorious of which being the Sicilian Mafia, which would later expand into some foreign countries including the United States. The Mafia receipts could reach 9% of Italy's GDP 14.6% of the Italian GDP is produced in 610 comuni, where lives 13 million Italians, with a strong presence of the Mafia. The Calabrian 'Ndrangheta, nowadays probably the most powerful crime syndicate of Italy, accounts alone by 3% of the country's GDP. However, at 0.013 per 1,000 people, Italy has only the 47th highest murder rate (in a group of 62 countries) and the 43rd highest number of rapes per 1,000 people in the world (in a group of 65 countries), relatively low figures among developed countries.
Italy is a founding member of the European Community, now the European Union (EU), and of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Italy was admitted to the United Nations in 1955, and it is a member and strong supporter of a wide number of international organizations, such as 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), the Council of Europe, and the Central European Initiative. Its recent turns in the rotating presidency of international organisations include the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), the forerunner of the OSCE, in 1994; G8; and the EU in 2009 and from July to December 2003.
Italy strongly supports multilateral international politics, endorsing 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 in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) from 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 operators and other civilian personnel. In August 2006 Italy deployed about 2,450 troops in Lebanon for the United Nations' peacekeeping mission UNIFIL.
The Italian Army, Navy, Air Force and Gendarmerie collectively form the Italian armed forces, under the command of the Supreme Defence Council, presided over by the President of the Italian Republic. From 1999, military service is voluntary. In 2010, the Italian military had 293,202 personnel on active duty, of which 114,778 in the national gendarmerie. Total Italian military spending in 2010 ranked tenth in the world, standing at $35.8 billion, equal to 1.7% of national GDP. As part of NATO's nuclear sharing strategy Italy also hosts 90 United States nuclear bombs, located in the Ghedi and Aviano air bases.
The Italian Army is the national ground defense force, numbering 109,703 in 2008. Its best-known combat vehicles are the Dardo infantry fighting vehicle, the Centauro tank destroyer and the Ariete tank, and among its aircraft the Mangusta attack helicopter, recently deployed in UN missions. It also has at its disposal a large number of Leopard 1 and M113 armored vehicles.
The Italian Navy in 2008 had 35,200 active personnel with 85 commissioned ships and 123 aircraft. It is now equipping itself with a bigger aircraft carrier, (the Cavour), new destroyers, submarines and multipurpose frigates. In modern times the Italian Navy, being a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), has taken part in many coalition peacekeeping operations around the world.
The Italian Air Force in 2008 had a strength of 43,882 and operated 585 aircraft, including 219 combat jets and 114 helicopters. As a stopgap and as replacement for leased Tornado ADV interceptors, the AMI has leased 30 F-16A Block 15 ADF and four F-16B Block 10 Fighting Falcons, with an option for more. The coming years also will see the introduction of 121 EF2000 Eurofighter Typhoons, replacing the leased F-16 Fighting Falcons. Further updates are foreseen in the Tornado IDS/IDT and AMX fleets. A transport capability is guaranteed by a fleet of 22 C-130Js and Aeritalia G.222s of which 12 are being replaced with the newly developed G.222 variant called the C-27J Spartan.
An autonomous corps of the military, the Carabinieri are the gendarmerie and military police of Italy, policing the military and civilian population alongside Italy's other police forces. While the different branches of the Carabinieri report to separate ministries for each of their individual functions, the corps reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs when maintaining public order and security.
Italy has a capitalist economy with high gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and developed infrastructure. According to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the CIA World Factbook, in 2010 Italy was the eighth-largest economy in the world and the fourth-largest in Europe in terms of nominal GDP, and the tenth-largest economy in the world and fifth-largest in Europe in terms of PPP (purchasing power parity) GDP. Italy is member of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations, the European Union and the OECD.
In the post-war period, Italy was transformed from a weak, agricultural based economy which had been severely affected by the consequences of World War II, into one of the world's most industrialized nations, and a leading country in world trade and exports. According to the World Bank, Italy has high levels of freedom for investments, business and trade. Italy is a developed country, and, according to The Economist, has the world's 8th highest quality of life. The country enjoys a very high standard of living. According to the last Eurostat data, Italian per capita GDP at purchasing power parity remains approximately equal to the EU average, while the unemployment rate (8.5%) stands as one of the EU's lowest. Italy owns the world's 4th largest gold reserve. The country is also well-known for its influential and innovative business economic sector, an industrious and competitive agricultural sector (Italy is the world's largest wine producer), and for its creative and high-quality automobile, industrial, appliance and fashion design.
Despite these important achievements, the country's economy today suffers from many and relevant problems. After a strong GDP growth of 5–6% per year from the 1950s to the early 1970s, and a progressive slowdown in the 1980s and 1990s, the last decade's average annual growth rates poorly performed at 1.23% in comparison to an average EU annual growth rate of 2.28%. The stagnation in economic growth, and the political efforts to revive it with massive government spending from the 1980s onwards, eventually produced a severe rise in public debt. According to the EU's statistics body Eurostat, Italian public debt stood at 116% of GDP in 2010, ranking as the second biggest debt ratio after Greece (with 126.8%). However, the biggest chunk of Italian public debt is owned by national subjects, a major difference between Italy and Greece. In addition, Italian living standards have a considerable north-south divide. The average GDP per capita in Northern Italy exceeds by far the EU average, whilst some regions and provinces in Southern Italy are dramatically below. Italy has often been referred the sick man of Europe, characterised by economic stagnation, political instability and problems in pursuing reform programs.
More specifically, Italy suffers from structural weaknesses due to its geographical conformation and the lack of raw materials and energy resources: in 2006 the country imported more than 86% of its total energy consumption (99.7% of the solid fuels, 92.5% of oil, 91.2% of natural gas and 15% of electricity). The Italian economy is weakened by the lack of infrastructure development, market reforms and research investment, and also high public deficit. In the Index of Economic Freedom 2008, the country ranked 64th in the world and 29th in Europe, the lowest rating in the Eurozone. Italy still receives development assistance from the European Union every year. Between 2000 and 2006, Italy received €27.4 billion from the EU. The country has an inefficient state bureaucracy, low property rights protection and high levels of corruption, heavy taxation and public spending that accounts for about half of the national GDP. In addition, the most recent data show that Italy's spending in R&D in 2006 was equal to 1.14% of GDP, below the EU average of 1.84% and the Lisbon Strategy target of devoting 3% of GDP to research and development activities. Finally, organized crime is also a strong contributing factor in Italy's economic weakness.
The country was the world's 7th largest exporter in 2009. Italy's major exports and companies by sector are motor vehicles (Fiat, Aprilia, Ducati, Piaggio); chemicals and petrochemicals (Eni); energy and electrical engineering (Enel, Edison); home appliances (Candy, Indesit), aerospace and defense technologies (Alenia Aeronautica, Agusta, Finmeccanica), firearms (Beretta), fashion (Armani, Valentino, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, Benetton, Prada, Luxottica); food processing (Ferrero, Barilla Group, Martini & Rossi, Campari, Parmalat); sport and luxury vehicles (Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Pagani); yachts (Ferretti, Azimut). Italy's closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European Union, with whom it conducts about 59% of its total trade. Its largest EU trade partners, in order of market share, are Germany (12.9%), France (11.4%), and Spain (7.4%).
In 2004 the transport sector in Italy generated a turnover of about 119.4 billion euros, employing 935,700 persons in 153,700 enterprises. Regarding the national road network, in 2002 there were 668,721 km (415,612 mi) of serviceable roads in Italy, including 6,487 km (4,031 mi) of motorways, state-owned but privately operated by Atlantia. In 2005, about 34,667,000 passenger cars (590 cars per 1,000 people) and 4,015,000 goods vehicles circulated on the national road network.
The national railway network, state-owned and operated by Ferrovie dello Stato, in 2003 totalled 16,287 km (10,122 mi) of which 69% is electrified, and on which 4,937 locomotives and railcars circulated. The national inland waterways network comprised 1,477 km (918 mi) of navigable rivers and channels in 2002. In 2004 there were approximately 30 main airports (including the two hubs of Malpensa International in Milan and Leonardo Da Vinci International in Rome) and 43 major seaports (including the seaport of Genoa, the country's largest and second largest in the Mediterranean Sea). In 2005 Italy maintained a civilian air fleet of about 389,000 units and a merchant fleet of 581 ships.
With a population estimated in 60.6 million, Italy has the fourth-largest population in the European Union and the 23rd-largest population worldwide. The population density, at over 200 persons per square kilometre (over 500/sq mi), is the fifth highest in the European Union. The highest density is in Northern Italy, as that one-third of the country contains almost half of the total population.
After World War II, Italy enjoyed a prolonged economic boom which caused a major rural exodus to the cities, and at the same time transformed the nation from a massive emigration country to a net immigrant-receiving country. High fertility persisted until the 1970s, when it plunged below the replacement rates, so that as of 2008, one in five Italians was over 65 years old. Despite this, thanks mainly to the massive immigration of the last two decades, in the first decade of the 21st century, Italy experienced a growth in the crude birth rate (especially in the northern regions) for the first time in many years. The total fertility rate has also significantly grown in the past few years, thanks to rising births among both in foreign-born and Italian women, as it climbed from an all-time minimum of 1.18 children per woman in 1995 to 1.41 in 2008.
Italy became a country of mass emigration soon after national reunification in the late 19th century. Between 1898 and 1914, the peak years of Italian diaspora, approximately 750,000 Italians emigrated each year. Italian communities once thrived in the former African colonies of Eritrea (nearly 100,000 at the beginning of World War II), Somalia and Libya (150,000 Italians settled in Libya, constituting about 18% of the total population). All of Libya's Italians were expelled from the North African country in 1970.
At the start of 2010 there were 4,235,059 foreign nationals resident in Italy and registered with the authorities. This amounted to 7.1% of the country’s population and represented a year-on-year increase of 388,000. These figures include more than half a million children born in Italy to foreign nationals—second generation immigrants are becoming an important element in the demographic picture—but exclude foreign nationals who have subsequently acquired Italian nationality; this applied to 53,696 people in 2008. They also exclude illegal immigrants, the so-called clandestini whose numbers are difficult to determine. In May 2008 The Boston Globe quoted an estimate of 670,000 for this group.
Since the expansion of the European Union, the most recent wave of migration has been from surrounding European nations, particularly Eastern Europe, and increasingly Asia, replacing North Africa as the major immigration area. Some 950,000 Romanians, around 10 percent of them being Romani, are officially registered as living in Italy, replacing Albanians and Moroccans as the largest ethnic minority group. The number unregistered Romanians is difficult to estimate, but the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network suggested that in 2007 that there might have been half a million or more.
As of 2009, the foreign born population origin of Italy was subdivided as follows: Europe (54%), Africa (22%), Asia (16%), the Americas (8%) and Oceania (0.06%). The distribution of foreign born population is largely uneven in Italy: 87% of immigrants live in the northern and central parts of the country (the most economically developed areas), while only 13% live in the southern half of the peninsula.
Italy's official language is Italian. Ethnologue has estimated that there are about 55 million speakers of the language in Italy and a further 6.7 million outside of the country. However, between 120 and 150 million people use Italian as a second or cultural language, worldwide.
Italian, adopted by the state after the unification of Italy, is based on the Florentine variety of Tuscan and is somewhat intermediate between the Italo-Dalmatian languages of the South and the Gallo-Romance Northern Italian languages. Its development was also influenced by the Germanic languages of the post-Roman invaders.
Italy has numerous dialects spoken all over the country and some Italians cannot speak Italian at all. However, the establishment of a national education system has led to decrease in variation in the languages spoken across the country. Standardisation was further expanded in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to economic growth and the rise of mass media and television (the state broadcaster RAI helped set a standard Italian).
Several ethnic groups are legally recognized, and a number of minority languages have co-official status alongside Italian in various parts of the country. French is co-official in the Valle d’Aosta—although in fact Franco-Provencal is more commonly spoken there. German has the same status in the province of South Tyrol as, in some parts of that province and in parts of the neighbouring Trentino, does Ladin. Slovene is officially recognised in the provinces of Trieste, Gorizia and Udine in Friuli Venezia Giulia.
In these regions official documents are bilingual (trilingual in Ladin communities), or available upon request in either Italian or the co-official language. Traffic signs are also multilingual, except in the Valle d’Aosta where – with the exception of Aosta itself which has retained its Latin form in Italian (as in English) – French toponyms are generally used, attempts to italianise them during the Fascist period having been abandoned. Education is possible in minority languages where such schools are operating.
Roman Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the country, although the Catholic Church is no longer officially the state religion. The proportion of Italians that identify themselves as Roman Catholic is 87.8%, although only about one-third of these described themselves as active members (36.8%).
Most Italians believe in God, or a form of a spiritual life force. According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005: 74% of Italian citizens responded that 'they believe there is a God', 16% answered that 'they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force' and 6% answered that 'they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force'.The longest-established religious faith in Italy is Judaism, Jews having been present in Ancient Rome before the birth of Christ. Italy has seen many influential Italian-Jews, such as Luigi Luzzatti, who took office in 1910, Ernesto Nathan served as mayor of Rome from 1907 to 1913 and Shabbethai Donnolo (died 982). During the Holocaust, Italy took in many Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. However, with the creation of the Nazi-backed puppet Italian Social Republic, about 15% of Italy's Jews were killed, despite the Fascist government's refusal to deport Jews to Nazi death camps. This, together with the emigration that preceded and followed the Second World War, has left only a small community of around 45,000 Jews in Italy today.
Due to immigration from around the world, there has been an increase in non-Christian faiths. In 2009, there were 1.0 million Muslims in Italy forming 1.6 percent of population although, only 50,000 hold Italian citizenship. Independent estimates put the Islamic population in Italy anywhere from 0.8 million to 1.5 million.
There are more than 200,000 followers of faith originating in the Indian subcontinent woth some 70,000 Sikhs with 22 gurdwaras across the country, 70,000 Hindus, and 50,000 Buddhists. There are an estimated some 4,900 Bahá'ís in Italy in 2005.
Italy's public education is free and compulsory from 6 to 15 years of age, and has a five-year primary stage and an eight-year secondary stage, divided into first-grade secondary school (middle school) and second-grade secondary school (or high school). Italy has a high public education standard, surpassing that of other comparable developed countries, such as the UK and Germany. The country has both public and private education systems.
According to National Science Indicators (1981–2002), a database produced by Research Services Group containing listings of output and citation statistics for more than 90 countries, Italy has an above-average output of scientific papers (in terms of number of papers written with at least one author being from Italy) in space science (9.75% of papers in the world being from Italy), mathematics (5.51% of papers in the world), computer science, neurosciences, and physics; the lowest, but still slightly above world-average, output in terms of number of papers produced is recorded in the social sciences, psychology and psychiatry, and economics and business.
Italy hosts a broad variety of universities, colleges and academies. Milan's Bocconi University, has been ranked among the top 20 best business schools in the world by The Wall Street Journal international rankings, especially thanks to its M.B.A. program, which in 2007 placed it no. 17 in the world in terms of graduate recruitment preference by major multinational companies. Also, Forbes has ranked Bocconi no. 1 worldwide in the specific category Value for Money. In May 2008, Bocconi overtook several traditionally top global business schools in the Financial Times Executive education ranking, reaching no. 5 in Europe and no. 15 in the world.
Other top universities and polytechnics include the Polytechnic University of Turin, the Politecnico di Milano (which in 2009 was ranked as the 57th technical university in the world by Top Universities, in a research conducted on behalf of Times Higher Education. This was a 6-positions growth from the 63rd position in 2008. In 2009 an Italian research ranked it as the best in Italy over indicators such as scientific production, attraction of foreign students, and others), the University of Rome La Sapienza (which in 2005 was Europe's 33rd best university, and ranks amongst Europe's 50 and the world's 150 best colleges) and the University of Milan (whose research and teaching activities have developed over the years and have received important international recognitions. The University is the only Italian member of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), a prestigious group of twenty research-intensive European Universities. It also been awarded ranking positions as such: -1st in Italy and 7th in Europe (The Leiden Ranking – Universiteit Leiden).
Italy and the Western world's oldest college is the University of Bologna. In 2009, the University of Bologna is, according to The Times, the only Italian college in the top 200 World Universities. The University of Padua, also remains one of Europe's oldest.
Italy has had a public healthcare system since 1978. Healthcare spending in Italy accounted for more than 9.0% of the national GDP in 2008, slightly above the OECD countries' average of 8.9%. However, Italy ranks as having the world's 2nd best healthcare system, and the world's 3rd best healthcare performance.
Italy had the 12th highest worldwide life expectancy in 2010, while, as in many others western countries, seeing an increase in the proportion of overweight and obese people, with 34.2% of Italians self reporting as overweight and 9.8% self reporting as obese. The proportion of daily smokers was 22% in 2008. Smoking in public places including bars, restaurants, night clubs and offices has been restricted to specially ventilated rooms since 2005.
Italy did not exist as a state until the country's unification 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 are now recognized as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin. Despite the political and social distinction of these regions, Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe and the world remain immense. Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (45) to date, and has rich collections of world art, culture and literature from many different periods. Italy has had a broad cultural influence worldwide, also because numerous Italians emigrated to other countries during the Italian diaspora. Italy has, overall, an estimated 100,000 monuments of any sort (museums, palaces, buildings, statues, churches, art galleries, villas, fountains, historic houses and archaeological remains).
Italy has a very broad and diverse architectural style, which cannot be simply classified by period, but also by region, due to Italy's division into several city-states until 1861. However, this has created a highly diverse and eclectic range in architectural designs. Italy is known for its considerable architectural achievements, such as the construction of arches, domes and similar structures during ancient Rome, the founding of the Renaissance architectural movement in the late-14th to 16th century, and being the homeland of Palladianism, a style of construction which inspired movements such as that of Neoclassical architecture, and influenced the designs which noblemen built their country houses all over the world, notably in the UK, Australia and the US during the late-17th to early 20th centuries. Several of the finest works in Western architecture, such as the Colosseum, the Milan Cathedral and Florence cathedral, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the building designs of Venice are found in Italy.
Italian architecture has also widely influenced the architecture of the world. Italianate architecture, popular abroad from the 16th to mid-20th century, was used to describe foreign architecture which was built in an Italian style. British architect Inigo Jones, inspired by the avant-garde designs of Italian buildings and cities, in the early-17th century, brought back these ideas with him to London, and ever since, this Italianate architecture has been popular in construction designs all over the world.
Over the centuries, Italian art has gone through many stylistic changes. Italian painting is traditionally characterized by a warmth of colour and light, as exemplified in the works of Caravaggio and Titian, and a preoccupation with religious figures and motifs. Italian painting enjoyed preeminence in Europe for hundreds of years, from the Romanesque and Gothic periods, and through the Renaissance and Baroque periods, the latter two of which saw fruition in Italy. Notable artists who fall within these periods include Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian and Raphael.
Thereafter, Italy was to experience a continual subjection to foreign powers which caused a shift of focus to political matters, leading to its decline as the artistic authority in Europe. Not until 20th century Futurism, primarily through the works of Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla, would Italy recapture any of its former prestige as a seminal place of artistic evolution. Futurism was succeeded by the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, who exerted a strong influence on the Surrealists and generations of artists to follow.
The basis of the modern Italian language was established by the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri, whose greatest work, the Divine Comedy, is considered amongst the foremost literary statements produced in Europe during the Middle Ages. There is no shortage of celebrated literary figures in Italy: 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, satirist and theatre author Dario Fo in 1997.
Italian theatre can be traced back to the Roman tradition which was heavily influenced by the Greek; as with many other literary genres, Roman dramatists tended to adapt and translate from the Greek. For example, Seneca's Phaedra was based on that of Euripides, and many of the comedies of Plautus were direct translations of works by Menander. During the 16th century and on into the 18th century, Commedia dell'arte was a form of improvisational theatre, and it is still performed today. Travelling troupes of players would set up an outdoor stage and provide amusement in the form of juggling, acrobatics, and, more typically, humorous plays based on a repertoire of established characters with a rough storyline, called canovaccio.
From folk music to classical, music has always played an important role in Italian culture. Instruments associated with classical music, including the piano and violin, were invented in Italy, and many of the prevailing classical music forms, such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata, can trace their roots back to innovations of 16th and 17th century Italian music.
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. While the classical music tradition still holds strong in Italy, as evidenced by the fame of its innumerable opera houses, such as La Scala of Milan and San Carlo of Naples, and performers such as the pianist Maurizio Pollini and the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Italians have been no less appreciative of their thriving contemporary music scene.
Italy is widely known for being the birthplace of opera. Italian opera was believed to have been founded in the early 17th century, in Italian cities such as Mantua and Venice. Later, works and pieces composed by native Italian composers of the 19th century and early 20th century, such as Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini, are amongst the most famous operas ever written and today are performed in opera houses across the world. La Scala operahouse in Milan is also renowned as one of the best in the world. Famous Italian opera singers include Enrico Caruso, Alessandro Bonci, the late Luciano Pavarotti, and Andrea Bocelli, to name a few.
Introduced in the early 1920s, jazz took a particularly strong foothold in Italy, and remained popular despite the xenophobic cultural policies of the Fascist regime. Today, the most notable centers of jazz music in Italy include Milan, Rome, and Sicily. Later, Italy was at the forefront of the progressive rock movement of the 1970s, with bands like PFM and Goblin. Today, Italian pop music is represented annually with the Sanremo Music Festival, which served as inspiration for the Eurovision song contest, and the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto. Singers such as pop diva Mina, classical crossover artist Andrea Bocelli, Grammy winner Laura Pausini, and European chart-topper Eros Ramazzotti have attained international acclaim.
The history of Italian cinema began a few months after the Lumière brothers began motion picture exhibitions. The first Italian film was a few seconds long, showing Pope Leo XIII giving a blessing to the camera. The Italian film industry was born between 1903 and 1908 with three companies: the Società Italiana Cines, the Ambrosio Film and the Itala Film. Other companies soon followed in Milan and in Naples. In a short time these first companies reached a fair producing quality, and films were soon sold outside Italy. Cinema was later used by Benito Mussolini, who founded Rome's renowned Cinecittà studio for the production of Fascist propaganda until World War II.
After the war, Italian film was widely recognised and exported until an artistic decline around the 1980s. Notable Italian film directors from this period include Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni and Dario Argento. Movies include world cinema treasures such as La dolce vita, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo and Ladri di biciclette. In recent years, the Italian scene has received only occasional international attention, with movies like La vita è bella directed by Roberto Benigni and Il postino with Massimo Troisi.
Through the centuries, Italy has given birth to some notable scientific minds. Amongst them, and perhaps the most famous polymath in history, Leonardo da Vinci made several contributions to a variety of fields including art, biology, and technology. Galileo Galilei was a physicist, mathematician, and astronomer who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations, and support for Copernicanism. The physicist Enrico Fermi, a Nobel prize laureate, was the leader of the team that built the first nuclear reactor and is also noted for his many other contributions to physics, including the co-development of the quantum theory.
A brief overview of some other notable figures includes the astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who made many important discoveries about the Solar System; the physicist Alessandro Volta, inventor of the electric battery; the mathematicians Lagrange, Fibonacci, and Gerolamo Cardano, whose Ars Magna is generally recognized as the first modern treatment on mathematics, made fundamental advances to the field; Marcello Malpighi, a doctor and founder of microscopic anatomy; the biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani, who conducted important research in bodily functions, animal reproduction, and cellular theory; the physician, pathologist, scientist, and Nobel laureate Camillo Golgi, whose many achievements include the discovery of the Golgi complex, and his role in paving the way to the acceptance of the Neuron doctrine; and Guglielmo Marconi, who received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of radio.
Italy has a long sporting tradition. In numerous sports, both individual and team, Italy has good representation and many successes. The most popular sport is by far football. Basketball and volleyball are the next most popular/played, with Italy having a rich tradition in both. Italy won the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and is currently the second most successful football team in the world, after Brazil, having won four FIFA World Cups. Italy has also got strong traditions in cycling, tennis, athletics, fencing, winter sports and rugby. Italian Scuderia Ferrari is the oldest surviving team in Grand Prix racing, having competed since 1948, and statistically the most successful Formula One team in history with a record of 15 drivers' championships and 16 constructors' championships.
Italian fashion has a long tradition, and is regarded as one of the most important in the world, along with French fashion, American fashion, British fashion and Japanese fashion. Milan, Florence and Rome are Italy's main fashion capitals, however Naples, Turin, Venice, Bologna, Genoa and Vicenza are other major centres. According to the 2009 Global Language Monitor, Milan was nominated the true fashion capital of the world, even surpassing other international cities, such as New York, Paris, London and Tokyo, and Rome came 4th. Major Italian fashion labels, such as Gucci, Prada, Versace, Valentino, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Fendi, Moschino, Max Mara and Ferragamo, to name a few, are regarded as amongst the finest fashion houses in the world. Also, the fashion magazine Vogue Italia, is considered the most important and prestigious fashion magazine in the world.
Italy is also prominent in the field of design, notably interior design, architectural design, industrial design and urban design. Italy has produced some well-known furniture designers, such as Gio Ponti and Ettore Sottsass, and Italian phrases such as "Bel Disegno" and "Linea Italiana" have entered the vocabulary of furniture design. Examples of classic pieces of Italian white goods and pieces of furniture include Zanussi's washing machines and fridges, the "New Tone" sofas by Atrium, and the post-modern bookcase by Ettore Sottsass, inspired by Bob Dylan's song Memphis Blues. Today, Milan and Turin are the nation's leaders in architectural design and industrial design. The city of Milan hosts the FieraMilano, Europe's biggest design fair. Milan also hosts major design and architecture-related events and venues, such as the "Fuori Salone" and the Salone del Mobile, and has been home to the designers Bruno Munari, Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni
Modern Italian cuisine has evolved through centuries of social and political changes, with its roots reaching back to the 4th century BC. Significant change occurred with the discovery of the New World, when vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and maize became available. However, these central ingredients of modern Italian cuisine were not introduced in scale before the 18th century.
Ingredients and dishes vary by region. However, many dishes that were once regional have proliferated in different variations across the country. Cheese and wine are major parts of the cuisine, playing different roles both regionally and nationally with their many variations and Denominazione di origine controllata (regulated appellation) laws. Coffee, and more specifically espresso, has become highly important to the cultural cuisine of Italy. Some famous dishes and items include pasta, pizza, lasagna, focaccia, and gelato.