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Italy: History, Geography, Climate, Information

Online Italian Dictionary

Italian Language

Flag of Italy

Coat of Arms of the Italian Republic

Location of Italy

  Italy (Italian: Repubblica Italiana or Italia) is a country in southern Europe. It comprises a boot-shaped peninsula and two large islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia, and shares its northern alpine boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The independent countries of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italian territory.

For more than 3,000 years Italy witnessed many migrations and invasions from Germanic, Celtic, Frankish, Byzantine Greek, Norman, and the French Angevin, and Lombard peoples. Italy was also home to many well-known and influential civilisations, including the Etruscans, Greeks and the Romans.

Italy is called Belpaese (Italian for beautiful country) by its inhabitants, due to the beauty and variety of its landscapes and for its world's largest artistic patrimony; the country is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (40 until January 1, 2006).

Presently, Italy is a highly developed country with the 6th GDP in 2004, a member of G8 and a founding member of what is now the European Union signing the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Inhabitants of Italy are referred to as Italians (Italian: Italiani). There exist several theories concerning the origin of the name Italia, but the most widely believed etymology is that it is derived from the ancient Greek word italos (bull).

History of Italy

Italy has influenced the cultural and social development of the whole Mediterranean area, deeply influencing European culture as well. Important cultures and civilizations have existed there since prehistoric times. After Magna Graecia, the Etruscan civilization and especially the Roman Republic and Empire that dominated this part of the world for many centuries, Italy was central to European science and art during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Modern Italy became a nation-state belatedly — on March 17, 1861, when most of the states of the peninsula were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty, which ruled over Sardinia and Piedmont. The architects of Italian unification were Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Chief Minister of Victor Emmanuel, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, a general and national hero. Rome itself remained for a little less than a decade under the Papacy, and became part of the Kingdom of Italy only on September 20, 1870. The Vatican is now an independent enclave surrounded by Rome.

History of Italy


The 1948 Constitution of Italy established a bicameral parliament (Parlamento), consisting of a Chamber of Deputies (Camera dei Deputati) and a Senate (Senato della Repubblica), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet) (Consiglio dei ministri), headed by the prime minister (Presidente del consiglio dei ministri).

The President of the Republic (Presidente della Repubblica) is elected for 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 retain the support (fiducia) of both houses.

The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected through a proportional representation system. The Chamber of Deputies has officially 630 members (de facto, 619 only after the 2001 elections). In addition to 315 senators, elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other persons (no more than five) appointed for life by the President of the Republic according to special constitutional provisions. Both houses are elected for a maximum of five years, but both may be dissolved before the expiration of their normal term. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both. The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and later statutes. A constitutional court, the Corte Costituzionale, passes on the constitutionality of laws, and is a post-World War II innovation.

All Italian citizens older than 18 can vote. However, to vote for the senate, the voter must be at least 25 or older.

Administrative divisions

Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni, singular regione). Five of these regions enjoy a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their specific local matters, and are marked by an *:

  1. Abruzzo (with capital L'Aquila)
  2. Basilicata (Potenza)
  3. Calabria (Catanzaro)
  4. Campania (Naples, Napoli)
  5. Emilia-Romagna (Bologna)
  6. Friuli-Venezia Giulia* (Trieste)
  7. Latium, Lazio (Rome, Roma)
  8. Liguria (Genoa, Genova)
  9. Lombardy, Lombardia (Milan, Milano)
  10. Marches, Marche (Ancona)
  11. Molise (Campobasso)
  12. Piedmont, Piemonte (Turin, Torino)
  13. Apulia, Puglia (Bari)
  14. Sardinia*, Sardegna (Cagliari)
  15. Aosta Valley*, Valle d'Aosta / Vallée d'Aoste (Aosta, Aoste)
  16. Tuscany, Toscana (Florence, Firenze)
  17. Trentino-South Tyrol*, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol Trento,Bolzano)
  18. Umbria (Perugia)
  19. Sicily*, Sicilia (Palermo)
  20. Veneto (Venice, Venezia)

All regions except the Aosta Valley are further subdivided into two or more provinces.

Administrative divisions


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.
The Italian armed forces are divided into four branches: Army, Navy, Air Force and Gendarmerie.

Foreign relations



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).


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.

Italy consists predominantly of a large peninsula (the Italian Peninsula) with a distinctive boot shape that extends into the Mediterranean Sea, where together with its two main islands Sicily and Sardinia it creates distinct bodies of water, such as the Adriatic Sea to the north-east, the Ionian Sea to the south-east, the Tyrrhenian Sea to the south-west and finally the Ligurian Sea to the north-west.

The Apennine mountains form the backbone of this peninsula, leading north-west to where they join the Alps, the mountain range that then forms an arc enclosing Italy from the north. Here is also found a large alluvial plain, the Po-Venetian plain, drained by the Po River — which is Italy's biggest river with 652 km — and its many tributaries flowing down from the Alps (Dora Baltea, 160 km, Sesia, 138 km, Ticino, 248 km, Adda, 313 km, Oglio, 280 km, Mincio), 194 km, and Apennines (Tanaro, 276 km, Trebbia, 115 km, Taro, 115 km, Secchia, 172 km, Panaro, 148 km).

Other well-known or importants rivers include the Tiber (Tevere) (405 km), Adige (410 km), Arno (241 km), Piave (220 km), Reno (212 km), Volturno (175 km), Tagliamento (170 km), Liri-Garigliano (158 km), Isonzo (136 km).

Its highest point is Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) at 4,810 metres (15,781 feet)3. Italy is more typically associated with two famous volcanoes: the currently dormant Vesuvius near Naples and the very active Etna on Sicily.

Satellite image of Italy


The Italian climate is uniquely diverse and can be far from the stereotype of a "land of sun", depending on the region. The north of Italy (Turin, Milan, and Bologna) has a true continental climate, while below Florence it becomes more and more Mediterranean. The climate of the coastal areas of the Peninsula is very different from that of the interior, particularly during the winter months. The higher areas are cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions, where most of the large towns are located, have a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot and generally dry summers. The length and intensity of the summer dry season increases southwards (compare the tables for Rome, Naples, and Brindisi).

Between the north and south there is a quite remarkable difference in the temperatures, above all during the winter: in some days of December or January it can be -2°C and snowing in Milan while it is +17°C in Palermo or Naples. Temperature differences are less extreme in the summer. (See how Po valley can be frosty in winter)

Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Italy and Western Europe

Between the north and south there is a quite remarkable difference in the temperatures, above all during the winter: in some days of December or January it can be -2°C and snowing in Milan while it is +17°C in Palermo or Naples. Temperature differences are less extreme in the summer. (See how Po valley can be frosty in winter)The east coast of the peninsula is not as wet as the west coast, but is usually colder in the winter. The east coast north of Pescara is occasionally affected by the cold bora winds in winter and spring, but the wind is less strong here than around Trieste. During these frosty spells from E-NE cities like Rimini, Ancona, Pescara and the entire eastern hillside of the Apennines can be affected by true "blizzards". The town of Fabriano, located just around 300 mt a.s.l., can often see 0.50-0.60 m of fresh snow fall in 24 hours during these episodes.Italy is subject to highly diverse weather conditions in autumn, winter, and spring, while summer is usually more stable, although the northern regions often experience thunderstorms in the afternoon/night hours. So, while south of Florence the summer is typically dry and sunny, the north is tends to be more humid and cloudy.The least number of rainy days and the highest number of hours of sunshine occur in the extreme south of the mainland and in Sicily and Sardinia. Here sunshine averages from four to five hours a day in winter and up to ten or eleven hours in summer. In the north precipitation is more evenly distributed during the year, although the summer is usually slightly wetter. Between November and March the Po valley is often covered by fog, especially in the central zone (Pavia, Cremona, and Mantua). Snow is quite common between early December and mid-February in cities like Turin, Milan and Bologna. In the winter of 2005-2006, Milan received around 0.75-0.80 m of fresh snow, Como around 1.00 m, Brescia 0.50 m, Trento 1.60 m, Vicenza around 0.45 m, Bologna around 0.30 m, and Piacenza around 0.80 m. (see the late January 2006 snowfall of Bergamo)Generally, the hottest month is August in the south and July in the north; during these months the thermometer can reach 38-42°C in the south and 33-35°C in the north. The coldest month is January; The Po valley's average temperature is around 0°C, Florence 5-6°C, Rome 7-8°C, Naples 9°C, Palermo 13°C. Winter morning lows can occasionally reach -14°C in Po valley, -6°C in Florence, -4°C in Rome, -2°C in Naples and 1°C in Palermo.The absolute record low was near -45°C in the Alps, and the record low near the sea level was -28.8°C (recorded during January 1985 near Bologna), while in the south cities like Catania, Lecce or Alghero have experienced highs of 48°C in some hot summers.


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