Area: 301,225 sq. km. (116,303 sq. mi.); about the size of Georgia and Florida combined.
Cities: Capital--Rome (pop. 2.8 million, 3.7 million metro). Other cities--Milan (1.3 million, 3.9 metro), Naples (975,000, 3 million metro), Turin (900,000, 2.1 million metro).
Terrain: Mostly rugged and mountainous.
Climate: Generally mild Mediterranean; cold northern winters.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Italian(s).
Population (July 2007 est.): 58.15 million.
Annual growth rate (2007 est.): 0.01%.
Ethnic groups: Primarily Italian, but there are small groups of German-, French-, Slovene-, and Albanian-Italians.
Religion: Roman Catholic (majority).
Language: Italian (official).
Education: Years compulsory--12. Literacy--98%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--5.72/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--77.01 years for men; 83.07 years for women.
Work force (24.63 million, 2006 est.): Services--63%; industry and commerce--32%; agriculture--5%. Unemployment rate is 7%.
Italy's Cultural Contributions
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 civilization, as did the painting, sculpture, and architecture contributed by giants such as da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, and Michelangelo.
Stylish, cultured, good-humoured and volatile - Italy, with its golden light, stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage, has inspired poets and painters for centuries. Perhaps more than any other country, it has influenced the course of European development, particularly in culture and political thought.
Today, besides the renowned cities of Venice, Florence, Siena and Naples, each with its own unique identity and architecture, Italy features romantic medieval hill towns, such as San Gimignano in Tuscany, and unspoilt fishing villages, like Positano on the Amalfi coast. Operatic productions are staged in Verona's ancient amphitheatre, while the influence of Federico Fellini is celebrated in Turin's museum of cinema.
Throughout the country visitors can find vineyards and cellars to taste fine regional wines, workshops where crafts are produced by hand, and friendly trattorie where simple but superb dishes are served.
Type: Republic since June 2, 1946.
Constitution: January 1, 1948.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), Council of Ministers (cabinet) headed by the president of the council (prime minister). Legislative--bicameral parliament: 630-member Chamber of Deputies, 315-member Senate (plus a varying number of "life" Senators). Judicial--independent constitutional court and lower magistracy.
Subdivisions: 94 provinces, 20 regions.
Political parties: People of Liberty, Democratic Party, Northern League, Italy of Values, Union of the Center, Movement for Autonomy.
Suffrage: Vote for House is universal over 18; vote for Senate is universal over 25.
GDP (purchasing power parity, 2007 est.): $1.8 trillion.
GDP per capita (purchasing power parity, 2007 est.): $31,000.
GDP growth: 1.7% (2007); 1.9% (2006); 0.1% (2005); 0.9% (2003 est.); 0.4% (2002); 1.8% (2001).
Natural resources: Fish and natural gas.
Agriculture: Products--wheat, rice, grapes, olives, citrus fruits, potatoes, sugar beets, soybeans beef, dairy products.
Industry: Types--tourism, machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, food processing, textiles, motor vehicles, clothing, footwear, ceramics.
Trade: Exports (2007 est.)--$474.8 billion f.o.b.: mechanical products, textiles and apparel, transportation equipment, metal products, chemical products, food and agricultural products. Partners (2006)--Germany 13.2%, France 12.3%, U.S. 7.5%, Spain 7.5%, U.K. 6.6%. Imports (2007 est.)--$483.6 billion f.o.b.: machinery and transport equipment, foodstuffs, ferrous and nonferrous metals, wool, cotton, energy products. Partners (2006)--Germany 17.3%, France 10.0%, Netherlands 5.7%, China 5.2%, Belgium 4.5%, Spain 4.3%.
The most important early settlers were the enigmatic Etruscans, but by the third century BC their culture had been displaced by the mighty city state of Rome.
At its greatest extent, the Roman Empire stretched from Egypt to England and for several centuries conferred on its inhabitants the benefits of the Pax Romana: culture, law, relative peace and comparative prosperity. This sophisticated society left a rich architectural legacy - Rome is still dominated by buildings like the mighty Colosseum.
In the 15th century, Italy was at the heart of the Renaissance, an extraordinary flowering of art and culture. It produced artists such as Fra Angelico, Raphael, Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, whose works take pride of place in Italy's galleries.
Italy combines art, history and contemporary fashion with stunning natural landscapes: the turquoise waters of Sardinia's Costa Smeralda offer one of Europe's most beautiful stretches of sand, sea and sunshine, while the snow-covered slopes of the Dolomite mountains are a haven for winter sports enthusiasts.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Italy is largely homogeneous linguistically and religiously but is diverse culturally, economically, and politically. Italy has the fifth-highest population density in Europe--about 200 persons per square kilometer (490 per sq. mi.). Minority groups are small, the largest being the German-speaking people of Bolzano Province and the Slovenes around Trieste. There are also small communities of Albanian, Greek, Ladino, and French origin. Immigration has increased in recent years, however, while the Italian population is declining overall due to low birth rates. Although Roman Catholicism is the majority religion--85% of native-born citizens are nominally Catholic--all religious faiths are provided equal freedom before the law by the constitution.
Greeks settled in the southern tip of the Italian Peninsula in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.; Etruscans, Romans, and others inhabited the central and northern mainland. The peninsula subsequently was unified under the Roman Republic. The neighboring islands came under Roman control by the third century B.C.; by the first century A.D., the Roman Empire effectively dominated the Mediterranean world. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West in the fifth century A.D., the peninsula and islands were subjected to a series of invasions, and political unity was lost. Italy became an oft-changing succession of small states, principalities, and kingdoms, which fought among themselves and were subject to ambitions of foreign powers. Popes of Rome ruled central Italy; rivalries between the popes and the Holy Roman Emperors, who claimed Italy as their domain, often made the peninsula a battleground.
The commercial prosperity of northern and central Italian cities, beginning in the 11th century, combined with the influence of the Renaissance, mitigated somewhat the effects of these medieval political rivalries. Although Italy declined after the 16th century, the Renaissance had strengthened the idea of a single Italian nationality. By the early 19th century, a nationalist movement developed and led to the reunification of Italy--except for Rome--in the 1860s. In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy was proclaimed King of Italy. Rome was incorporated in 1870. From 1870 until 1922, Italy was a constitutional monarchy with a parliament elected under limited suffrage.
During World War I, Italy renounced its standing alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary and, in 1915, entered the war on the side of the Allies. Under the postwar settlement, Italy received some former Austrian territory along the northeast frontier. In 1922, Benito Mussolini came to power and, over the next few years, eliminated political parties, curtailed personal liberties, and installed a fascist dictatorship termed the Corporate State. The king, with little or no effective power, remained titular head of state.
Italy allied with Germany and declared war on the United Kingdom and France in 1940. In 1941, Italy--with the other Axis powers, Germany and Japan--declared war on the United States and the Soviet Union. Following the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, the King dismissed Mussolini and appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Premier. The Badoglio government declared war on Germany, which quickly occupied most of the country and freed Mussolini, who led a brief-lived regime in the north. An anti-fascist popular resistance movement grew during the last two years of the war, harassing German forces before they were driven out in April 1945. A 1946 plebiscite ended the monarchy, and a constituent assembly was elected to draw up plans for the republic.
Under the 1947 peace treaty, minor adjustments were made in Italy's frontier with France, the eastern border area was transferred to Yugoslavia, and the area around the city of Trieste was designated a free territory. In 1954, the free territory, which had remained under the administration of U.S.-U.K. forces (Zone A, including the city of Trieste) and Yugoslav forces (Zone B), was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia, principally along the zonal boundary. This arrangement was made permanent by the Italian-Yugoslav Treaty of Osimo, ratified in 1977 (currently being discussed by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia). Under the 1947 peace treaty, Italy relinquished its overseas territories and certain Mediterranean islands.
The Roman Catholic Church's status in Italy has been determined, since its temporal powers ended in 1870, by a series of accords with the Italian Government. Under the Lateran Pacts of 1929, which were confirmed by the present constitution, Vatican City is recognized by Italy as an independent, sovereign entity. While preserving that recognition, in 1984, Italy and the Vatican updated several provisions of the 1929 accords. Included was the end of Roman Catholicism as Italy's formal state religion.
The Italian economy has changed dramatically since the end of World War II. From an agriculturally based economy, it has developed into an industrial state ranked as the world's sixth-largest market economy. Italy belongs to the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations; it is a member of the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Italy has few natural resources. With much land unsuited for farming, Italy is a net food importer. There are no substantial deposits of iron, coal, or oil. Proven natural gas reserves, mainly in the Po Valley and offshore in the Adriatic, constitute the country's most important mineral resource. Most raw materials needed for manufacturing and more than 80% of the country's energy sources are imported. Italy's economic strength is in the processing and the manufacturing of goods, primarily in small and medium-sized family-owned firms. Its major industries are precision machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electric goods, and fashion and clothing.
Italy continues to grapple with budget deficits and high public debt--2.0% and 105.6% of GDP for 2007, respectively. Italy joined the European Monetary Union in 1998 by signing the Stability and Growth Pact, and as a condition of this Euro zone membership, Italy must keep its budget deficit beneath a 3% ceiling. In June 2006, the European Commission warned Italy it had to bring the deficit down to that level by 2007. The Italian Government has found it difficult to bring the budget deficit down to a level that would allow a rapid decrease of that debt.
Italy's economic growth averaged only 0.66% for the five years ending in 2005; 2006 GDP growth reached 1.9%, the highest since 2000, largely due to export growth to the Euro zone area. The economy continues to grow less than the Euro zone average, and growth is expected to decelerate from 1.7% in 2007 to under 1% in 2008 as the Euro zone and world economies slow.
Italy's closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European Union, with whom it conducts about 60.3% of its total trade (2006 data). Italy's largest EU trade partners, in order of market share, are Germany (14.9%), France (11.1%), and the United Kingdom (5.3%). Italy continues to grapple with the effects of globalization, where certain countries (notably China) have eroded the Italian lower-end industrial product sector.
The Italian economy is also affected by a large underground economy--worth some 27% of Italy's GDP. This production is not subject, of course, to taxation and thus remains a source of lost revenue to the local and central government.
Italy's agriculture is typical of the division between the agricultures of the northern and southern countries of the European Union. The northern part of Italy produces primarily grains, sugar beets, soybeans, meat, and dairy products, while the south specializes in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, wine, and durum wheat. Even though much of its mountainous terrain is unsuitable for farming, Italy has a large work force (1.4 million) employed in farming. Most farms are small, with the average size being only seven hectares.