Italy, formally the Italian Republic , is a country situated in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. The country has an area of 301,338 km2 with a predominantly temperate seasonal climate or Mediterranean climate, and due to its shape, is often referred as lo Stivale (the boot). It is the EU’s 3rd most populated nation, with 61 million people.
Since antiquity, the Phoenicians and Greeks, the Etruscans and Celts have inhabited the southern, central and northern parts of the Italian peninsula respectively. Various Italian populations are scattered throughout Italy, alongside other ancient Italian tribes and Greek, Carthaginian and Phoenician colonies. A tribe of Italians, also known as the Latins, established the Roman Empire, which would eventually spread across the whole of Italy, absorbing and conquering a number of other neighbouring civilisations and eventually forming the Roman Republic. Rome eventually became the dominant power, conquering much of the ancient world and becoming the main cultural, political and religious centre of Western civilisation. The legacy of the Roman Empire is widespread and can be seen in the worldwide spread of civil law, republican governments, Christianity and Latin script.
In the Middle Ages, Italy suffered socio-political collapse under devastating barbarian invasions, but in the 11th century many rival city-states and maritime republics enjoyed great prosperity through shipping, trade and banking, even laying the foundations for capitalism. These independent city-states and regional republics, which functioned as the main point of entry into Europe for goods imported from Asia and the Middle East, often enjoyed a greater degree of democracy than the monarchies and feudal states then found throughout Europe, although much of central Italy remained under the control of the theocratic papal states, while southern Italy remained largely feudal, partly due to the succession of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Spanish and Bourbon conquests in the region.
Renaissance started in Italy then spread throughout the rest of Europe. It gave rise to a renewed interest in humanism, science, research and the arts and marked the beginning of the modern era. During this period, Italian culture blossomed, producing well-known scholars, artists as well as famous polymaths including Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Italian explorers including the famous Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci and Giovanni da Verrazzano have discovered a number of new routes into the Far East and New World and have contributed in bringing Europe into the era of new discoveries. Nevertheless, Italy’s importance as a centre of commercial and political power diminished considerably with the opening of the New World trade routes, as New World imports and trade routes became very influential in Europe and bypassed the East Asian and Mediterranean trade routes which had predominated in many Italian city-states. These tensions and violent rivalries culminated in the Italian wars of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a series of foreign wars and invasions that left Italian states vulnerable to annexation by neighbouring European powers.
In the mid-nineteenth century, an emerging movement in support of Italian nationalism and Italy’s independence from foreign control led to a period of revolutionary political upheaval known as the Risorgimento, which aimed to revive Italy’s cultural and economic prominence through the liberation and consolidation of peninsular and island Italy into an independent and unified nation-state. After several unsuccessful attempts, the Italian Wars of Independence, the Expedition of the Thousand and the capture of Rome finally led to the unification of the country which, after centuries of foreign domination and political division, had become a great power.
From the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, the new kingdom of Italy rapidly industrialised, particularly in the industrial triangle known as Milan, Turin and Genoa to the north, and quickly acquired a small colonial empire. The southern regions of the country, however, remained largely impoverished and excluded from industrialisation, giving rise to a large and influential diaspora. Although Italy was one of the main victors in the First World War, it fell into an economic crisis and social unrest that led to the establishment of a fascist dictatorship in 1922. Its subsequent participation in World War II alongside the Axis powers resulted in military defeat, economic destruction and civil war as a result of the rise of the Italian resistance movement. In the years that followed, Italy abolished the Italian monarchy, restored democracy, experienced a prolonged economic boom and became one of the most developed nations in the world despite periods of socio-political unrest (e.g. Anni di piombo, Mani pulite, Second Mafia War and the Maxi Trials).
The economy of Italy is the 3rd largest in the Eurozone and the 8th largest in the world. The country has a high level of human development and the highest life expectancy of the EU. At the same time, the country plays a major role in regional and global economic, military, cultural and diplomatic matters, which makes it both a regional and a world power.Reflecting its enormous cultural wealth, Italy is home to 51 World Heritage sites, the largest number in the world, and is one of the most visited countries.
Geography of Italy
Italy is located in southern Europe, between 35° and 47° north latitude and 6° and 19° east longitude. To the north, Italy borders France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia, and is roughly bounded by the Alpine catchment area, which includes the Po Valley and the Venetian plain. To the south it consists of the entire Italian peninsula and the two Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia, as well as many smaller islands. San Marino and the Vatican are sovereign states that are enclaves within Italy, while the Campione d’Italia is the Italian enclave inside Switzerland.
The total area of the country is 301,230 km², of which 294,020 km2 is land and 7,210 km2 is water. Italy, including the islands, has a 7,600 km long coastline and border on the Adriatic, Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, and shared borders with France, with Austria, with Slovenia and with Switzerland. San Marino and the Vatican.
The five largest lakes are, in decreasing order of size: the Garda (367.94 km2 or 142 km2), the Grande (212.51 km2 or 82 km2, shared with Switzerland), Como (145.9 km2 or 56 km2), the Trasimeno (124.29 km2 or 48 km2) and Bolsena (113.55 km2 or 44 km2).
The country lies at the meeting point of the Eurasian and African plates, which leads to significant seismic and volcanic activity. There are 14 volcanoes in Italy, four of which are active: Etna (the traditional site of the Vulcan forge), Stromboli, Vulcano and Vesuvius. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in continental Europe and is best known for having destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. Several islands and hills have been formed by volcanic activity, and there remains a large active caldera, the Campi Flegrei, northwest of Naples.
Demographics of Italy
The population of Italy at the end of 2013 was 60,782,668. The resulting population density of 202 inhabitants per square kilometre (520/m²) is higher than that of most Western European countries. Nevertheless, its population distribution is highly uneven. The most densely populated areas are the Po valley (where almost half of the population lives) and the metropolitan areas of Rome and Naples, while large areas including the Alps and the Apennine highlands, as well as the Basilicata plateau and Sardinia are very sparsely populated.
Italy’s population almost doubled during the 20th century, but the pattern of growth has been extremely uneven, as there has been significant internal migration from the rural south to the industrial cities of the north, a phenomenon which was a consequence of the Italian economic miracle of the 1950s and 1960s. High fertility and birth rates continued until the 1970s, after which they began to fall dramatically, leading to a rapid ageing of the population. At the end of the 2000s (decade), one in five Italians was over 65 years of age. However, in recent years, Italy has seen a significant increase in the birth rate. The total fertility rate has also risen from a historic low of 1.18 children per woman in 1995 to 1.41 in 2008.
From the end of the 19th century until the 1960s, Italy was a country of mass emigration. During the peak years of the Italian diaspora, the period between 1898 and 1914, approximately 750,000 Italians emigrated every year. The diaspora affected more than 25 million Italians and is considered to be the largest mass migration of modern times. As a result, today more than 4.1 million Italian citizens live abroad, while at least 60 million people of total or partial Italian origin live outside Italy.
Ethnic groups in Italy
In 2014 there were about 4.9 million foreigners living in Italy, about 8.1% of the total population. The figures include more than half a million children of foreign nationals born in Italy – second generation immigrants – but exclude foreigners who subsequently acquired Italian citizenship; this concerns about 130,000 people per year. The official figures also exclude illegal immigrants, estimated to number at least 670,000 in 2008.
From the early 1980s Italy, until then a linguistically and culturally homogenous society, began to attract significant flows of foreign immigrants. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and, more recently, following the EU enlargements of 2004 and 2007, large waves of migration emanated from the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe (notably Romania, Albania, Ukraine and Poland). An equally important source of immigration is neighbouring North Africa (in particular Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia), where the number of immigrants increased sharply following the Arab Spring. In addition, increasing migration flows from the Asia-Pacific region (particularly China and the Philippines) and Latin America have been recorded in recent years.
At present, about one million Romanian nationals (of which about one tenth are Roma) are officially registered in Italy, which is the largest individual country of origin, followed by Albanians and Moroccans with about 500,000 people each. Although it is difficult to calculate exactly the number of unregistered Romanians, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network estimated in 2007 that the figure is likely to be half a million people or more. Overall, the foreign-born Italian population at the end of the 2000s (decade) came from : Europe (54%), Africa (22%), Asia (16%), America (8%) and Oceania (0.06%). The distribution of immigrants is largely unequal in Italy: 87% of immigrants live in the north and centre of the country (the most economically developed regions), while only 13% live in the southern half of the peninsula.
Religion in Italy
The largest religion in the country has been Roman Catholicism by far, despite the fact that Catholicism is no longer officially the state religion. According to the 2010 census, 81.2% of Italians identified themselves as Roman Catholics.
The Holy See, the episcopal jurisdiction in Rome, contains the central government of the entire Roman Catholic Church, including various bodies important for its administration. Often wrongly called the “Vatican”, the Holy See is not the same entity as the Vatican City State, which was only created in 1929; the Holy See dates back to the time of the first Christians. Ambassadors are officially accredited to the “Holy See” rather than to the Vatican City State, and papal representatives to states and international organisations are recognised as representatives of the Holy See.
Minority Christian religions in Italy include the Eastern Orthodox, Waldensians and other Protestant communities. In 2011, approximately 1.5 million Orthodox Christians are estimated to live in Italy, which is 2.5% of the country’s population, while 500 000 Pentecostals and Evangelicals,235. 685 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 30,000 Waldensians, 25,000 Seventh-day Adventists, 22,000 Latter-day Saints, 15,000 Baptists (plus about 5,000 free Baptists), 7,000 Lutherans, 4,000 Methodists.
One of the oldest religious minorities in Italy is Judaism, as Jews existed in ancient Rome before the birth of Christ. For centuries, Italy has been home to Jews who were expelled from other countries, notably Spain. However, as a result of the Holocaust, about 20% of Italian Jews lost their lives, which, combined with emigration before and after World War II, left Italy with a small community of about 28,400 Jews.
The increase in immigration over the last two decades has been accompanied by an increase in non-Christian religions. In 2010 there were 1.6 million Muslims in Italy, 2.6% of the population. In addition, there are more than 200,000 followers of religions originating from the Indian subcontinent, including about 70,000 Sikhs with 22 gurdwaras throughout the country, 70,000 Hindus and 50,000 Buddhists. In 2005, there were an estimated 4,900 Baha’is in Italy.
In order to protect religious freedom, the Italian state allocates shares of income tax to recognised religious communities under a regime called “eight per thousand” (Otto per mille). Donations to Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu communities are allowed; however, Islam remains excluded as no Muslim community has yet signed a concordat with the Italian State. Taxpayers who do not wish to fund religion pay their share into the state welfare system.
Economy of Italy
With a mixed capitalistic economy, Italy is the 3rd largest economy in the eurozone and the 8th largest in the world. The country is a founding member of the G7, G8, the euro area, and the OECD
Italy is considered one of the most industrialized nations in the world and is a leader in world trade and exports. It is a highly developed country, ranking eighth in the world in terms of quality of life and twenty-fifth in the Human Development Index. The country is known for its creative and innovative economy, a large and competitive agricultural sector (Italy is the world’s largest wine producer), and influential and valuable automotive, mechanical, food, design, and fashion industries.
Italy is the sixth largest manufacturing country in the world and is characterized by a smaller number of multinationals than other economies of comparable size, as well as a large number of dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises, notoriously located in several industrial zones, which form the backbone of Italian industry. This has given rise to a manufacturing sector often focused on the export of niche and luxury products, which on the one hand is less able to compete quantitatively, but on the other hand, is better able to compete with China and other emerging Asian economies on the basis of lower labor costs with better quality products.
In 2009, it was the world’s 7th largest exporter. Italy’s closest trade relations are with other EU countries, with which it conducts about 59% of its total trade. Finally, tourism is one of the fastest-growing and most profitable sectors of the national economy: with 48.6 million international tourist arrivals and total receipts estimated at 45.5 billion dollars in 2014, Italy was the fifth most visited and sixth most profitable tourist country in the world.
Italy is part of the single European market, representing more than 500 million consumers. Several national trade policies are governed by agreements between members of the European Union (EU) and by European legislation. Italy adopted the common European currency, the euro, in 2002. It is a member of the euro area and represents around 330 million citizens. Monetary policy in Italy is determined by the European Central Bank.
Italy was hit very hard by the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the subsequent European sovereign debt crisis, which exacerbated the country’s structural problems. After strong GDP growth of 5-6 percent per annum from the 1950s to the early 1970s and a gradual slowdown in the 1980s and 1990s, the country virtually stagnated in the 2000s. Political efforts to revive growth through massive public spending eventually led to a sharp increase in public debt, which exceeded 135% of GDP in 2014, making it the second-highest in the EU after Greece (at 174%). Despite this, most of Italy’s public debt is held by domestic subjects, a big difference between Italy and Greece, and household debt is well below the OECD average.
A yawning North-South gap is a major factor of socio-economic weakness. This is reflected in the huge difference in statistical income between regions and municipalities in the north and south. The richest region, Lombardy, earns 127% of the national GDP per capita, while the poorest, Calabria, earns only 61%. The unemployment rate (11.9%) is slightly higher than the eurozone average, but it is 7.9% in the north and 20.2% in the south.