Italy, with its peculiar lady’s boot shape, held a strategic location dominating central Mediterranean as well as southern sea and air approaches to Western Europe. Italy borders to the north with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia along the Alps.
To the south it consists of the entirety of the Italian Peninsula, Sicily, Sardinia — the two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea — and many other smaller islands. The independent states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italian territory.
Area: 301,230 sq km
land: 294,020 sq km
water: 7,210 sq km
Land boundaries: 1,932.2 km
Coastline: 7,600 km
The climate is predominantly Mediterranean; Alpine in far north; hot, dry in south. Italian orography is mostly rugged and mountainous; some plains and coastal lowlands. Natural hazards and regional risks include landslides, mudflows, avalanches, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, flooding. Land subsidence in Venice.
A CONCISE HISTORY OF ITALY/BREVE STORIA DELL’ITALIA by Christopher Duggan
To understand contemporary Italian situation, it is important to have a basic knowledge of the history. Italy as a unified country has only existed at two times: during the days of the Roman Empire and in modern times, when Italy was unified by a band of idealistic Italian nationalists in 1861. Between the dissolution of the Roman Empire in 476 AD and 1861, Italy was divided up into the city states of Northern Italy, the Papal States in central Italy and the Kingdom of Naples in the south. Until the 1700s, Sicily was also a separate kingdom. Even the Italian language is not unified. The language that foreigners think of as Italian is based on the dialect from Tuscany. All around the country we can still hear thousands of different dialects spoken on the Italian peninsula, impossible to understand if you are not from the corner.
One of the central themes of Italian history is the cultural and economic separation between southern and northern Italy. This separation dates back to 1100 when Normans conquered Southern Italy and Sicily. With the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the cities in the north evolved toward autonomy, in contrast the Normans instituted a strong centralized government in the south. For the south, the Norman period was a time of economic wealth and cultural sophistication. Southern Italy was a centre of Arab and Greek trade and the Norman court of this era was known for its wealth. Eventually the trade with the Greece and the Middle East declined as the Arabs were forced out of Europe by the crusades.
The different histories of northern and southern Italy set the pattern that continues to this day in every aspect of social and economic life.
The north was politically diverse and looked toward Europe. The north also had some tradition of republican rule in Florence and Venice. The history of Southern Italy was feudal, with land ownership concentrated in the hands of a few land owners. The government in the south rarely served the people and out of this grew the mafia.
Except for the Norman period, when Southern Italy flourished, Northern Italy has always been richer than Southern Italy. This is largely due to the north's access to European markets and culture. Until the end of the Second World War, Southern Italy resembled a third world country more than it resembled a European state. Although the grinding poverty that existed at the beginning of the twentieth century is gone, Southern Italy still lags behind the north economically.
POPULATION, ETHNICITY AND LANGUAGE
Population: 60,418,711 (2010 est.)
Prevalent ethnicity is Italian which includes small clusters of German-, French-, and Slovene-Italians in the north and Albanian-Italians and Greek-Italians in the south.
About 7% of Italian population is constituted by immigrants, mostly from east European and North African countries.
Predominant religion is Roman Catholic with mature Protestant and Jewish communities and a growing Muslim immigrant community.
Official language is Italian, with parts of Trentino-Alto Adige region which are predominantly German speaking, small French-speaking minority in Valle d'Aosta region and Slovene-speaking minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area.
SOCIO ECONOMIC CLIMATE
Italy has a diversified industrial economy, which is divided into a developed industrial north, dominated by private companies, and a less-developed, welfare-dependent, agricultural south, with high unemployment. The Italian economy is driven in large part by the manufacture of high-quality consumer goods produced by small and medium-sized enterprises, many of them family-owned. Italy also has a sizable underground economy, which by some estimates accounts for as much as 15% of GDP. These activities are most common within the agriculture, construction, and service sectors.
Main Industries: tourism, machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, food processing, textiles, motor vehicles, clothing, footwear, ceramics