Modern humans arrived in the Italian peninsula about 40,000 years ago. The region was inhabited by several different ancient people such as the Etruscans. The Mycenaean Greeks arrived during the 17th and 11th centuries B.C. and in the eighth and seventh centuries BC, they established colonies in the south and on Sicily.
During the Middle Ages, after years of invasions, the Italian peninsula was split between the Holy Roman Emperors, whose supporters were called the Ghibellini, and the popes, whose supporters were the Guelfi. The struggle for power between these two parties led to the division of the Italian peninsula into many sections. Venice and Genoa, among other coastal regions, became leaders in international trade. Sicily was conquered by the Arabs and became an Islamic state from 965 to 1072.
During the recovery from the Black Death of 1348, which killed a third of Italy's population, the Italian Renaissance emerged, peaking in the mid-sixteenth century. The city-states in northern Italy began feuding, and some swallowed up the areas around them, becoming larger, stronger territories that were called Signorie (regional states). The largest ones that emerged were Florence, Milan, and Venice, who eventually agreed to a peace treaty, the Peace of Lodi in 1454, which lasted about forty years. In the lower regions of Italy, land was divided into Papal States and Naples.
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The unification of Naples and Sicily was declared on March 17, 1861, a result of the efforts of Giuseppe Garibaldi, becoming a nation-state. In 1866, Vittorio Emmanuele II allied with Prussia and launched the third war of Italian independence, fighting to regain control of northern Italy from Austria - and Italy was then fully united.
Italy began colonizing, settling in Somalia, Eritrea, Libya, and Dodecanese at the end of the nineteenth century. During World War I, Italy stayed neutral, but joined the Entente, in return receiving the regions of Trento, Trieste, Gorizia, Gradisca, Istria, and northern Dalmatia from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire.
Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini rose to power in the 1920s, later allying with Nazi Germany, leading to Italy's defeat in World War II. Italy's monarchy was then replaced with a democratic republic in 1946, and Italy was a charter member of NATO and the European Economic Community (EEC).
Italy is a peninsula in southern Europe, jutting out into the Mediterranean Sea, along with its two large islands, Sicily and Sardinia. Italy borders France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia across its northern boundaries. The rest of Italy borders only the Mediterranean Sea, though it is at a short distance from Croatia, Greece, and parts of northern Africa. Within the country of Italy are the independent states, San Marino and Vatican City. An Italian exclave is located in Switzerland and is called Campione d'Italia.
Major mountain ranges, the Alps and the Apennines, traverse the country. Major rivers in Italy are the Po, the Arno, and the Tiber. Italy is also home to fourteen volcanoes, though only three are active: Etna, Pompeii and Herculaneum. Italy boasts a Mediterranean climate, and has a long coastline and many beaches.
Italy is governed by a parliamentary republic, with a president as the head of state, and a prime minister, who is titled the President of the Council of Ministers, and is the head of government. The bicameral parliament includes the Senate of the Republic and the Chamber of Deputies.
Italy is divided into twenty regions, and further divided into 110 provinces and 8,100 municipalities. Each region is autonomous and has a centralized capital to handle its affairs.
Italy is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with many famous cities, countrysides, and historical landmarks that draw travelers to their well preserved beauty. Rome, the capital, is a large city with a famous historical site around every corner, from the Colosseum to the Pantheon and the Vatican. Florence has world famous landmarks and works of art housed in its many museums, while Venice's canals offer gondola rides and romantic restaurants. The beautiful coastlines and islands of Italy bring visitors for relaxing summer vacations.
Italy is perhaps best known for its food and wine, with many specialties like pasta, pizza, and panini, and other regional specialties can be sampled around the country. Vineyards are found up and down the country, often in the cities or regions after which the wine varieties are named.
Italy has both public and private educational institutions, though its public education system has very high standards and is free. School attendance is mandatory for students ages six to fifteen, and is divided into several levels of school. Students begin with kindergarten, which is optional, and move on to primary school until age ten or eleven, then lower secondary school and upper secondary school. Lower secondary school is from ages eleven to thirteen, and follows a more advanced curriculum than primary schools. Upper secondary school is a five-year school. There are several themed types of high schools, like scientific schools, artistic schools and technical schools, which have more focused curricula.
A broad range of universities exist across Italy, including some of the top universities in the world. The oldest university in the Western world, dating back to 1088, is the University of Bologna, which has been ranked one of the top universities. Milan schools, Bocconi University and the Polytechnic University, are highly ranked for business and technical programs respectively.
Mount Etna in Sicily is the world's most active volcano. (Read: Interesting Facts about Mount Etna)
Italy is the fourth most visited country in the world.
Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican is the largest Christian church in the world.
Italy's regions have their own dialects, which are quite different from standard Italian. Today's standard Italian is based on the Florentine dialect.
Milan, the second largest city in Italy, is one of the big four fashion capitals in the world. Major Italian fashion houses include Gucci, Armani, Versace, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, and Valentino.
Last Updated On : February 11, 2014
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