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Repubblica Italiana
Italian Republic
Flag of Italy Coat of arms of Italy
Flag Coat of arms
Anthem: Il Canto degli Italiani
(also known as "Fratelli d'Italia")
Location of Italy
(and largest city)
41°54′N 12°29′E
Official languages Italian1
Government Republic
 - President Giorgio Napolitano
 - Prime Minister Romano Prodi
 - Unification 17 March 1861 
 - Republic 2 June 1946 
Accession to EU March 25, 1957 (founding member)
 - Total 301,318 km² ( 71st)
116,346.5 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 2.4
 - 2006 estimate 58,751,711 ( 22nd)
 - October 2001 census 57,110,144
 - Density 195/km² ( 54th)
499.4/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $1.668 trillion ( 8th)
 - Per capita $28,760 ( 21st)
HDI  (2004) 0.940 (high) ( 17th)
Currency Euro ( €)2 ( EUR)
Time zone CET ( UTC+1)
 - Summer ( DST) CEST ( UTC+2)
Internet TLD .it3
Calling code +39
1 French is co-official in the Aosta Valley; German is co-official in Trentino-South Tyrol.
2 Prior to 2002: Italian Lira.
3 The .eu domain is also used, as it is shared with other European Union member states.

The Italian Republic ( Italian: Repubblica Italiana; IPA: [ɾe ˌpubblika ita 'ljaːna]) or Italy (Italia; IPA: [i'taːlja]) is a country located in Southern Europe, that comprises the Po River valley, the Italian Peninsula and the two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia. It is also called by Italians lo Stivale ("the Boot," due to its boot-like shape), or la Penisola ("the Peninsula" as an antonomasia). Italy 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, while Campione d'Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland.

Italy was home to many well-known and influential European cultures, including the Etruscans, Greeks, and the Romans. Its capital Rome has been a historically important world city, especially as the core of ancient Rome and the Roman Catholic Church. For more than 3,000 years Italy experienced migrations and invasions from Germanic, Celtic, Frankish, Lombard, Byzantine Greek, Saracen, Norman, and Angevin peoples during the Middle Ages, followed by the Italian Renaissance period, in which the Italian Wars took place and various city-states were noted for their cultural achievements. Italy divided into many independent states and often experienced foreign domination before Italian unification took place, creating Italy as an independent nation-state for the first time in its history. During the period under the Italian monarchy and during the world wars Italy experienced much conflict, but stability was restored after the creation of the Italian Republic.

Today, Italy is a highly-developed country with the 7th-highest GDP and the 17th-highest Human Development Index rating. It is a member of the G8 and a founding member of what is now the European Union, having signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Inhabitants of Italy are referred to as Italians (Italiani, or poetically Italici).

Origin of the name

The word "Italy" possibly derives from the Homeric ( Aeolic) word ἱταλός, which means " calf" ( see Liddell-Scott dictonary). The first Greek settlers, who arrived in Southern Italy ( Calabria) from Euboea island in the 8th century BC, named their new land Vitulia ("land of calves"). The area indicated by this name spread later to the north, but it was only under Augustus that this denomination was applied to the whole peninsula.


Excavations throughout Italy have found proof of people in Italy dating back to the Palaeolithic period (the "Old Stone Age") some 200,000 years ago.

Italy has influenced the cultural and social development of the whole Mediterranean area, deeply influencing European culture as well. As a result, it has also influenced other important cultures. Such cultures and civilisations have existed there since prehistoric times. After Magna Graecia, the Etruscan civilisation 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 Renaissance.

The Colosseum in Rome, perhaps the most enduring symbol of Italy
The Colosseum in Rome, perhaps the most enduring symbol of Italy

Roman and Medieval Italy

Centre of the Roman civilization for centuries, Italy lost its unity after the collapse of the Roman Empire and subsequent barbaric invasions. Conquered by the Ostrogoths and briefly regained by the Eastern Empire (552), it was partially occupied by the Longobards in 568, resulting in the peninsula becoming irreparably divided. For centuries the country was the prey of different populations, resulting in its ultimate decadence and misery. Most of the population fled from cities to take refuge in the countryside under the protection of powerful feudal lords. After the Longobards came the Franks (774). Italy became part of the Holy Roman Empire. Pippin the Short created the first nucleus of the State of the Church, which later became a strong countervailing force against any unification of the country.

Population and economy started slowly to pick up after 1000, with the resurgence of cities (which organised themselves politically in Comuni), trade, arts and literature. During the later Middle Ages the partially democratic Comuni, which could not face the challenges of that period, were substituted by monarchic-absolutistic governments ( Signorie), but the fragmentation of the peninsula, especially in the northern and central parts of the country, continued, while the southern part, with Naples, Apulia and Sicily, remained under a single domination. Venice and Genoa created powerful commercial empires in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea.

Italy during the Renaissance and Baroque

The Black Death in 1348 inflicted a terrible blow to Italy, resulting in one third of the population killed by the disease. The recovery from the disaster led to a new resurgence of cities, trade and economy which greatly stimulated the successive phase of the Humanism and Renaissance (15th-16th centuries) when Italy again returned to be the centre of Western civilisation, strongly influencing the other European countries. During this period the many Signorie gathered in a small number of regional states, but none of them had enough power to unify the peninsula.

After a century where the fragmented system of Italian states and principalities were able to maintain a relative independence and a balance of power in the peninsula, in 1494 the French king Charles VIII opened the first of a series of invasions, lasting half of the 16th century, and a competition between France and Spain for the possession of the country. Ultimately Spain prevailed (the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559 recognized the Spanish possession of the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples) and for almost two centuries became the hegemon in Italy. The holy alliance between reactionary Catholic Spain and the Holy See resulted in the systematic persecution of any Protestant movement, with the result that Italy remained a Catholic country with marginal Protestant presence. The Spanish domination and the control of the Church resulted in intellectual stagnation and economic decadence, also attributable to the shifting of the main commercial routes from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

Napoleonic Italy and struggle for unification

Austria succeeded Spain as hegemon in Italy after the Peace of Utrecht (1713), having acquired the State of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples. The Austrian domination, thanks also to the Enlightenment embraced by Habsburgic emperors, was a considerable improvement upon the Spanish one. The northern part of Italy, under the direct control of Vienna, again recovered economic dynamism and intellectual fervor, had improved its situation.

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic War (1796-1815) introduced the modern ideas of equality, democracy, law and nation. The peninsula was not a main battle field as in the past but Napoleon (born in Corsica in 1769, one year after the cession of the island from Genoa to France) changed completely its political map, destroying in 1799 the Republic of Venice, which never recovered its independence. The states founded by Napoleon with the support of minority groups of Italian patriots were short-lived and did not survive the defeat of the French Emperor in 1815.

The Restoration had all the pre-Revolution states restored with the exception of the Republic of Venice (forthwith under Austrian control) and the Republic of Genoa (under Savoy domination). Napoleon had nevertheless the merit to give birth to the first national movement for unity and independence. Albeit formed by small groups with almost no contact with the masses, the Italian patriots and liberals staged several uprisings in the decades up to 1860. Mazzini and Garibaldi were the most economical reformists for the impoverished masses. From 1848 onwards the Italian patriots were more or less openly supported by Vittorio Emanuele II, the king of Sardinia, who put his arms in the Italian tricolor dedicating the House of Savoy to the Italian unity.


The unification of Italy was obtained on March 17 1861, after a successful war (the Second War of Independence) against Austria with the support of France, and the successive invasion of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Naples and Sicily), led in 1860 by Giuseppe Garibaldi. Vittorio Emanuele II became the first king of the united Italy.

The national territory was enlarged to Veneto with Venice in 1866 after the Third War of Independence, fought by allied Italy and Prussia against Austria. Rome with Lazio, thanks to French protection remained for a little less than a decade under the Papacy and became part of the Kingdom of Italy on September 20 1870, after Italian troops stormed the city.

The first unified state was plagued by a gruesome rebellion of the Southern populations opposed to the new domination, by economic stagnation, misery, illiteracy and a weak national consciousness. Italian was spoken by a small part of the population while the rest spoke local dialects.

In 1878 Umberto I succeeded his father Vittorio Emanuele II as King of Italy. He was killed by an anarchist in 1900 and succeeded by his son Vittorio Emanuele III.

Industrialisation, World Wars and Fascism

Industrialisation and modernisation, at least in the northern portion of the country, started in the last part of the 19th century under a protectionist regime. The south, in the meanwhile, stagnated under overpopulation and underdevelopment, so forcing millions of people to search for employment and better conditions of life abroad. This lasted until 1970. It is calculated that more than 26 million Italians migrated to France, Germany, Switzerland, United States, Argentina, Brazil and Australia.

Democracy moved its first steps at the beginning of the 20th century. The Statuto Albertino of 1848 provided for basic freedoms, but the electoral laws excluded the disposed and the uneducated from voting. Only in 1913 male universal suffrage was allowed. The Socialist Party resulted the main political party, outclassing the traditional liberal and conservative organizations. The path to a modern liberal democracy was interrupted by the tragedy of the First World War (1915-1918), which Italy fought along with France and Great Britain. Italy was able to beat the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in November 1918. It obtained Trentino, South Tyrol, Trieste and Istria, besides Fiume and few territories on the Dalmatian coast ( Zara), gaining respect as an international power, but the population had to pay a heavy human and social price. The war produced more than 600,000 dead, inflation and unemployment, economic and political instability, which in the end favoured the Fascist movement to seize power in 1922 with the tacit support of King Vittorio Emanuele III, who feared civil war and revolution.

The fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini lasted from 1922 to 1943 but in the first years Mussolini maintained the appearance of a liberal democracy. After rigged elections in 1924 gave to Fascism and its conservative allies an absolute majority in Parliament, Mussolini cancelled all democratic liberties on January 3 1925. He then proceeded to establish a totalitarian state, imposing the control of the state upon all single social and political activity. Political parties were banned, independent trade unions were closed. The only permitted party was the National Fascist Party. A secret police ( OVRA) and a system of quasi-legal repression (Tribunale Speciale) ensured the total control of the regime upon Italians who, in their majority, either resigned or welcomed the dictatorship, many considering it a last resort to stop the spread of communism. While relatively benign in comparison with Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, several thousands people were incarcerated or exiled for their opposition and several dozens were killed by fascist thugs (Carlo Rosselli) or died in prison ( Antonio Gramsci). Mussolini tried to spread his authoritarian ideology to other European countries and dictators such as Salazar in Portugal, Franco in Spain and Hitler in Germany were heavily influenced by the Italian examples. Conservative but democratic leaders in Great Britain and United States were at the beginning favourable to Mussolini. Mussolini tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to spread fascism amongst the millions on Italians living abroad.

In 1929 Mussolini realised a pact with the Holy See, resulting in the rebirth of an independent state of the Vatican for the Catholic Church in the heart of Rome. In 1935 he declared war on Ethiopia on a pretext. Ethiopia was subjugated in few months. This resulted in the alienation of Italy from its traditional allies, France and Great Britain, and its nearing to Nazi Germany. A first pact with Germany was concluded in 1936 and then in 1938 (the Pact of Steel). Italy supported Franco's revolution in Spanish civil war and Hitler's pretensions in central Europe, accepting the annexation of Austria to Germany in 1938, although the disappearance of a buffer state between mighty Germany and Italy was unfavourable for the country. In October 1938 Mussolini managed to avoid the eruption of another war in Europe, bringing together Great Britain, France and Germany at the expense of Czechoslovakia's integrity.

In April 1939 Italy occupied Albania, a de-facto protectorate for decades, but in September 1939, after the invasion of Poland, Mussolini wisely decided not to intervene on Germany's side, due to the poor preparation of the armed forces. Italy entered in war in June 1940 when France was almost defeated. Mussolini hoped for a quick victory but Italy showed from the very beginning the poor nature of its army and the scarce ability of its generals. Italy invaded Greece in October 1940 via Albania but after a few days was forced to withdraw. After conquering British Somalia in 1940, a counter-attack by the Allies led to the loss of the whole Italian empire in the Horn of Africa. Italy was also defeated in Northern Africa and saved only by the German armed forces led by Rommel.

After several defeats, Italy was invaded in May 1943. In July 1943 King Vittorio Emanuele III staged a coup d'etat against Mussolini, having him arrested. In September 1943 Italy surrendered. It was immediately invaded by Germany and for nearly two years the country was divided and became a battlefield. The Nazi-occupied part of the country, where a puppet fascist state under Mussolini was reconstituted, was the theatre of a savage civil war between freedom fighters (" partigiani") and Nazi and fascist troops. The country was liberated by a national uprising on 25 April, 1945 (the Liberazione).

Particularly in the north agitation against the king ran high, left wing and communist armed partisans wanting to depose him as being responsible for the fascist regime. Vittorio Emanuele gave up the throne to his son Umberto II who again faced the possibility of civil war. Italy became a Republic after the result of a popular referendum held on 2 June 1946, a day since then celebrated as Republic Day. The republic won with a 9% margin; the north of Italy voted prevalently for a republic, the south for the monarchy. The Republican Constitution was approved and entered into force on 1 January 1948, including a provisional measure banning all male members of the house of Savoy from Italy. This stipulation was redressed in 2002.

Italian Republic

Since then Italy has experienced a strong economic growth, particularly in the 50s and 60s, while lifted the country among the most industrialized nations in the world, with a perennial political instability. The Christian Democratic Parliament cabinet led by Lamberto Dini, supported by the left-wing parties and the Northern League, lasted until Romano Prodi's new centre-left coalition won the 1996 general election. In 2001 the centre-right took the government and Berlusconi was able to remain in power for a complete five year mandate. The last elections in 2006 returned Prodi in the government with a slim majority.

Italy is a founding member of the European Community, European Union and NATO.


The Quirinal Palace, house of the President of the Republic.
The Quirinal Palace, house of the President of the Republic.

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 complex electoral system (latest amendment in 2005) which combines proportional representation with a majority prize for the largest coalition (Chamber). The electoral system in the Senate is based upon regional representation. In fact in 2006 elections the two competing coalitions were separated by few thousand votes, and in the Chamber the center-left coalition (L'Ulivo) got 345 Deputies against 277 for the centre-right one (Casa delle Libertà), while in the Senate l'Ulivo got only two Senators more than absolute majority. The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members, the Senate 315 elected senators; in addition, the Senate includes former presidents and other persons (no more than five) appointed senators for life by the President of the Republic according to special constitutional provisions. As of 15 May 2006, there are seven life senators (of which three are former Presidents). Both houses are elected for a maximum of five years, but both may be dissolved by the President of the Republic before the expiration of their normal term if the Parliament is unable to elect a stable government.

In the post war history, that happened in 1972, 1976, 1979, 1983, 1994 and 1996. A peculiarity of the Italian Parliament is the representation given to Italians permanently living abroad (more than 2 million). Among the 630 Deputies and the 315 Senators there are respectively 12 and 6 elected in four distinct foreign constituencies. Those members of Parliament were elected for the first time in April 2006 and they enjoy the same rights as members elected in Italy. 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

Administrative divisions.
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 ( L'Aquila)
  2. Basilicata ( Potenza)
  3. Calabria ( Catanzaro)
  4. Campania ( Naples, Napoli)
  5. Emilia-Romagna (Bologna)
  6. Friuli-Venezia Giulia* ( Trieste)
  7. Lazio, Latium (Rome, Roma)
  8. Liguria (Genoa, Genova)
  9. Lombardy, Lombardia (Milan, Milano)
  10. Marche, Marches ( Ancona)
  11. Molise, ( Campobasso)
  12. Piedmont, Piemonte (Turin, Torino)
  13. Apulia, Puglia ( Bari)
  14. Sardinia*, Sardegna ( Cagliari)
  15. Aosta Valley*, Valle d'Aosta ( Aosta)
  16. Tuscany, Toscana ( Florence, Firenze)
  17. Trentino-South Tyrol*, Trentino-Alto Adige, ( Trento)
  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.


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. For a complete list of the islands of Italy, see this comprehensive list.

Satellite image of Italy
Satellite image of Italy

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.


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).

Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Italy and Western Europe.
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.


Italy is largely homogeneous in language and religion but is diverse culturally, economically, and politically. The country has the fifth-highest population density in Europe at 193 persons per square kilometre (499/ sq. mi). However, like Germany, Italy's main population centers fall among several cities, mainly Turin, Rome, Milan, and Naples, with no single large city to rival the size of cities such as London, Paris or Moscow. As with many other nations in Europe, Italy is currently facing a natural population decline, supplemented only by immigration. Italy receives roughly 300,000 immigrants a year, second only to the United States. Population estimates place Italy's population at roughly 41 million in 2050 if the current population trend continues.

Since the beginning of Roman civilisation, important influences have been exerted by ethnic groups like Greek settlers, Germanic and Celtic invaders and plunderers, and Norman colonisers.

The number of immigrants or foreign residents in Italy has steadily increased to reach 2,402,157, according to the latest figures (1/2005) of ISTAT. They currently make up a little more than 4% of the official total population. The majority of immigrants in Italy come from other surrounding European nations, and they number 1,122,276, and chiefly come from Albania, Romania, Ukraine, and Poland. French nationals living in Italy, according to ISTAT figures, are more commonly women than men. The next largest group consists of North African Arab groups, and they number some 447,310 chiefly from Morocco, and Tunisia. Smaller groups consists of Asians, South Americans, and sub-saharan Africans. Top 5 largest foreign minorities 1 are Albanian (316,659), Moroccan (294,945), Romanian (248,849), Chinese (111,712), and Ukrainian (93,441).


Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome
Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome

Roman Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the country. Although the Catholic Church has never been the state religion, it still plays a role in the nation's political affairs, partly due to the Holy See's location in Rome. 87.8% of Italians identified as Roman Catholic , although only about one-third of these described themselves as active members (36.8%).

Other Christian groups in Italy include 500,000 Jehovah's Witnesses (0.9%)[ citations needed], more than 700,000 Eastern Orthodox Christians (1.2%) , including 470,000 newcomers and some 180,000 Greek Orthodoxes, 450,000 Pentecotalists and Evangelicals (0.8%), of which 300,000 members of the Assemblies of God, 30,000 Waldensians , 25,000 Seventh-day Adventists, 22,000 Mormons, 15,000 Baptists (plus some 5,000 Free Baptists), 7,000 Lutherans, 5,000 Methodists (affiliated to the Waldensian Church) .

However the most historical religious minority is the Jewish community, comprising roughly 45,000 Jews. It is no longer the strongest non-Christian group. Indeed, in the past two decades, Italy has been receiving many waves of immigrants from all over the world, especially eastern Europe and North Africa. As a result some 825,000 Muslims (1.4%), of which only 50,000 are Italian citizens, live in Italy, as well as 110,000 Buddhists (0.2%) , and , 70,000 Sikhs , 70,000 Hindus (0.1%).


According to GDP calculations, as measured by purchasing power parity (PPP), Italy is ranked as the 8th largest economy in the world in 2006, behind the United States, Japan, Germany, China, India, UK, and France, and the fourth largest in Europe. According to the OECD, in 2004 Italy was the world's sixth-largest exporter of manufactured goods. This capitalistic economy remains divided into a developed industrial north, dominated by private companies, and a less developed agricultural south. Italy's economy has deceptive strength because it is supported by a substantial "underground" economy that functions outside government controls.

Most new materials needed by industry and more than 75% of energy requirements are imported. Over the past decade, Italy has pursued a tight fiscal policy in order to meet the requirements of the Economic and Monetary Union and has benefited from lower interest and inflation rates. Italy joined the Euro from its conception in 1999.

Italy's economic performance has at times lagged behind that of its EU partners, and the current government has enacted numerous short-term reforms aimed at improving competitiveness and long-term growth. It has moved slowly, however, on implementing certain structural reforms favoured by economists, such as lightening the high tax burden and overhauling Italy's rigid labour market and expensive pension system, because of the current economic slowdown and opposition from labour unions.

Italy has a smaller number of world class multinational corporations than other economies of comparable size. Instead, the country's main economic strength has been its large base of small and medium size companies. Many of these companies manufacture products that are technologically moderately advanced and therefore face increasing competition from China and other emerging Asian economies which are able to undercut them on labor costs. Italian companies are responding to this by concentrating on products with a higher technological content, while moving lower-tech manifacturing to plants in countries where labor is less expensive. The small average size of Italian companies remains a limiting factor, and the government has been working to encourage integration and mergers and to reform the rigid regulations that have traditionally been an obstacle to the development of larger corporations in the country.


The official language of Italy is Standard Italian, descendant of Tuscan dialect and a direct descendant of Latin. (Some 75% of Italian words are of Latin origin.) However, when Italy was unified, in 1861, Italian existed mainly as a literary language, and was spoken by less than 3% of the population. Different languages were spoken throughout Italian peninsula, many of which were Romance languages which had developed in every region, due to political fragmentation of Italy2. Indeed, each historical region of Italy had its own so-called ‘dialetto’ (with ‘ dialect’ usually meaning, improperly, a non-Italian Romance language), with variants existing at the township-level.


Massimo d'Azeglio, one of Cavour's ministers, is said to have stated, following Italian unification, that having created Italy, all that remained was to create Italians. Given the high number of languages spoken throughout the peninsula, it was quickly established that 'proper' or 'standard' Italian would be based on the Florentine dialect spoken in most of Tuscany (given that it was the first region to produce authors such as Dante Alighieri, who between 1308 and 1321 wrote the Divina Commedia). A national education system was established - leading to a decrease in variation in the languages spoken throughout the country over time. But it was not until the 1960s, when economic growth enabled widespread access to the television programmes of the state television broadcaster, RAI, that Italian truly became broadly-known and quite standardised.

Today, despite regional variations in the form of accents and vowel emphasis, Italian is fully comprehensible to most throughout the country. Nevertheless certain local idioms have become cherished beacons of regional variation—the Neapolitan which is extensively used for the singing of popular folk-songs, for instance—and in recent years many people have developed a particular pride in their local dialects.

In addition to the various regional linguistic varieties and dialects of standard Italian, a number of languages enjoying some form of official recognition are spoken:

  • In the north, the province of Bolzano has a majority German-speaking population; the area was awarded to Italy following the First World War and her defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Pockets of German speakers also persist in other north Italian regions: the Cimbrians in Veneto ( Asiago, Luserna, etc.) and the Walsers in Val'Aosta ( Gressoney). In total some 300,000 or so Italians speak German as their first language and indeed many identify themselves as ethnic Austrians.
  • Some 120,000 or so people live in the Aosta Valley region, where a dialect of Franco-Provençal is spoken that is similar to dialects spoken in France. About 1,400 people living in two isolated towns in Foggia speak another dialect of Franco-Provençal.
  • About 80,000 Slovene-speakers live in the north-eastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia near the border with Slovenia.
  • In the Dolomite mountains of Trentino-South Tyrol and Veneto there are some 40,000 speakers of the Rhaetian language Ladin.
  • A very large community of some 700,000 people in Friuli speak Friulian—another Rhaetian language.
  • In the Molise region of central-south Italy some 4,000 people speak Molise Croatian. These are the Molise Croats, descendants of a group of people who migrated from the Balkans in the Middle Ages.
  • Scattered across southern Italy ( Salento and Calabria) are a number of some 30,000 Greek-speakers—considered to be the last surviving traces of the region's Greek heritage. (Ancient Greek colonists reached southern Italy and Sicily about 1500 BC.) They speak a Greek dialect, Griko.
  • Some 15,000 Catalan speakers reside around the area of Alghero in the north-west corner of Sardinia—believed to be the result of a migration of a large group of Catalans from Barcelona in ages past.
  • The Arbëreshë, of whom there are around 100,000 in southern Italy and in central Sicily—the result of past migrations—are speakers of the Arbëresh dialect of Albanian.
  • Sicilianu is spoken in Sicily by 4,832,520 people, nearly the entire population of the island. Again, it is commonly assumed to be a dialect, though it is distinct enough from Italian to be classified separately by Ethnologue.
  • Finally, the largest group of non-Italian speakers, some 1.6 million people, are those who speak Sardinian, a Romance language which retains many pre-Latin words.

Neighbouring countries

Flag of Switzerland Switzerland
Flag of France France
Flag of Austria Austria
Flag of Slovenia Slovenia
Flag of France France  Image:Template CanadianCityGeoLocation West.png  Ligurian Sea North Adriatic Sea  Image:Template CanadianCityGeoLocation East.png  Flag of Croatia Croatia
Adriatic Sea  Image:Template CanadianCityGeoLocation East.png  Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina
Adriatic Sea  Image:Template CanadianCityGeoLocation East.png  Flag of Montenegro Montenegro
Adriatic Sea  Image:Template CanadianCityGeoLocation East.png  Flag of Albania Albania
West   Flag of Italy Italy    East
Mediterranean Sea
Image:Template CanadianCityGeoLocation South.png
Flag of Algeria Algeria
Tyrrhenian Sea
Mediterranean Sea
Image:Template CanadianCityGeoLocation South.png
Flag of Tunisia Tunisia  Flag of Libya Libya
Ionian Sea  Image:Template CanadianCityGeoLocation East.png  Flag of Greece Greece
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