Italy (Listeni Italian Italia), officially the Italian Republic (Italian: Repubblica italiana), is a country located in south-central Europe. To the north it borders 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 Italy, whilst Campione d’Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland. The territory of Italy covers some 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate. With 60.4 million inhabitants, it is the sixth most populous country in Europe, and the 23rd most populous in the world.
Italy’s capital, Rome, was for centuries the political centre of Western civilisation as the capital of the Roman Empire. After its decline, Italy would endure numerous invasions by foreign peoples, from Germanic tribes such as the Lombards and Ostrogoths, to the Byzantines and later, the Normans, among others. Centuries later, Italy would become the birthplace of the Renaissance, an immensely fruitful intellectual movement that would prove to be integral in shaping the subsequent course of European thought.
The assumptions on the etymology of the name “Italia” are very numerous and the corpus of the solutions proposed by historians and linguists is very wide. According to one of the more common explanations, the term Italia, from Latin: Italia, was borrowed through Greek from the Oscan Víteliú, meaning “land of young cattle” (cf. Lat vitulus “calf”, Umb vitlo “calf”). The bull was a symbol of the southern Italian tribes and was often depicted goring the Roman wolf as a defiant symbol of free Italy during the Samnite Wars. Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus states this account together with the legend that Italy was named after Italus, mentioned also by Aristotle and Thucydides.
The name Italia originally applied only to a part of what is now Southern Italy according to Antiochus of Syracuse, the southern portion of the Bruttium peninsula (modern Calabria). But by his time Oenotria and Italy had become synonymous, and the name also applied to most of Lucania as well. The Greeks gradually came to apply the name “Italia” to a larger region, but it was not until the time of the Roman conquests that the term was expanded to cover the entire peninsula.
Italy is located in Southern Europe and comprises the boot-shaped Italian Peninsula and a number of islands including the two largest, Sicily and Sardinia. It lies between latitudes 35° and 48° N, and longitudes 6° and 19° E. Although the country occupies the Italian peninsula and most of the southern Alpine basin, some of Italy’s territory extends beyond the Alpine basin and some islands are located outside the Eurasian continental shelf.
These territories are the comuni of: Livigno, Sexten, Innichen, Toblach (in part), Chiusaforte, Tarvisio, Graun im Vinschgau (in part), which are all part of the Danube’s drainage basin, while the Val di Lei constitutes part of the Rhine’s basin and the island comune of Lampedusa e Linosa is on the African continental shelf.
The country’s total area is 301,230 km², of which 294,020 km² is land and 7,210 km² is water. Including the islands, Italy has a coastline and border of 7,600 km on the Adriatic, Ionian, Tyrrhenian seas (740 km), and borders shared with France (488 km), Austria (430 km), Slovenia (232 km) and Switzerland; San Marino (39 km) and Vatican City (3.2 km), both enclaves, account for the remainder.
The climate of Italy is highly diverse and can be far from the stereotypical Mediterranean climate, depending on location. Most of the inland northern regions of Italy, for example Piedmont, Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna, have a climate variously described as humid continental or temperate. Adriana Rigutti (in Meteorologia, Giunti 2005) states that the climte of the “Po valley region is continental with harsh winters and hot summers.
The coastal areas of Liguria and most of the peninsula south of Florence generally fit the Mediterranean stereotype (Koppen climate classification Csa). Conditions on peninsular coastal areas can be very different from the interior’s higher ground and valleys, particularly during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions have mild winters and warm and generally dry summers, although lowland valleys can be quite hot in summer.
Italy has a capitalist economy with high gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and developed infrastructure. According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2008 Italy was the seventh-largest economy in the world and the fourth-largest in Europe. Italy is member of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations, the European Union and the OECD.
In the post-war period, Italy was transformed from a weak, agricultural based economy which had been severely affected by the consequences of World War II, into one of the world’s most industrialized nations,and a leading country in world trade and exports. In 1987, the Italian economy temporarily overtook the British economy, by GDP (nominal), an event known as ‘il sorpasso’and in 1991 Italy became for a while the world’s fourth-largest economic power. It may have briefly overtaken France as well. Italy has now slipped to tenth (as ranked by the IMF and World Bank) in the list of countries by GDP on the basis of purchasing power parity.
In 1980 the public debt amounted to only 56.9 per cent of the GDP. By 1994 it had reached the record level of 121.8% per cent of GDP. This was over twice the ceiling fixed by the Maastricht agreement and the highest level of indebtedness of any member country of the European Union. At 15 November 2010, the EU’s statistics body Eurostat published that Italy (in 2009) has debt ratio 116% or second biggest debt ratio after Greece with 126.8%. Differently from Greece the Italian debt is a domestic one, in fact the owners of the debt titles are mostly the same Italian citizens. The Italian industries are generally not indebted, the rate saving of Italian families is among the highest in the world and the Italian banking system was not very affected by the recent crisis who hit other great countries, so Italy was able to maintain under control the annual deficit of the state.
Italy’s official language is Italian. Ethnologue has estimated that there are about 55 million speakers of the language in Italy and a further 6.7 million outside of the country. However, between 120 and 150 million people use Italian as a second or cultural language, worldwide.
Italian, adopted by the state after the unification of Italy, is based on the Florentine variety of Tuscan and is somewhat intermediate between the Italo-Dalmatian languages of the South and the Gallo-Romance Northern Italian languages. Its development was also influenced by the Germanic languages of the post-Roman invaders.
Italy has numerous dialects spoken all over the country and some Italians cannot speak Italian language at all. However, the establishment of a national education system has led to decrease in variation in the languages spoken across the country. Standardisation was further expanded in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to economic growth and the rise of mass media and television (the state broadcaster RAI helped set a standard Italian).
Roman Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the country, although the Catholic Church is no longer officially the state religion. The proportion of Italians that identify themselves as Roman Catholic is 87.8%, although only about one-third of these described themselves as active members (36.8%).
Most Italians believe in God, or a form of a spiritual life force. According to the most recent Eurobarometer Poll 2005: 74% of Italian citizens responded that ‘they believe there is a God’, 16% answered that ‘they believe there is some sort of spirit or life force’ and 6% answered that ‘they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force’.