Italy- An Overview
The Italian Peninsula is located in Southern Europe and borders France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia, and is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, there are two independent states inside the ItalianRepublic: San Marino and the Holy See (Vatican City). Italy is composed by 20 regions, five of which are autonomous. Two of these regions, Sardinia and Sicily, are islands. Italy’s regions are further subdivided into provinces and municipalities. Italy has a population of about 59 million people and an area of about 301.000 km2. The capital is Rome, which is the largest city and counts almost 3 millions inhabitants.
The largest mountain chains are the Alps in the northern part, and the Apennine Mountains, which cross the peninsula from Liguria until Calabria. In addition to numerous lakes and rivers in the inland parts of Italy, there are also several active volcanoes, such as Etna and Vesuvius.
Italy has been the cradle of Roman culture for many centuries, and centuries earlier, even the ancient Greeks set up significant outposts on the Italian peninsula. The power of the Roman Empire was centered in Rome. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Italian peninsula splintered into several independent realms and feuds. Around the 6th century AD, Justinian I, Byzantine Emperor, recovered parts of Italy, but soon Germanic tribes arriving from the North forcefully conquered many areas and settled down.
During the Middle Ages, city-states (Signoria and Comune) started to be established, where richmerchant families such as the Visconti and the Medici had control over their cities. In addition, city-states became famous because of their trading abilities. The most important were the Maritime Republics (Genoa, Pisa, Amalfi and Venice).
During the period of the Renaissance, Italy continued being subdivided into several city-states and kingdoms, and became attractive to Spain and France, which aimed to conquer the country. Eventually, Spain managed to conquer the Duchy of Milan and the Kingdom of Naples, but soon Austria took over domination over the peninsula. Despite the various conquerors and different dominations, Italy’s population developed ideas of unification and democracy, in particular because of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars in the 18th century.
In 1848, moved by liberal ideologies and the ambition to unify the country, Italy’s population declared war on Austria. The leading person was Giuseppe Garibaldi – Italy’s national hero today. Italian Unification was achieved in 1870, and finally Rome was declared the capital of Italy.
The 20th century was characterized by World Wars I and II and governmental turbulences. In 1922, after World War I, and in a period of political instability, the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II from the Savoy dynasty, delivered the government to Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party, basically to prevent civil war and other insurrections. Mussolini’s government turned out to be a cruel dictatorship, and soon Italy joined its forces with Hitler’s Nazi Germany, which led to the invasion of the Allies in 1943 at the end of World War II.
After the war, Italy held a referendum to become a Republic, and the Savoy family was sent into exile to Alexandria. The Constitution of the Italian Republic was approved in 1947.