Italy, officially the Italian Republic or Repubblica Italiana, is a Southern European country. It comprises the Po River valley, the Italian Peninsula and the two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia. It is shaped like a boot and for this reason Italians commonly call it lo Stivale ("the boot") or, due to its prevalent peninsular geographical nature, la Penisola ("the Peninsula"). 
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. Campione d'Italia is an Italian enclave in Switzerland.
Italy was home to many well-known and influential European civilizations, including the Etruscans, Greeks and the Romans. For more than 3,000 years Italy experienced migrations and invasions from Germanic, Celtic, Frankish, Lombard, Byzantine Greek, Saracen, Norman, and Angevin peoples, and was divided into many independent states until 1861 when Italy became a nation-state.
Italy is called "il Belpaese" (Italian for beautiful country) by its inhabitants, due to the beauty and variety of its landscapes and for having the world's largest artistic patrimony; the country is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (41 as of July 13, 2006).
Today, Italy is a highly developed country with the 7th highest GDP in 2006, 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 (Italian: Italiani or poetically Italici).
The word Italy derives from the Homeric (Aeolic) word ιταλός , which means "bull". 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. The first Greek settlers, who arrived in Italy from Euboea island the 8th century BC, possibly named their new land "land of bulls".
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.
Roman Colosseum enduring symbol of Italy
Center of the Roman civilisation for centuries, Italy lost its unity after the collapse of the Roman Empire and subsequent barbaric invasions. Briefly reunited under Byzantium (552), was 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, later to become the Holy Roman Germanic Empire. Pippin the Short created the first nucleus of the State of the Vatican, 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, trade, arts and literature. During the later Middle Ages 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 created a powerful commercial empire in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea.
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 (XV-XVI) when Italy again returned to be the center of Western civilisation, strongly influencing the other European countries.
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 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.
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 Illuminism embraced by Absburgic 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, improved its situation.
The French Revolution and the Napoleonic War (1796-1851) introduced the modern ideas of equality, democracy, law and nation. The peninsula was not a main battle field as in the past but Napoleon 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 mosteconomic reform for the impoverished masses. From 1848 onwards the Italian patriots were 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.
Garibaldi and Vittorio Emanuele II first King of Italy
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 after Giuseppe Garibaldi organized an invasion of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies (Naples and Sicily) in 1860. Vittorio Emanuele II became the first king of the united Italy. The national territory was enlarged to Veneto and Venice in 1866 after the third War of Independence, fought by allied Italy and Prussia against Austria. Rome itself remained for a little less than a decade under the Papacy thanks to French protection, 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 and modernisation, at least in the northern part 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 1848 Constitution provided for basic freedoms but the electoral laws excluded the disposed and the uneducated from voting. Only in 1913 the 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 (1915-18), which Italy fought along with France and Great Britain. Italy was able to beat the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in November 1918. It obtained Trento and Trieste and few territories on the Dalmatian coast (Zara) and was considered a great 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 reach 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 the Parliament, Mussolini cancelled all democratic liberties on 3 January 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.
Benito Mussolini Prime Minister of Italy
leader of the Fascist Party
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 Iron Pact). 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, leftwing 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.
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 Party and its liberal and social democratic allies ruled Italy without interruptions from 1948 until 1994, marginalising the main opposition party, the Italian Communist Party, until the end of the cold war.
In 1992-94 a series of scandals (nicknamed "Tangentopoli") and the ensuing Mani pulite investigation destroyed the post-war political system. New parties and coalition emerged: on the right, Forza Italia of the media-mogul Silvio Berlusconi is the main successor of the Christian Democrat party. On the left the Democratici di Sinistra (Democrats of the Left) are the moderate successor of the Communist Party, while the most liberal and progressive Catholic politicians belong to La Margherita (the Daisy). In 1994 Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia and its allies (National Alliance and the Northern League) won the elections but the government collapsed after only a few months because the Northern League split out. A technical government cabinet led by Lamberto Dini, supported by the left-wing parties and the Northern League, lasted until Romano Prodi's new center-left coalition won the 1996 general election. In 2001 the center-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.
Giorgio Napolitano, President Italian Republic
elected on May 10, 2006
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 Center-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.
Italy - 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 *:
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.
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). Italy is more typically associated with two famous volcanoes: the currently dormant Vesuvius near Naples and the very active Etna on Sicily.
Sicily and Sardinia are the two major islands of Italy.
The Italian climate is unique and can be far from the stereotype of a "land of sun.", depending on the region.
In fact 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 - highest mountain in Italy and Western Europe
Between 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 snow in Milan by -2°C while Palermo or Naples have just clouds and +17°C. In some morning Turin can be by -12°C while on the same time Rome has got +6°C and Reggio Calabria +12°C. In the summer the difference is lighter. (‘‘See how Po valley can be frosty in winter )
The east coast of the peninsula is not as wet as the west coast, but during winter is usually colder. 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 50/60 cm 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, even if in the north cities like Turin, Milan, Brescia, Verona or Udine sees a lot of thunderstorms in the afternoon/night hours. So, while below Florence the summer is typically dry and sunny, in the north is quite cloudier and relatively rich of rain, even if a little muggy/sultry.
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 the precipitations are quite well distributed during the year, and so the amount of them, even if generally there is a "minimum" in winter. Between November and March the Po valley is often covered by tight fog, above all the central zone (Pavia, Cremona, and Mantua). Snow is quite a common thing between early December and mid February in cities like Turin, Milan and Bologna. In the last winter (2005-2006) Milan received around 75/80cm of fresh snow, Como around 100cm, Brescia 50cm, Trento 160 cm, Vicenza around 45cm, Bologna around 30cm, Piacenza around 80 cm. (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°C/42°C in the south and 33°C/35°C in the north. The coldest month is January; Po valley's average temperature is around 0°C, Florence 5°C/6°C, Rome 7°C/8°C, Naples 9°C, Palermo 13°C.
Winter morning lows can occasionally reach -14°C in Po valley, -5°C/-6°C in Florence, -4°C in Rome, -2°C in Naples and 1°C in Palermo.
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 had highs till 46°C/47°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 ethnic groups like Greek settlers, Germanic and Celtic invaders and plunderers, and Norman French colonisers have all left important impressions on the people today.
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, the 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 are Albanian (316,659), Moroccan (294,945), Romanian (248,849), Chinese (111,712), and Ukrainian (93,441).
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. In a 2005 poll 87.8% of Italians identified as Roman Catholic, although only about one-third of these described themselves active members (36.8%).
Other Christian groups in Italy include 500,000 Jehovah's Witnesses (0.9%), more than 700,000 Eastern Orthodoxes (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) , while there is a historical Jewish community, comprising roughly 45,000 Jews.
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 100,000 Buddhists ,  and , and 70,000 Hindus.
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 been less successful in terms of developing world class multinational corporations. Instead, the country's main economic strength has been its large base of small and medium size companies. These companies typically manufacture products that are technologically moderately advanced and therefore increasingly face crushing competition from China and other emerging Asian economies. Meanwhile, a base of corporations able to compete in markets for advanced goods and services is underdeveloped or lacking entirely. It is not obvious how Italy will overcome this significant structural weakness in the short run, and Italy has therefore been referred to as the new "sick man of Europe".
The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci
Italy, as a state, did not exist until the unification of the country came to a conclusion in year 1861. Due to this comparatively late unification, and the historical autonomy of the many regions that comprise the Italian Peninsula, many traditions and customs that we now recognize as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin, which further reflect the influence of the many different peoples that occupied those areas, and of the importance of religion, especially Roman Catholicism. Despite the pronounced political and social isolation of these regions that prevailed throughout Italy's history, Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe remain immense.
Italy has been a seminal place for many important artistic and intellectual movements that spread throughout Europe and beyond, including the Renaissance and Baroque. Perhaps Italy's greatest cultural achievements lie in its long artistic heritage, which is often validated through the names of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian and Raphael, among many others. Beyond art, Italy's contributions to the realms of literature, science and music cannot be overlooked.
With the basis of the modern Italian language established through the eminent Florentine poet, Dante Alighieri, whose greatest work, the Divina Commedia is often considered the foremost literary statement produced in Europe during the Middle Ages, there is no shortage of celebrated literary figures; the writers and poets Boccaccio, Giacomo Leopardi, Alessandro Manzoni, Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto, and Petrarca, whose best known vehicle of expression, the sonnet, was invented in Italy. Prominent philosophers include Bruno, Ficino, Machiavelli, Vico. Modern literary figures and Nobel laureates are nationalist poet Giosuè Carducci in 1906, realist writer Grazia Deledda in 1926, modern theatre author Luigi Pirandello in 1936, poets Salvatore Quasimodo in 1959 and Eugenio Montale in 1975, satiryst and theatre author Dario Fo in 1997.
In science, Galileo Galilei made considerable advancements toward the scientific revolution, and Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance Man. Other notable Italian scientists and inventors include Fermi, Cassini, Volta, Lagrange, Fibonacci, Marconi, and Meucci.
From folk music to classical, music has always played an important role in Italian culture. Having given birth to opera, for example, Italy provides many of the very foundations of the classical music tradition. Some of the instruments that are often associated with classical music, including the piano and violin, were invented in Italy, and many of the existing classical music forms can trace their roots back to innovations of 16th and 17th century Italian music (such as the symphony, concerto, and sonata). Some of Italy's most famous composers include the Renaissance composers Palestrina and Monteverdi, the Baroque composers Corelli and Vivaldi, the Classical composers Paganini and Rossini, and the Romantic composers Verdi and Puccini. Modern Italian composers such as Berio and Nono proved significant in the development of experimental and electronic music.
Football (calcio) is a popular spectator and participation sport. The Italian national team has won the World Cup four times (1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006) and is the current titleholder, while major Italian clubs frequently compete at a high level of European competitions. Rugby union is very popular in Italy; clubs compete domestically in the Super 10, as well as the European Heineken Cup tournament. The national team competes in the Six Nations Championship, and is a regular at the Rugby World Cup. Italy are classed at a tier-one nation by the International Rugby Board. Basketball (pallacanestro) is a sport gaining rapid popularity in Italy, although national teams have existed since the 1950s. The nation's top pro league (Lega A1) is widely regarded as the third best national league in the world after the American NBA and Spain's ACB. In some cities, basketball is the most popular sport. Cycling is also a well represented sport in Italy. Italians have won more World Cycling Championships than any other country except Belgium. The Giro d'Italia is a world famous long distance bicycle race held every May and constitutes one of the three Grand Tours along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, each of which last approximately three weeks. Auto racing receives much attention in Italy, while the nation is host to a number of notable automobile racing events, such as the famed Italian Grand Prix. The Italian flair for design is legendary, and it should come as no surprise that Ferrari has won more Formula Ones than any other manufacturer.
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 Italy. 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.
Venice, Italy - Gondolas
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:
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