Italy, officially the Italian Republic is a unitary parliamentary republic in Southern Europe. Italy covers an area of 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and has a largely temperate climate; due to its shape, it is often referred to in Italy as lo Stivale (the Boot). With 61 million inhabitants, it is the 5th most populous country in Europe. Italy is a very highly developed country and has the third largest economy in the Eurozone and the eighth-largest in the world.Italy is subdivided into 20 regions, five of these regions having a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their local matters. The country is further divided into 110 provinces (province) and 8,100 municipalities. There are also 15 metropolitan cities, established in 2009, but this administrative division is not yet operational.
Italy has been a unitary parliamentary republic since 2 June 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by aconstitutional referendum. The President of Italy is Italy’s head of state. Italy has a parliamentary government based on a proportional voting system. The parliament is perfectlybicameral: the two houses, the Chamber of Deputies (that meets in Palazzo Montecitorio) and the Senate of the Republic (that meets in Palazzo Madama), have the same powers. The Prime Minister, officiallyPresident of the Council of Ministers, is Italy’s head of government. The Prime Minister and the cabinet are appointed by the President of the Republic, but must pass a vote of confidence in Parliament to become in office. The incumbent Italy’s Prime Minister is Matteo Renzi of theDemocratic Party.
The Po, Italy’s longest river (652 km/405 mi), flows from the Alps on the western border with France and crosses the Padan plain on its way to the Adriatic Sea. The five largest lakes are, in order of diminishing size: Garda (367.94 km2 or 142 sq mi), Maggiore (212.51 km2 or 82 sq mi, shared with Switzerland), Como (145.9 km2 or 56 sq mi), Trasimeno (124.29 km2 or 48 sq mi) and Bolsena (113.55 km2 or 44 sq mi).
The country is situated at the meeting point of the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate, leading to considerable seismic andvolcanic activity. There are 14 volcanoes in Italy, four of which are active: Etna (the traditional site of Vulcan’s smithy),Stromboli, Vulcano and Vesuvius. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe and is most famous for the destruction of Pompeii and Herculanum. Several islands and hills have been created by volcanic activity, and there is still a large active caldera, the Campi Flegrei north-west of Naples.
History is everywhere in Italy. Important cultures and civilizations have existed in Italy since prehistoric times, but it was the Etruscan civilization and, especially, the Roman Republic and Empire that dominated this part of the world for many centuries. Central to the development of modern European civilization and thought during the middle ages and Renaissance, Italy is a mix of the many peoples occupying the country through the centuries, adopting parts of each culture, cuisine and attitude, resulting in an interesting and eclectic mix.
It wasn’t until 1861 that Italy would become a unified nation, following centuries of existence as a collection of smaller kingdoms and city-states. But before this, aggression, hostility and invasion would mark a centuries long journey to unification and freedom.
Art and architecture are a major part of Italian culture. In fact, half of the world’s historic and artistic treasures reside within Italy, giving rise to Italy’s image as “living art gallery”. The country’s rich history and centuries-old culture can be seen in every region. There are theaters and buildings dating back to Greek and Roman times and entire cities, roads and districts that through patient and skillful excavations have been recovered. Elegantly embellished Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals, built after the 11th century, ancient religious architecture of Byzantine, Muslim, and Norman elements, Renaissance art from the 15th century, masterpieces of the great painters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Raffaello, and so many others.
Beyond art, are the great men of the Renaissance that inspired change in the way we think, live and create. Philosophers like Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella, scientists like Galileo, scholars like Machiavelli, poets like Ariosto, music masters like Puccini and Monteverdi.
Not any less an art than the great treasures are the creative skills and traditions that have reaffirm Italy’s cultural heritage, the enduring love for the folk music and dance that originated during the middle ages, such as the Tarantella, still the music of choice at celebrations and weddings, the art of design that can be seen in fine fashions from designers like Gucci, Valentino, Ungaro, Versace and Armani.