Italy is a country located in southern Europe. Italy occupies a boot-
shaped peninsula that extends into the Mediterranean sea from southern Europe.
The country also includes two large islands, Sicily and Sardinia.
Italy has had a long and colorful history. For much of its history,
Italy has been divided into many small and often warring city states. This
occurred after the break up of the Roman Empire when much of Europe became
feudal. In 476, Odoacer defeated the last emperor of ancient Rome, Romulus
Augustulus. Odoacer ruled for 13 years after gaining control. He was then
attacked and defeated by Theodoric, the king of a Germanic tribe named the
Ostrogoths. Both kings, Theodoric and Odoacer ruled jointly until Theodoric
murdered Odoacer. Theodoric continued to rule Italy with a government comprised
mostly of Italians and an army composed of Ostrogoths. During his rule, he
brought peace to the country but after his death in 526, the kingdom began to
grow weak. In 553, Justinian, the Byzantine emperor who ruled the eastern part
of the Roman Empire, defeated the Ostrogoths and expelled them. For a time, the
Old Roman Empire was united again. Byzantine rule in Italy collapsed as
increased attacks fr om Germanic tribes weakened the empire. Byzantine rule
collapsed in 572 when the Lombards invaded.
In the 400’s and 500’s the popes increased their influence in both
religious and political matters in Italy and elsewhere. The popes were usually
the ones who made attempts to protect Italy from foreign invasion or to soften
foreign rule. The popes for almost 200 years had opposed attempts by the
Lombards, who controlled most of Italy, to take over Rome. The popes defeated
the Lombards with the aid of two Frankish kings, Charlemagne and Pepin the Short.
The papal states were created out of land won for the popes by Pepin.
From the 10th century on, Italian cities began to grow rapidly and
became increasingly independent of one another. They flourished because of
their access to the Mediterranean trade routes and almost had a complete
monopoly on all spice and silks coming into Europe. They became centers of
political life, foreign trade and banking. At this time, the church grew in
power also. The Italian popes became increasingly more involved in the European
political scene. Many of these city states became extremely wealthy and
powerful and resisted the attempts of noblemen and emperors to control them.
During the 1300’s, one of the greatest eras in human history occurred,
The Renaissance. The Renaissance occurred primarily in Italy in the various
city states. Many great artists and philosophers lived during this period and
enhanced Italy’s prestige.
The kingdom of Italy was formed in 1861. Five years later, in 1866,
Venetia became a part of that kingdom. Rome became its capital in 1871.
Benito Mussolini became premier in 1922. In 1940, Italy entered World
War II on the side of the Germans. Italy surrendered in 1943 and established a
new republic in 1946.
Culture and Customs
The population of Italy is approximately 58 million people, most of whom
live in the urban cities. The four largest cities in Italy, in order of
population are Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin. The most densely populated areas
of the country are the industrialized regions of Lombardy and Liguria in the
northwest region of Campania in the south. The areas with the lowest population
density are the mountains of both the north and south.
More than two thirds of Italy’s population reside in cities. Most live
in large, concrete apartment buildings. A few of the more wealthy people live
in single-family homes. The oldest sections of an Italian city are made up o
low buildings that have apartments around a central courtyard. Newer parts of
the city often have larger apartment buildings. Poor neighborhoods are usually
found on the outskirts of the city.
Most unmarried children live with their parents. Parents often help an
adult son or daughter purchase an apartment near their own. Many young women
work outside the home, and grandparents often help care for the children of
working mothers. Many urban areas provide public child-care centers.
City growth and the increased use of the automobile have led to some
serious problems with urban pollution in Italy. In large cities, the air
pollution poses a health hazard and has damaged priceless architecture. Many
cities have banished private cars from the city centers.
Most rural communities in the past consisted of a compact settlement
surrounded by a large area of agricultural land. The farmers usually lived in
town and traveled to work in the fields each day. This pattern of living was
especially common in southern Italy, in northern Italy the farmers usually lived
on their land.
Italians take great pride in the quality of their cooking. They
traditionally eat their main meals at midday. Large meals usually consist of a
past course, followed by a main course of meat or fish. Italian foods vary
greatly by region. In the north, flat, ribbon-shaped pastas served with cream
sauces are most popular. In the south, macaroni served with tomato-based sauces
is the favorite type of pasta.
Italians enjoy a wide variety of sports. Soccer is the most popular
sport in Italy. Every major city has a professional soccer team. But soccer is
not just a spectator sport- on weekends Italy’s parks are filled with children
and adults playing the game. Basketball is also very popular, and some cities
have more than one professional basketball team. Other popular sports include
fishing, hunting, cycling, roller skating, and baseball.
About 95 percent of the population in Italy is Roman Catholic. Most
religious ceremonies such as baptisms, weddings and funeral services are held in
church. Only about 30 percent of all Italians attend church regularly. Many
others occasionally attend church. An agreement called the Lateran Pact governs
the relationship between Italy and the Roman Catholic Church. For example, the
pact exempts priests and other members of religious orders from military service
and gives tax exemptions to Catholic organizations.
The Roman Catholic Church has had a strong influence on laws in the past,
but that influence has weakened. For example, until 1970, the church was able
to block attempts to legalize divorce in Italy.
Vatican City, the spiritual and governmental center of the Roman
Catholic Church, lies entirely within the city of Rome. But Vatican City is
independent from Italy and has its own diplomatic corps.
There are several small religious groups in Italy. The other groups
include Protestants, Muslims and Jews.
Italy set up its present form of government in 1946. That year, the
people voted to change their nation from a monarchy ruled by a king to a
republic headed by a president. King Humbert II immediately left the throne.
The president of Italy is elected to a seven-year term by both houses of
Parliament. The president must be at least 50 years old. He or she appoints
the premier, who forms a government. The president has the power to dissolve
parliament and call new elections. The president is the commander of the
Italian armed forces, and can declare war.
The premier determines national policy and is the most important person
in the Italian government. The premier is selected by the president from the
members of Parliament and must be approved by Parliament. The premier has no
fixed term of office, and can be voted out by office by Parliament at any time.
Members of the Cabinet are chosen by the premier and are usually chosen from
among the Parliament.
The Parliament consists of a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate. Both of
these houses have equal power in passing laws. The Senate has 315 elected
members and the Chamber of Deputies has 630 members. All former presidents
become Senators for life.
In elections for the Chamber of Deputies, the country is divided into 32
constituencies. The number of Deputies to be elected from each constituency is
determined by its population. Each political party presents a list of
candidates for the position of deputy from the district. The deputies selected
from a party are chosen in the order of number of preference votes each receives.
Senators are chosen in much the same way, but are elected from twenty regions
Italy has a complicated system of election to parliament based on
proportional representation. In the Parliament, the percentage of seats held by
each political party is about the same as the percentage of the total votes
received by the party’s candidates.
Since 1948, Italy has experienced frequent Cabinet changes. Most
Cabinets have lasted less than a year, but many members of one Cabinet have
remain in the new one. If some of the parties in the Cabinet are disagreeing
with the Cabinets policies, they may withdraw support and require the formation
of a brand new Cabinet.
The fascist government that once ruled Italy is on the rise again. The
fascist party grows in membership each year. Italy has also been reluctant to
talk about the joining of the European nations into one large economic super
Since World War II, Italy has shifted from a predominantly agricultural
economy to one based on modern industries. As recently as the 1950’s, more
than a third of all Italians were employed in agriculture. From 1953 to 1968,
industrial production almost tripled. By the late 1980’s, only about 10
percent of employed Italians worked in agriculture. The transformation has been
most complete in northern Italy, which is now one of the most advanced
industrial areas of Western Europe. Southern Italy remains poorer and less
industrialized, despite long-term efforts of the Italian government to improve
the region’s industry and agriculture.
In 1957, Italy became a member in the European Economic Community. This
union of Western European nations, also called the European Common Market, has
abolished tariffs on trade among its members. This membership has helped
strengthen the economy of Italy.
Service industries account for about two-thirds of Italy’s gross
domestic product. Trade ranks as Italy’s most important type of service industry.
It accounts for a larger percentage of the country’s gross domestic product and
employs a greater share of workers than any other service industry.
Manufacturing accounts for almost a fourth of Italy’s gross domestic product.
The language of Italy is Italian. Like French and Spanish, Italian is a
romance language – one of several languages that evolved from Latin. There are
only a few communities in Italy in which Italian is not spoken as the first
language. German is the first language of many of the Terntino-Alto Adige
region. French is spoken as a first language in portions of the northwestern
part of Italy. Solvene, a Slavic language, and Ladin, a language similar to the
Romanasch of the Swiss, are spoken in northern sections of Italy.
The Land, Environment and Growth Potential
Italy has eight different regions. The first one is the Alpine Slope.
The Alpine Slope runs across the northernmost part of Italy. Its landscape
includes huge mountains and deep valleys. Forests are found in the lower areas,
in the higher areas, there are grasslands and conifer forests. The melting snow
feeds many rivers. Many hydroelectric plants have been built along these rivers
and help to power the factories of the north.
The second region of Italy is the Po Valley. This area is also referred
to as the North Italian Plain. It is a broad plain that stretches between the
Alps in the north and the Apennine mountains in the south. This valley floods
periodically, but a intricate system of dikes helps control the flooding.
The third region is the Adriatic Plain. It is a small region north of
the Adriatic Sea. Its eastern edge borders Yugoslavia. This area is not very
well suited for farming.
The fourth region is the Apennines. This region stretches almost the
entire length of Italy. The mountains in this region have steep inclines of
soft rock and are constantly eroding as a result of heavy rain. The northern
Apennines have some of the largest forests in the country and much pasture land.
The central part of the range has productive farmland and grazing. The southern
Apennines include the poorest part of Italy. This area has plateaus and high
mountains, but few natural resources.
The fifth and sixth regions are the Apulia and southeastern Plains.
These form the “heel” of the boot-shaped peninsula. This region is composed of
plateaus that end as cliffs at the Mediterranean Sea.
The seventh region is the Western Uplands and Plains. This area
stretches along the Tyrrhenian Sea from La Spezia, a port city just south of
Genoa, southward past Naples to Salerno. It is a rich agricultural region,
second only to the Po Valley in agricultural output.
Sicily is the eight region. Sicily is the largest island in the
Mediterranean Sea. It is separated from mainland Italy by the Start of Messina.
The island has mountains and plains. Mount Etna, one of the largest active
volcanoes in the world, dominates the landscape of northeastern Silicy. Sever
erosion caused in part by the clearing of forests, has hampered agriculture and
made travel in many inland areas difficult during the wet season.
The climate of Italy is temperate. The spring, summer and fall are
generally sunny, but winter is rainy and cloudy. In early spring, hot dry air
from the Sahara expands and covers Italy. The summer climate of much of Italy
is dry, with occasional rainstorms.
Italy’s technological level is equal to that of the U.S in certain areas.
The northern part of Italy uses some of the most advanced manufacturing methods
in its factories. One quarter of the countries power is supplied through state
of the art hydroelectric dams. More than 450 privately owned television
stations and over 1000 private radio stations are operating in Italy.
Italy has an excellent system of roads. Large, modern superhighways run
the length of the Italian peninsula. Tunnels though the Alps link the highway
system to those of neighboring countries. Italy has an average of about 1 car
for ever 3 people.
When compared to the United States, Italy is only slightly behind. The
United States has more advanced computers and telecommunications system. In
medical technology, Italy is equal to the U.S but the technology is not as
widely available as it is in the United States. Natural Resources
Italy is limited in the number of natural resources and must rely on
imports. Much of the mineral deposits in Italy are found on the islands of
Sicily and Sardinia and in the regions of Lombardy, Tuscany and in the north-
-central and northwestern parts of the peninsula. The most important natural
resource of Italy is natural gas, which is found primarily in the Po Valley.
Italy also produces abundant amounts of marble and granite. Other minerals
important to Italy are feldspar, pumice and sulfur.
For it its energy supply, Italy relies upon other countries. Petroleum
imported from Libya provides more than half of the countries energy. Italy
imports much of its oil from Iran and Libya.
Italy produces very small amounts of petroleum. Most of Italy’s
petroleum is found in Sicily.
I found Italy to be an interesting country. Many of the greatest and
most important eras in mankind occurred in Italy. The Renaissance, The Roman
Empire and some of World War II all happened in Italy. I believe the historical
and cultural significance of Italy is largely overlooked.
Another reason I chose Italy is that it is a country we rarely study in
school. When we study European history, we mainly cover France or Germany, etc.
We rarely get into countries that are just as important as Italy. When we do
study them, we blend them all together and just get a brief overview of the
countries history and culture.
One of the things that fascinated me about this country was its place in
current world economics. Italy has a high GDP and is heavily involved in trade
on the Mediterannean. Italy has the largest shipping fleet in the world. When
the news mentions the strongest economic nations, you never hear about Italy.
Yet I found that Italy is a significant player in world economics.
The government and political system of Italy also fascinated me. The
political system there seems more complex than the one in the United States.
The House of Deputies has over 600 members and the Senate over 300. I also
found It interesting that ex-presidents are given permanent positions in their
government as Senators.
One of the things that bothered me in researching this paper was that it
was difficult to summarize the history of the country. Many of the books I had
were long and covered the history in so much detail that it was hard to skim
through and take out the important events and make them fit into this paper.
When researching this paper at the library, many of the books were either travel
guides or books about the art of Italy. There were quite a few about the
culture and past but it took awhile to find them among all the travel guides.
If I had a chance to visit this nation I definitely would. Italy seems
like a fun place to visit because of all the old historic sites. It would be
interesting to visit all the old Roman and middle age ruins that are located in