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Italy

Italian Republic


Italian Flag     Italy Emblem

Map of Italy


Country profile

Name: Italian Republic
Conventional short form: Italy
Nationality: Italian
Time Zone: CET (UTC+1) Summer (DST): CEST (UTC+2)
Government: Republic since 1946. Head of State: President. Head of Government: Prime Minister
Head of State: President
Legislature: Both houses of the bicameral Parlamento are elected under a mixed system three-quarters by majority vote in constituencies and one-quarter by direct proportional representation. The Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies). The Senato della Repubblica (Senate of the Republic).
Language: Languages: Italian (official); German-, French-, and Slovene-speaking minorities
Religion: 90 per cent Roman Catholic with Protestant minorities
Official Currency: Euro
Administrative divisions: Italy is subdivided into 20 regions. Five of these regions enjoy a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their specific local matters (Abruzzi, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lazio, Liguria, Lombardia, Marche, Molise, Piemonte, Puglia, Sardegna, Sicilia, Toscana, Trentino-Alto Adige, Umbria, Valle d'Aosta, Veneto)

Italy is a long peninsula shaped like a boot, surrounded on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the east by the Adriatic. It is bounded by France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia to the north. The Apennine Mountains form the peninsula's backbone; the Alps form its northern boundary. The largest of its many northern lakes is Garda (143 sq mi; 370 sq km); the Po, its principal river, flows from the Alps on Italy's western border and crosses the Lombard plain to the Adriatic Sea. Several islands form part of Italy; the largest are Sicily (9,926 sq mi; 25,708 sq km) and Sardinia (9,301 sq mi; 24,090 sq km).

The migrations of Indo-European peoples into Italy probably began about 2000 B.C. and continued down to 1000 B.C. From about the 9th century B.C. until it was overthrown by the Romans in the 3rd century B.C., the Etruscan civilization dominated the area. By 264 B.C. all Italy south of Cisalpine Gaul was under the leadership of Rome. For the next seven centuries, until the barbarian invasions destroyed the western Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D., the history of Italy is largely the history of Rome. From 800 on, the Holy Roman Emperors, Roman Catholic popes, Normans, and Saracens all vied for control over various segments of the Italian peninsula. Numerous city-states, such as Venice and Genoa, whose political and commercial rivalries were intense, and many small principalities flourished in the late Middle Ages. Although Italy remained politically fragmented for centuries, it became the cultural center of the Western world from the 13th to the 16th century.
In 1713, after the War of the Spanish Succession, Milan, Naples, and Sardinia were handed over to the Hapsburgs of Austria, which lost some of its Italian territories in 1735. After 1800, Italy was unified by Napoléon, who crowned himself king of Italy in 1805; but with the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Austria once again became the dominant power in a disunited Italy. Austrian armies crushed Italian uprisings in 1820-1821 and 1831. In the 1830s, Giuseppe Mazzini, a brilliant liberal nationalist, organized the Risorgimento (Resurrection), which laid the foundation for Italian unity. Disappointed Italian patriots looked to the House of Savoy for leadership. Count Camille di Cavour (1810-1861), prime minister of Sardinia in 1852 and the architect of a united Italy, joined England and France in the Crimean War (1853-1856), and in 1859 helped France in a war against Austria, thereby obtaining Lombardy. By plebiscite in 1860, Modena, Parma, Tuscany, and the Romagna voted to join Sardinia. In 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi conquered Sicily and Naples and turned them over to Sardinia. Victor Emmanuel II, king of Sardinia, was proclaimed king of Italy in 1861. The annexation of Venetia in 1866 and of papal Rome in 1870 marked the complete unification of peninsular Italy into one nation under a constitutional monarchy.
Italy declared its neutrality upon the outbreak of World War I on the grounds that Germany had embarked upon an offensive war. In 1915, Italy entered the war on the side of the Allies but obtained less territory than it expected in the postwar settlement. Benito ("Il Duce") Mussolini, a former Socialist, organized discontented Italians in 1919 into the Fascist Party to "rescue Italy from Bolshevism." He led his Black Shirts in a march on Rome and, on Oct. 28, 1922, became prime minister. He transformed Italy into a dictatorship, embarking on an expansionist foreign policy with the invasion and annexation of Ethiopia in 1935 and allying himself with Adolf Hitler in the Rome-Berlin Axis in 1936. When the Allies invaded Italy in 1943, Mussolini's dictatorship collapsed; he was executed by partisans on April 28, 1945, at Dongo on Lake Como. Following the armistice with the Allies (Sept. 3, 1943), Italy joined the war against Germany as a cobelligerent. A June 1946 plebiscite rejected monarchy and a republic was proclaimed. The peace treaty of Sept. 15, 1947, required Italian renunciation of all claims in Ethiopia and Greece and the cession of the Dodecanese islands to Greece and of five small Alpine areas to France. The Trieste area west of the new Yugoslav territory was made a free territory (until 1954, when the city and a 90-square-mile zone were transferred to Italy and the rest to Yugoslavia).
Italy became an integral member of NATO and the European Economic Community (later the EU) as it successfully rebuilt its postwar economy. A prolonged outbreak of terrorist activities by the left-wing Red Brigades threatened domestic stability in the 1970s, but by the early 1980s the terrorist groups had been suppressed. "Revolving door" governments, political instability, scandal, and corruption characterized Italian politics in the 1980s and 1990s.
Italy adopted the euro as its currency in Jan. 1999. Treasury Secretary Carlo Ciampi, who is credited with the economic reforms that permitted Italy to enter the European Monetary Union, was elected president in May 1999. Italy joined its NATO partners in the Kosovo crisis. Aviano Air Base in northern Italy was a crucial base for launching air strikes into Kosovo and Yugoslavia.
In June 2001, Silvio Berlusconi, a conservative billionaire, was sworn in as prime minister. He pledged to reduce unemployment, cut taxes, revamp the educational system, and reform the bureaucracy. His critics were alarmed by the apparent conflict of interest of a prime minister who also owned 90% of Italy's media. He was accused of Mafia connections and was under indictment for tax fraud and bribery. Found guilty in three out of four of his trials, he was acquitted in all of them on appeal. Several other cases are pending.
In Nov. 2002, Giulio Andreotti, who served as Italy's prime minister numerous times between 1972 and 1992, was sentenced to 24 years for ordering the Mafia to murder a journalist in 1979. At 84, however, he was deemed too old for prison.
In April 2005, regional elections had disastrous results for Berlusconi's center-right coalition. The dismal state of the economy was blamed for the poor showing. In parliamentary elections held April 2006, the center-left Union coalition led by Romano Prodi won 49.8% of the vote and Berlusconi's House of Liberties coalition won 49.7%-a mere 25,000 vote difference. Berlusconi refused to concede and called for a recount. He eventually relented, and Prodi was given the go-ahead by the newly installed president Giorgio Napolitano to form a government. Prodi served as prime minister once before (1996-98) and also as president of the European Union.



Geography

Area:
301,338 km2 (116,346 miles2)

Topography:
Except for the fertile Po River Valley in the north and the narrow coastal belts farther south, Italy's mainland is generally mountainous, with considerable seismic activity. During Roman times, the city of Pompeii, near present-day Naples (Napoli), was devastated first by an earthquake in AD 63 and then by the famed eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (1,277 m/4,190 ft) in AD 79. In the last century, an earthquake in northeastern Italy on 6 May 1976 left more than 900 people dead, and a quake in the south on 23 November 1980 (and subsequent aftershocks) claimed at least 4,500 lives.
The Alpine mountain area in the north along the French and Swiss borders includes three famous lakes?Como, Maggiore, and Garda?and gives rise to six small rivers that flow southward into the Po. Italy's highest peaks are found in the northwest in the Savoy Alps, the Pennines, and the Graian chain. They include Mont Blanc (4,807 m/15,771 ft), on the French border; Monte Rosa (Dufourspitze, 4,634 m/15,203 ft) and the Matterhorn (Monte Cervino, 4,478 m/14,692 ft), on the Swiss border; and Gran Paradiso (4,061 m/13,323 ft). Marmolada (3,342 m/10,965 ft), in northeast Italy, is the highest peak in the Dolomites.
At the foot of the Alps, the Po River, the only large river in Italy, flows from west to east, draining plains covering about 17% of Italy's total area and forming the agricultural and industrial heartland. The Apennines, the rugged backbone of peninsular Italy, rise to form the southern border of the Po Plain. Numerous streams and a few small rivers, including the Arno and the Tiber (Tevere), flow from the Apennines to the west coast. The highest peak on the peninsula is Corvo Grande (2,912 m/9,554 ft). Vesuvius is the only active volcano on the European mainland.
While altitudes are lower in southern Italy, the Calabrian coast is still rugged. Among the narrow, fertile coastal plains, the Plain of Foggia in northern Apulia, which starts along the Adriatic, and the more extensive lowland areas near Naples, Rome, and Livorno (Leghorn) are the most important. The mountainous western coastline forms natural harbors at Naples, Livorno, La Spezia, Genoa (Genova), and Savona, and the low Adriatic coast permits natural ports at Venice (Venezia), Bari, Brindisi, and Taranto.
Sicily, separated from the mainland by the narrow Strait of Messina, has the Madonie Mountains, a continuation of the Apennines, and the Plain of Catania, the largest plain on the island. Mount Etna (3,369 m/11,053 ft) is an isolated and active volcano in the northeast.
Sardinia, in the Tyrrhenian Sea, is generally mountainous and culminates in the peak of Gennargentu (1,834 m/6,017 ft). The largest and most fertile plains are the Campidano in the south and the Ozieri in the north. The principal bay is Porto Torres in the Gulf of Asinara.




The useful information

Passports/ Visas
(a) Italy is a signatory to the 1995 Schengen Agreement. For further details about passport/visa regulations within the Schengen area, see the introductory section, How to Use this Guide.
(b) The regulations stated below also apply to San Marino and the Vatican City.
Passports
Passport valid for at least three months beyond length of stay required by all nationals referred to in the chart above except:
(a) 1. EU nationals holding a valid national ID card.
Note: EU nationals are only required to produce evidence of their EU nationality and identity in order to be admitted to any EU Member State. This evidence can take the form of a valid national passport or national identity card. Either is acceptable. Possession of a return ticket, any length of validity on their document, sufficient funds for the length of their proposed visit should not be imposed.
Visas
Not required by all nationals of countries referred to in the chart above for the following durations:
(a) nationals of EU countries for an unlimited period;
(b) nationals of Australia, Canada and the USA for stays of up to 90 days.
Note: Nationals not referred to in the chart above are advised to contact the embassy to check visa requirements (see Contact Addresses).
(a) Italy is a signatory to the 1995 Schengen Agreement. For further details about passport/visa regulations within the Schengen area, see the introductory section, How to Use this Guide.
(b) The regulations stated below also apply to San Marino and the Vatican City.

Driving
It is a legal requirement for all foreigners driving in Italy to obtain an International Driver's Permit (IDP; not to be confused with the International Drivers License) and many rental car companies are now starting to require it. Only two organizations are authorized by the U.S. State Department to issue an IDP: AAA and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (through the National Automobile Club). To obtain a permit that is good for one year, you must show up at one of their offices with a valid state-issued driver's license, $10 and two passport-size photographs.

Health
Food drink: Tap water is generally safe to drink. Bottled water is available. The inscription "Acqua Non Potabile" means water is not drinkable. Milk is pasteurized and dairy products are safe for consumption. Local meat, poultry, seafood, fruit and vegetables are considered safe to eat.
Other risks: Leishmaniasis (cutaneous and visceral), sandfly fever, typhus and West Nile virus, though rare, may occur along the Mediterranean coast. Echinococcosis and brucellosis also occur, although rarely. Rabies is present. For those at high risk, vaccination before arrival should be considered. If you are bitten, seek medical advice without delay.

Currency
Travellers cheques, cheques and foreign money can be changed at banks, railway stations and airports, and very often at major hotels (generally at a less convenient rate).
Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted, as well as Eurocheque cards. Check with your credit or debit card company for merchant acceptability and other facilities that may be available.
Travellers cheques are accepted almost everywhere. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take travellers cheques in Euros, Pounds Sterling or US Dollars.
These vary from city to city but, in general, Mon-Fri 0830-1330 and 1500-1600, Sat 0830-1300, although many banks are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.

Climate
Italy stretches from Mont Blanc, in the Alps mountain range, in the north, past the Dolomites mountain range, with the Adriatic Sea to the east, to the Mediterranean Sea in the south - this wide range of causes the weather to vary considerably, and Italy's climate varies from the cold in the northerly mountainous region to hot and dry in the hills and plains of the south. Local variations depend on altitude and distance from the sea.
The country's overall temperate climate is due to the protection by the mountain ranges from the cold winds from the north - although the temperatures in the north can still drop below zero centigrade. Towards the center the fog is a constant factor in winter, while the winters are mild in the south.
In the mountains temperatures drop quickly, winters in the north are much colder with a January average temperature of -8 C for alpine ski resorts.
In much of Italy temperatures average 24 C all summer and heavy thunderstorms bring the only summer rain which evaporates rapidly.
In summer, the hot weather from Africa moves north to the whole country, carried by the Scirocco, Africa's hot dry wind but surrounded by warm seas and with mountains close by, the coast always has a breeze.
Mountain areas are cooler with clear sunny skies. Hot air rising from the coasts brings thunderstorms to the mountain areas, which experience the greatest change from summer to winter especially in the valleys of Tuscany and Umbria.

Electricity
230 volts AC, 50Hz.

Shopping
Many Italian products are world-famous for their style and quality. Care should be taken when buying antiques since Italy is renowned for skilled imitators. Prices are generally fixed and bargaining is not general practice, although a discount may be given on a large purchase. Florence, Milan and Rome are famous as important fashion centerers, but smaller towns also offer good scope for shopping. It is advisable to avoid hawkers or sellers on the beaches. Some places are known for particular products, eg Carrara (Tuscany) for marble, Como (Lombardy) for silk, Deruta (Umbria) and Faenza (Emilia-Romagna) for pottery, Empoli (Tuscany) for the production of bottles and glasses in green glass and Prato (Tuscany) for textiles. Alghero (Sardinia) and Torre Annunziata (Campania) are centres for handicraft products in coral, and in several parts of Sardinia business cards and writing paper made of cork are produced. Cremona (Lombardy) is famous for its handmade violins. Castelfidardo (Marche) is famous for its accordion factories, and for its production of guitars and organs. Two small towns concentrate on producing their speciality: Valenza (Piedmont), which has a large number of goldsmith artisans, and Sulmona (Abruzzo), which produces confetti?, sugar-coated almonds used all over Italy for wedding celebrations. Vietri sul Mare (Campania) is one of the most important centerers of ceramic paving-tiles, and Ravenna (Emilia-Romagna) is famous for mosaics. Main shopping areas are listed below.
Shopping hours: Mon-Sat 0830-1230 and 1530-1930, with some variations in northern Italy where the lunch break is shorter and the shops close earlier. Food shops are often closed on Wednesday afternoons.