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About Italy

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Ancient Rome Government

Officially Italian Republic or Repubblica Italiana, Italy is made up of over 54 million citizens. It is a country in south-central Europe, occupying a peninsula that juts deep into the Mediterranean Sea. It has a shape that has often been referred to as a high-heeled boot about to kick its triangular island of Sicily, the largest island in the republic. Another important island, Sardinia, lies some 160 miles (260 kilometers) west of Italy's capital Rome.

Picture of ItalyThe magnificent mountain barrier of the Alps forms a northern boundary. These mountains separate Italy from France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia and extend all the way down the Italian peninsula as a less elevated chain, the Apennines. Plains that are practically limited to the great northern triangle of the Po Valley (the Po is Italy’s longest river), cover a mere 21 percent of the total national area of 116,000 square miles (301,000 square kilometers); 40 percent is hilly and 39 percent mountainous, providing variations to the generally temperate climate. The mountainous landscape of Italy has long influenced political and economic developments on the peninsula by encouraging the creation of numerous independent states and by permitting in many regions only a meager agriculture.

Since World War II, an increasing number of Italians have abandoned the countryside for the rapidly industrializing cities, helping the Italian culture phase from old world values to a more modern civilization.

The Italian economy now ranks high in the world. It blends areas in the north that are self-sufficient thriving industrial regions and southern regions that were poverty-stricken for many years but have recently begun to revive their stature. Italian industry includes every type of production. Services, particularly tourism, are very important, and efforts have been made to provide comprehensive networks of autostrade (express highways).

The peninsula has a proud tradition dating from antiquity. The period between 1865 and 1946, when Italy was united it was a monarchy. It then became a parliamentary republic, operating under the constitution of 1948. The republic is subdivided into regioni, province, and comuni (“communes”); these local bodies, especially the regions, which differ widely in economic development, enjoy a certain autonomy. A similar diversity characterizes political life. From the end of World War II to the early 1990s, Italy had a multiparty system dominated by two large parties—the Christian Democratic Party (Partito della Democrazia Cristiana; DC) and the Italian Communist Party (Partito Comunista Italiano; PCI)—and a number of small but influential parties. The DC was the dominant governing party, in various alliances with the smaller parties of the center and left. The Italian party system underwent a radical transformation in the early 1990s as a result of both international and national events.

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