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Italy

The Fast facts

Country’s Full Name: Italian Republic
Capital: Rome
Population: 58,147,733
Terrain: Mostly rugged and mountainous.
Currency: Euro
Languages Spoken: Italian (official), German, French, and Slovene
Religion: Predominantly Roman Catholic
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1 (+2 in summer) (Central European Time)
Literacy rate: 99%
Main exports: Machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, clothes, wine
GNI per capita: US $30,010 (World Bank, 2006)

Popular Attractions

www.mygreatworld.com - sculpture Whenever we think of civilization and heritage, we think of Italy. This country on the Mediterranean coast is a tourist’s paradise having the world’s most elegant cities like Rome, Naples, Venice, Florence and Milan. The country has the maximum number of UNESCO World Heritage places and it is difficult for the tourist to decide what to see and what to leave out on a short visit to Italy so rich in natural beauty and historical marvels.

The country of the Mona Lisa, Da Vinci, Napoleon, Columbus, Popes and Pizza, Italy is defined more by its residents and the works of art then its location. It’s a country that has seen emperors, dictators, mafia and crazy rulers like Nero and still given us a great legacy of artists, poets, scientists and sculptors that have intrigued and inspired generations globally. Italy is a style statement which has produced top designers and jewellers who’ve decorated and dressed the royals all over the world. It’s a country that’s stunningly beautiful with placid lakes, Italian Alps, stunning Seas and fertile rivers.

The many museums in Italy as also her streets treasure the works of art by the country’s famous artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Raphael and any tour to Italy without seeing them is incomplete. It takes an entire short tour only to see the various attractions of the capital city Rome where history and heritage have blended with modernity.

Milan is the place for viewing the wonderful artworks and historical structures of Italy. It is also the hub of fashion and design. The tourist can visit the Duomo Church in Milan having collections of marble statues not to be found anywhere else in the world. The world’s oldest shopping mall Piazza Duomo lies nearby.

When in Italy visiting the canal city of Venice and taking a gondola tour cannot be missed. This picturesque and romantic city floating on water leaves an indelible impression on the visitor’s mind.

www.mygreatworld.com - Il Campo dei Miracoli The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the world’s wonders. This 12th century bell tower in the Pisa Cathedral started leaning due to the soft ground it was built on. The Tower was reopened to public in 2001 after repairing the structure for 12 years. To climb up its 300 narrow and winding stairs poses a physical challenge for the tourist.

The visitors can take a tour of the Colosseum in Rome, the imposing arena where the gladiators used to fight nearly 2000 years ago. Another must see in Rome is the Fontana (Fountain) di Trevi built in 18th century. Throwing a coin into it, says the legend, means one has to come to Rome again.

The Vatican City is a must see.

Culture

The contribution of Italy to world culture is quite considerable. The Italian people perceive themselves to have descended from the ancient Romans and take pride in their cultural heritage. The richness of the culture is reflected in her paintings, sculptures, architectures, literature and music.

Italy boasts of the world’s greatest masters of art like Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello and Michelangelo to name only a few. The country is full of beautiful architectural structures adorning her cities and museums.

The people of Italy are dominantly Roman Catholic though there is presence of Protestants, Jews and Muslims. Italy has more catholic churches per capita than any other country in the world. That religion plays a dominant role in Italy is evident from the fact that the office buildings there have some religious statue or a cross. One of the Patron saints is associated with every day of the year and so is for trade and profession. Most of the children in Italy are named after some saint and that saint’s day is celebrated by the family.

www.mygreatworld.com - Washing Day in the village The native Italian language is spoken by more than 90% of the Italian population. There are recognized regional dialects like the French, German, Croatian, Albanian, Greek, Sardinian, Catalan and Slovene spoken by some people as their mother tongue and the country has many such regional languages. Some of the regional dialects like the Friulian spoken in northeast Italy are not officially recognized. Local dialects have resulted in regional pluralism reflected in regional variations with regard to festivals, music and cuisine. This variation of culture within different regions of Italy is also due to influences of other cultures like the Greeks, Normans and Lombards.

The Italian society values the family system giving the country a stable social structure. The Italians are refined in their sartorial culture and to them the appearance and image of a person is very important to create an appropriate impression.

Fashion conscious Italian people judge persons by their dresses, bearings and styles. Wine and cheese play important roles in the cuisine of Italy. Espresso coffee is also a part of the cuisine culture.

Climate

The Italian climate is highly diverse due to the different altitudes that sweep the country from the North to the South. Winters in the Alps are severe and long due to the early snowfall. Through out winters, the temperature stays below sub zero, the summers on the other hand are dry and hot. As you move South, towards the coastal region, the weather becomes gentle, the winters are milder and the summers warm and humid. Spring and summer seasons see a lot of rainfall throughout the country. The Mediterranean climate in Italy exists only in the southern coastal regions.

Geographical Location

Italy is a peninsula shaped like an oversized boot which separates the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic Seas. It has a varied topography which ranges from the tall frigid Alps in the North to the sunny long beaches in the South. The Italian Republic is surrounded by France, Austria and Switzerland in the North, Slovenia and Adriatic seas in the East, Mediterranean Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea and the Liguria Sea in the West, and the Ionian and the Mediterranean Sea in the South.

www.mygreatworld.com - Castle Pergine The Northernmost region of Italy is bordered by the majestic tall Alps which extend in an arc and reach a height of over 4000m near Mont Blanc. Besides the tall mountains and ice glaciers, there are deep valleys, forests and pristine lakes. The Southern region consists of the River Po basin which is very fertile and agriculturally rich. There are two other important rivers in Italy, Arno and Tiber, which flow from the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Italy has a history of active volcanoes and earthquakes. The active ones are Stromboli, Mt Vesuvius near Naples and Etna, which is one of the largest active Volcanoes in Sicily. Numerous islands add to the topography of Italy, the larger ones among them are Elba, Sardinia and Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea. Italy is also host to two independent countries; San Marino and the Vatican City. The total area of Italy is 301 323 km2.

Geology

Italy is a country not only of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci but also of a rich geology with beautiful volcanoes and crystalline rocks. The volcanoes spilling lavas and the hills bearing fossils provide the tourist an unforgettable experience no less interesting than the crowded cities of Rome or Venice.

The splendid Mt Etna in Sicily which erupts off and on presents a different view of Italy. Vesuvius near Naples though dormant since 1944 erupted continuously for nearly 300 years before that. The world still anticipates a Vesuvius eruption anytime and the tourists flock to the caldera rim of the volcano to have a close look at the grand sight. While atop the caldera of Vesuvius and if the day is clear, the tourists can enjoy the magnificent beauty of the Bay of Naples, Herculaneum and Pompeii. Pompeii was devastated when it was buried under volcanic ash and volcanic lava flooded the city of Herculaneum. These two cities thus hold mystical attractions like the lost city of Atlantis. Stromboli off the Mediterranean coast has been in eruption for 2500 years and is still active. Tourists can purchase rock samples from the licensed vendors as souvenirs to remind them about their visit to Italy. However it should be remembered that direct collection of rocks and fossils by the visitors are not allowed in Italy.

Solfatara (sulfur earth) near Naples is another geologic attraction of Italy. The ancient Romans believed it to be the entrance to Hell. With boiling mud from small volcanoes and jets of sulfur vapor, it could not be thought as any other place. Apart from sulfur crystals, one can also see the red arsenic and alum. The place emits a suffocating odor of the burning sulfur.

Close to Solfatara is Monte Nuovo, the cinder cone mountain formed as recently as 1538. The new and wonder mountain was formed in a week. A visitor to Mount Nuovo can distinctly see the flow of basalt and pumice that erupted when the mountain was formed.

The most beautiful hill towns of Italy are in Tuscany. The hills bear ores of metals.

History

The first settlement of Indo-European people in Italy started around 2000 BC that continued for the next 1000 years. For the next 600 years, the country was inhabited by the Etruscan Civilization till they were brought down around 300 BC by the Romans. For the next 700 years the Romans ruled Italy and the influence of their civilization left a permanent mark on the history and culture of Italy.

www.mygreatworld.com - 'Wasserburg' over Meran Political fragmentation of Italy began from around 9th century AD when various forces like the Holy Roman Emperors, the Normans, the Roman Catholic Popes and the Saracens tried to take control of the country. It was during this period of intense political hostilities and conflicts that the city states like Genoa and Venice were created. Italy in spite of such fragmented existence continued to exert cultural influence on the Western World.

Italy saw further erosion of her territories in the early part of the 18th century when Austria took over controls of Naples, Milan and Sardinia. The country was ultimately unified by the French Emperor Napoleon when he proclaimed himself the King of Italy in 1805. This however did not last long and Italy again became disunited and ruled over by Austria.

While the Sardinian Prime Minster Cavour laid the foundation for a unified Italy, it took many more wars and conquering of Naples and Sicily by Garibaldi before Italy could emerge as a truly united nation in 1870 with a constitutional monarchy. This was preceded by annexation of Venetia and Rome in 1866 and 1870 respectively.

During the World War I, the Socialist leader and Dictator Mussolini who later became Prime Minister ruled Italy with his Fascist Party and fought for the Allies against the Germans.

He annexed Ethiopia in 1935 and sided with the Germans in the World War II. He lost power in 1943 with the invasion of Italy by the Allies and was executed in 1945.

Italy had to rebuild her economy from the ruins of the War and joined NATO and the European Economic Community. Italy is now ruled by the center-right coalition party of Berlusconi.

Historical Facts at a Glance

Italy’s history has been chequered with different civilizations and cultures that conquered it and made it its home. It has seen the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, establishment of the Holy City, the treachery against Caesar, the dictatorship of Napoleon, and the tyranny of Mussolini. It has been fragmented, divided and then unified and yet all these have made it emerge stronger and become the country that fascinates everyone who visits it.

The first sophisticated race that made Italian region its home was the Etruscans. They traded throughout the region and had a stronghold in the North as well as the Central parts of Italy. They constructed beautiful cities and their traces can still be seen in Tuscany and Lazio.

However it’s the Greek who ruled over Italy for a very long time and their rule was so influential that even today it is the base of everything that exists in Italy today. From art to modern law, administration and philosophy, the Greek rule has left its indelible mark on the Italian culture and the way of thinking.

The 8th century saw the colonization of the Southern Italy by the Greeks. In fact the region began to be known as Magna Grecia, because it was densely populated by the Greeks. Ancient Rome was a small agricultural community till the Greeks took it over and turned it into an impressive empire that spanned the entire Mediterranean Sea. The Roman and the Grecian cultures blended beautifully to create a civilization so strong that it left its traces all over the world and even today beauty, romance and elegance are synonymous with this cultural heritage.

www.mygreatworld.com - Colosseo - Rome, Italy - by IvoMen The Roman Empire displaced both the Greeks and Etruscans and began the domination of the world. They conquered regions in Europe, African and the Middle East. Their rule was full of power, glory and myth. It changed from a republic to empirical rule and finally autocracy of the worst kind.

Finally the sun set over the majestic empire in 285 AD, when it became fragmented and small independent kingdoms and states were formed. This created anarchy and struggle for power between the popes, kings, and clans which went on for a long time, creating an unrest that lasted for centuries. It is during this time that the Signoria became popular where cities offered it to those individuals whom they felt they could trust enough to save the state.

The Middle Ages

It was during this time that the merchant republics were established. The merchant class became powerful and it was under their patronage that the culture and art flourished. Florence was famous for it jewellery, wool and silk, while Venice traded its famous Venetian glass.

14th and the 15th century saw the emergence of poets, writers, sculptures and painters. Known as the Renaissance period, it gave Italy its place in the sun due to its famous residents. The likes of Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Pertrach appeared on the literary front and gave momentum to the movement. Talented artists like Da Vinci, Raphael, Michael Angelo, Botticelli and Machiavelli contributed to the development of the paintings, sculptures, and architecture; some of the best works of art were produced during this period. Italy became the cultural hub of the western world, Venice and Florence found favour with artists and scholars alike. Renaissance saw the development of new techniques and a shift to a more human approach in the art.

Ancient texts were reintroduced to the western world by the likes of Niccoli and Poggio Bracciolini. They scoured European libraries in search of texts written by Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Geber, Averroes and many more scientists and philosophers and gave the world back its legacy of intellectual thought process. It gave boost to science and mathematics as well.

The struggle for power also continued with the French and Spanish colonization of parts of the country. The crusades and the subsequent treaties ensured that the protestant movement was totally crushed. Austria came into power and brought fresh ideas of economy and intellect.

The Modern Era

In the 19th century, the Italian composers became an exceptional musical influence on the western world, with composers like Vivaldi, Puccini, and Verdi. The Italian opera became popular with its depiction of romance and tragedies. Modern writers, film makers, designers, architects quickly became famous for their flamboyant style and the world began to swear by everything Italian.

General Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy in 1796 and ruled till 1814. Europe too was involved in a series of wars that eventually involved Italy. During this time entire peninsula was under French domination. However the clamour for unification began during this time and during the two decade rule of Napoleon, when most of Italy was under his rule, the fragmented small kingdoms and states began to solidify and by the time he left there were fewer and bigger states.

www.mygreatworld.com - Ravenna - San Vitale People rose up in revolt under the Mazzini to overthrow foreign rule, the struggle continued but till 1849, Austria ruled the roost. Under the liberal and far sighted leadership of Camillo Benso, the Sardinian ruler, by 1860 all of Northern Italy was added to Sardinia, save for Venetia. Garibaldi, a guerrilla leader, seized the Southern parts to complete the unification of Germany. In 1861 the kingdom of Italy was proclaimed, Rome became the capital of new Italy in the year 1870, and with the annexation of Venice, the Italians finally had their own country in the year 1871.

The subsequent World wars and the dictatorship of Mussolini, Italy plunged into a severe crisis. Unemployment was rampant and people were generally unsatisfied. Organized crime and mafia emerged adding to the woes of the people. Mussolini’s pact with Hitler added to the worsening situation.

After the end of Mussolini’s period, in 1946, Italy became a republic again, and for the next 30 years Italy prospered economically and became an important business centre. However, the political scandals rocked the country in the 90’s and people began to look for a change from the ruling parties. 1994 put Silvio Berlusconi into the Prime Minister's seat, but later he had to step down. However he came back into power in 2008, and formed a govt.

Political

It was only after the World War I that Italy was unified as a nation with the inclusion of Trent and Trieste with the country. The prevailing political climate after the War encouraged dictatorship in the name of nationalism and Italy was under Fascist rule from 1922 to 1943.

The 1948 Constitution declared Italy as a democratic nation recognizing the Regions as political entities with administrative and legislative powers. With enactment of laws by the National Parliament in 1972, regional Council for each Region was elected by the new Regional Statutes.

There was growing political pressure for federalism in the country during the nineties as the nation’s economy was in shambles. This demand for federalism was compounded by the fact that the economies of the northern Regions of Italy like Lombardy and Piedmont developed faster than the country as a whole. This inspired the Presidents of the northern Regions to develop international policies of their own ignoring the central State.

People of the Regions were demanding decision making powers for the local government in respect of finance, health, education and security. While the demand for federalism and decentralization is still continuing, Italy is gradually moving towards federalism.

The 2001 Constitutional Amendment reformed the Acts relating to powers of the Regions and Local authorities getting the new Acts approved by the country’s Parliament after seeking referendum from people. The system of directly electing the Presidents of the Regions and laying down the term of the Regional Assemblies were introduced in 1999. The Regions were given autonomy to approve Regional Statutes without interference by the National Parliament.

The Regional President and the Regional government can be changed by the Regional Assembly by dissolving the Assembly and holding fresh elections to elect a new President and the Assembly.

The 2003 reforms passed by the National Parliament of Italy was a further step towards a federal nation. The Law empowers the Regions to participate in political decision making process of the central government. The country is making conscious efforts to give more legislative powers to the Regions. Italy is now ruled by center-right politicians.

Infrastructure/Getting Around

Getting into Italy

Just like any other country in the world, there are numerous ways to travel to Italy. Italy is well connected via air, road, and water from different parts of the world.

Air

Italy is well connected to most countries by air. Most flights land in Rome or Milan.

You can get cheap, budget flights to Italy if you book in advance. Air Italia is the country’s official airline.

Road

www.mygreatworld.com - scooter-maniac One of the interesting ways to travel from Europe is by coaches. Though it can be a tiring long journey, it’s a great way of meeting people from different nationalities. Euro lines operate from major European countries.

Rail

This is one of the best ways to travel to Italy. There is plenty of scenic beauty which keeps changing depending upon the city you’re crossing. It’s comfortable and not too expensive.

Water

For the adventurous, ferries is another option to travel to the country. Italy is well connected by water with Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, Malta, Albania, France, Slovenia and Croatia, besides a few others. The tourist can fly to Italy from Europe or other parts of the world. The airports in Italy are generally good. Rome can be considered the most preferred destination to fly to.

Availability of transport to and from an airport is an important consideration for deciding on the destination but these infrastructural facilities in any of the airports in Italy are quite good to cope with the large volume of tourists visiting that country.

A tourist can travel to Italy by sea but before taking a sea or river cruise a traveler would do well to check on the available data on climate and weather to avoid discomfort on journey.

Cruises to Italy can be a really lovely experience during fair weather. Italian cruises are reasonably cheap. The places in Italy are connected with a good network of railways of which Rome is the main center.

Almost any part of Italy and Europe are connected by train from Rome. A train travel across Italy enables the tourist to view the country in all her glory. Train timetables and tickets are easily available and a tourist can also avail of Italian rail passes at discounted rate. The various travel packages for Italy also include train travel.

Cars are available on reasonable rental for traveling across Italy though the rate can be a bit pricey in Rome for obvious reasons. While tour of Rome, Florence and Milan features as top priorities for visit to Italy, the country offers easy transport for touring the neighboring countries.

The capital city Rome has some of the best hotels in the world to make stay in Italy a memorable one. There are hotels in this historic and vibrant city to cater to both budget and luxury tourists. As Rome remains crowded with travelers during most part of the year, it is always wise to book hotels well in advance to avoid disappointment. Cheap apartments are also available as alternative to hotels. A guide map of Italy including detailed maps of the places to be visited helps in planning the tour more systematically. Knowing Italian customs is also helpful.

Getting around Italy

Public transport in Italy has an excellent network and is relatively cheap. There are buses available for every destination, and train services run very frequently connecting cities within the country. It is not only economical and efficient; it’s the most hassle free way of travelling in Italy. It’s advisable to buy tickets in advance before boarding. Be prepared for long lines for buying tickets.

Using one’s own wheels, though a fun way to travel, is not really advised as parking, petrol and tolls are quite expensive here. Plus the traffic can get chaotic, people honk and gesticulate a lot, it can unnerve a new tourist. Car rentals are available but can turn out to be a quite expensive. Hire them for those places which are not easily reachable by the coach or rail. There are subways just like New York and though they get crowded in the peak hours, it’s still a convenient way to move around. Avoid if you’re travelling with young children. Another way of travelling is through yacht charter, travelling on a boat is a great way to travel around Italy and one can avoid the rush and the traffic that’s typically Italian.

Things to do in Italy

There is so much to do and see in Italy that it would be difficult to list them all. Each city has many tourist attractions ranging from museums to sports to eateries. Some of the regular tourist haunts are listed below.

Rome – The capital city of Italy is worth a visit for its ancient ruins, temples, arches, the huge Colosseum, the Vatican Museum and the St Peter’s church.

Pisa – The leaning tower of Pisa is the main attraction of this city. However Santa Maria Della Spina small Gothic church built to house a thorn from Jesus’ crown is also quite popular.

Tuscany – Italian wines are popular the world over and the Wine selection in Siena is amazing. Sample the world famous Chiantis here.

Romantic Venice – Venice is a city of the gondolas, and palazzos. Venetian glass is famous globally and its fun to watch a hoard of poets, painters, musicians and tourists line up the narrow streets. The carnival time in Venice is full of music and bursts of colours.

The Waterfront in Naples - Naples is filled with life, and sun. Here you’ll find the best Pizzas in the world. It’s also home to the famous volcano Vesuvius. One can also walk down to Santa Lucia to partake the beauty of the sea.

The Gourmet City Bologna – It’s a city for the connoisseurs; food making and serving is an art here. Take some time out to have a lavish unhurried meal.

Florence - This city is known for its architecture and art. Florence is also home to Michelangelo's famous statue of David. Browse through the many well-known museums of art.

Genoa is a historical city, birthplace of Columbus and jeans. Do visit the aquarium there.

Milan – the fashion capital of the world. It has great galleries; you can see Da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’.

Trastevere District – It is home to some of the top chefs in the country. All the restaurants serve great food.

Turin – Go skiing in the Alps.

Mt Etna – Watch the active volcano come alive.

A Few Famous Italians

Leonardo da Vinci – Artist, architect, scientist.
Famous works – Mona Lisa, The last Supper.

Michael Angelo – Artist, sculptor, painter, poet, architect
Famous works – The statue of David, Pieta, The Last Judgement.

Donatello -Italian Renaissance sculptor
Famous works- Bronze David, The Feast of Herod

Sandro Botticelli – Painter
Famous works – The Birth of Venus, Primavera.

Christopher Columbus – Voyager
Famous for – Discovering new lands

Giuseppe Mazzini - Giuseppe was an Italian patriot, philosopher and politician.

Francis of Assisi, St - Italian mystic and preacher.

Polo, Marco - Italian traveller and author, famous for his writings about the Far East.

Archimedes - mathematician and inventor.
Famous Inventions – The Archimedes screw, The Archimedes principal

Galileo - scientist, Italian physicist and astronomer.
Famous Discovery- 4 moons of Jupiter, improvements in the telescope.

Antonio Meucci – Invented the telephone.

Verdi, Giuseppe - Italian operatic composer, known for his contribution in Italian opera.

Luciano Pavarotti - famous Italian tenor, actor

Dante Alighieri –Poet, writer, philosopher, most revered figure in world literature.
Famous works – The Divine Comedy

Niccolo' Machiavelli - historian and political philosopher, known for his infamous writings.

Al Pacino - American actor, most famous for ‘The Godfather’

Robert de Niro – Actor, director, producer

Thanks for most of this to professional writer Neena Wright

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