Italy -- Geography --
Official Name: Italian Republic
Capital City: Rome
Official Currency: Euro
Religions: Catholic, others
Population: 58 147 733 (2008)
Land Area: 294 060 sq km
Landforms: A boot-shaped peninsula surrounded by four seas. In the north the Alps dominate, drained by the Po Valley. The remaining land is mostly mountainous and rugged. Appennino Mountains run the length of the country. The
Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily are off the southwestern coast, and
the Mt. Etna volcano (on Sicily) is currently active.
Land Divisions: 20 Regions, including: 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, and Veneto.
Italy -- History --
The name Italy (Italia) is an ancient name for the country and people of Southern Italy. Its origin is unclear, but could be Greek for "Land of Cattle Calves or Veal". Coins bearing the name Italia were minted by an alliance of Italic tribes (Sabines, Samnites, Umbrians and other) competing with Rome in the first century B.C. By the time of emperor Augustus approximately, the multi-ethnic territory of Italy was included in Italia as the central unit of the Empire; Cisalpine Gaul, the Upper Po valley, for example was appended in 42 B.C. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the Lombard invasions, "Italy" or "Italian" gradually became the collective name for diverse states appearing on the peninsula and their overseas properties.
Italy was invaded by the Visigoths in the 5th century, and Rome was sacked by Alaric in 410. By the end of the century the peninsula was mostly under Ostrogothic control, and the last Western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus, was deposed in 476 by Odoacer. On February 25, 493 Theodoric the Great defeated Odoacer and became the king of the Ostrogoths and moved the capital to Ravenna.
The eastern half of the Empire, now centred on Constantinople, invaded Italy in the early 6th century, and the generals of emperor Justinian, Belisarius and Narses, conquered the Ostrogothic kingdom after years of warfare, ending in 552.
The collapse of the Ostrogoths allowed the Lombards to fill the gap, and the Eastern Empire could not hold on to its reconquered territory against the Lombard invasion. The Lombards ruled Italy until the late 8th century when in 774 their kingdom was conquered by Charlemagne.
Rise of the Catholic Church (4th century-8th century)
The Church (and especially the bishop of Rome, the pope) had played an important political role since the times of Constantine, who tried to include it in the imperial administration.
In the politically unstable situation after the fall of the western empire, the Church often became the only stable institution and the only source of learning. Even the barbarians had to rely on clerics in order to administrate their conquests. Furthermore, the catholic monastic orders, such as the Benedictines had a major role both in the economic life of the time, and in the preservation of the classical culture.
After the Lombard invasion, the popes (i.e. St. Gregory) were nominally subject to the eastern emperor, but often received little help from Constantinople, and had to fill the lack of stately power, protecting Rome from Lombard incursions; in this way, the popes started building an independent state.
Map of Italy in 1050At the end of the 8th century the popes definitely aspired to independence, and found a way to achieve it by allying with the Carolingian dynasty of the Franks: the Carolingians needed someone who could give legitimacy to a coup against the powerless Merovingian kings, while the popes needed military protection against the Lombards. As a result, in 774 the Franks invaded the Kingdom of Italy and defeated the Lombards, and their leader Charlemagne was proclaimed legitimate king of the Franks by the pope (rex francorum et langobardorum). Later, on December 25, 800, Charlemagne was also crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire by the pope, triggering controversy and disputes over the Roman name. The new emperor (who was never recognized as such by the Byzantines) immediately conceded direct rule over central Italy to the pope, creating the Papal States.
The Imperial authority never extended much southwards the Italian peninsula. Southern Italy was divided amongst the two Lombards duchies of Spoleto and Benevento, who accepted Charlemagne's suzerainty only formally (812), and the Byzantine Empire. Coastal cities like Gaeta, Amalfi, Naples on the Tyrrhenian Sea, and Venice on the Adriatic, were Latin-Greek enclaves who were becoming increasingly independent from Byzantium. A conquest of Benevento, otherwise, would have meant the total encompassment of the Papal territories, and probably Charlemagne thought it was good for his relationships with the Pope to avoid such a move. The King's stron hold over his empire, on the other side, thwarted the ambitious program of Popes like Hadrian I, whose looser interpretation of the Peppin's donation (confirmed by Charlemagne in 774) extended ideally Papal authority over far territories including even Histria and Corsica. Such a vision would imply an almost total independence of the Pope, and Charlemagne was able enough to choke it. The Pope, by himself, had no other choice but submit. His local forces were feeble, or even rebellious: all the incoronation events were spurred by an attempt by a Rome's party to kill the Pope. The Lombard dukes were over, or untrustful. The Byzantines had little to give, and Charles had sharply left untouched their possessments in his campaigns in order to mantain peace with them.
The age of Charlemagne was therefore one of stability for Italy, though it was generally dominated by non-Italian interests. The separation with the Eastern world continued to increase. Leo III was the first Pope to date his Bulls from the year of Charlemagne's reign (795) instead of those of Byzantine emperors. This process of isolation from the Eastern Empire and connection with the Western world of France and Germany, which had started three centuries before, was completed at the beginning of the 9th centuries. Sicily, Calabria, Puglia and the marine cities were the main exceptions to this rule.
After the death of Charlemagne (814) the new empire soon disintegrated under his weak successors. The equilibrium created through the great emperor's charisma fell apart. This crisis was due also to the emergence of external forces, including the Saracen attacks and the rising power of the marine republics. Charlemagne had announced its division of the Empire in 806: the Lombard-Frank reign, together with Bavaria and Alamannia, was to be handed over to his son Pippin of Italy.
After Charlemagne's son Louis the Pious died in 840, the treaty of Verdun in 843 divided the empire. Louis' eldest surviving son Lothar I became Emperor and ruler of the Central Franks. His three sons in turn divided this kingdom between them, and Northern Italy became the Kingdom of Italy under Louis II, Holy Roman Emperor in 839.
The first half of the 9th century saw other troubles for Italy as well. In 827, Muslim Arabs known as Aghlabids invaded and conquered Sicily; their descendants, the Kalbids, ruled the island until 1053. In 846, Muslim Arabs invaded Rome, looted St. Peter's Basilica, and stole all the gold and silver in it. In response, Pope Leo IV started building the Leonine walls of the Vatican in 847; they were completed in 853.
Most of the coastline of southern Italy was under the Eastern Roman Empire throughout the period.
Even the papacy went through an age of decadence, which ended only in 999 when emperor Otto III selected Silvester II as a pope.
The 11th century signed the end of the darkest period in the middle ages. Trade slowly picked up, especially on the seas, where the four Italian cities of Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa and Venice became major powers. The papacy regained its authority, and started a long struggle with the empire, about both ecclesiastical and secular matter. The first episode was the Investiture controversy.
Meanwhile, the South and Sicily were invaded by Normans, who eventually defeated the Byzantines (in the mainland) and the Arabs (who had conquered Sicily in 846).
Italy became a nation-state belatedly — on March 17, 1861, when most of the states of the peninsula were united under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy dynasty, which ruled over Piedmont. The architects of Italian unification were Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Chief Minister of Victor Emmanuel, and Giuseppe Garibaldi, a general and national hero. Rome itself remained for a decade under the Papacy, and became part of the Kingdom of Italy only on September 20, 1870, the final date of Italian unification. The Vatican is now an independent enclave surrounded by Italy, as is San Marino.
The Fascist government of Benito Mussolini that took over in 1922 led to the alliance with Germany and other Axis Powers and ultimately Italy's defeat in World War II. The Allied Powers invaded Sicily in 1943, and gradually made their way north through the mainland. After the war, on June 2, 1946, a referendum on the monarchy resulted in the establishment of the Italian republic, which led to the adoption of a new constitution on January 1, 1948.
Italy is a charter member of NATO and the European Union. It joined the growing political and economic unification of Western Europe, including the introduction of the Euro in 1999.
Italy -- Economy --
The Italian economy has changed dramatically since the end of World War II. From an agriculturally based economy, it has developed into an industrial state ranked as the world's fifth-largest industrial economy. Italy belongs to the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations; it is a member of the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Italy has few natural resources. With much of the land unsuited for farming, it is a net food importer. There are no substantial deposits of iron, coal, or oil. Proven natural gas reserves, mainly in the Po Valley and offshore Adriatic, have grown in recent years and constitute the country's most important mineral resource. Most raw materials needed for manufacturing and more than 80% of the country's energy sources are imported. Italy's economic strength is in the processing and the manufacturing of goods, primarily in small and medium-sized family-owned firms. Its major industries are precision machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electric goods, and fashion and clothing.
Italy is in the midst of a slow economic recovery and is gradually catching up to its west European neighbors. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001 and the global economy's tailspin, Italy--like the rest of the EU--saw its economy stumble. Fourth quarter 2001 results showed zero or negative GDP growth. As a result, Italy's economy decelerated from 2.9% in 2000 to 1.8% in 2001. Average euro-zone growth in 2001 was 1.4%.
In the post-September 11 period, imports decelerated faster than exports, producing an $8.5 billion surplus in 2001, up from the modest 1.8 billion surplus in 2000. With respect to inflation, Italy is now firmly within norms specified for Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), a major achievement for this historically inflation-prone country. Consumer inflation accelerated from 2.5% in 2000 to 2.8% in 2001. The 1992 agreement on wage adjustments, which has helped keep wage pressures on inflation low, remains in effect. Tight monetary policy by the Bank of Italy also has helped bring inflation expectations down. GDP growth decreased from 2001 to 2002 from 1.8% to 0.4%. In 2002 GDP grew by a margin of 0.4% and was expected to increase 0.9% in 2003 and by 1.8% in 2004, supported by a modest recovery in economic demand.
Since 1992, economic policy in Italy has focused primarily on reducing government budget deficits and reining in the national debt. Successive Italian governments have adopted annual austerity budgets with cutbacks in spending, as well as new revenue raising measures. Italy has enjoyed a primary budget surplus, net of interest payments, for the last 7 years. The deficit in public administration declined to 1.4% of GDP in 2001, down from 1.7% in 2000. Italy joined the European Monetary Union in May 1998. The national debt, which stood at roughly 124% of GDP in 1995, declined from 110.6% in 2000 to 109.4% in 2001, as it steadily falls toward the EU-imposed debt/GDP ratio of 60% of GDP. The last balance-of-payments data show a current account deficit of 7.3 billion euro in 2002. In light of the stability pact, the EU has been closely watching the national deficit situation in Italy.
Italy's closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European Union, with whom it conducts about 54.4% of its total trade (2002 data). Italy's largest EU trade partners, in order of market share, are Germany (15.5%), France (11.6%), and the United Kingdom (5.9%).
The U.S.-Italian bilateral economic relationship is strong and growing. The United States and Italy cooperate closely on major economic issues, including within the G-8. With a large population and a high per capita income, Italy is one of the United States' most important trade partners. In 2002 the United States was the fifth-largest foreign supplier of the Italian market and the largest supplier outside the European Union. Total trade between the United States and Italy was $34.4 billion in 2002. The U.S. ran a $14.2 billion deficit with Italy in 2002.
Unemployment is a regional issue in Italy--low in the north, high in the south. The overall national rate is at its lowest level since 1992. Chronic problems of inadequate infrastructure, corruption, and organized crime act as disincentives to investment and job creation in the south. A significant underground economy absorbs substantial numbers of people, but they work for low wages and without standard social benefits and protections. Women and youth have significantly higher rates of unemployment than do men.
Unions claim to represent 40% of the work force. Most Italian unions are grouped in four major confederations: the General Italian Confederation of Labor (CGIL), the Italian Confederation of Workers' Unions (CISL), the Italian Union of Labor (UIL), and the General Union of Labor (UGL), which together claim 35% of the work force. These confederations formerly were associated with important political parties or currents, but they have evolved info fully autonomous, professional bodies. The CGIL, CISL, and UIL are affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and customarily coordinate their positions before confronting management or lobbying the government. The confederations have had an important consultative role on national social and economic issues. Among their major agreements are a 4-year wage moderation agreement signed in 1993, a reform of the pension system in 1995, and an employment pact, introducing steps for labor market flexibility in economically depressed areas, in 1996. In April 2002, unions held a general strike to protest against labor reforms proposed by Prime Minister Berlusconi.
Italy -- Culture --
Italian culture is as varied and diverse as the Italian people. The culture of Italy can be found in the Roman ruins remaining in much of the country, the laws and philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church, the architecture, and on the terraces of the many football clubs. It can also be tasted in Italy's magnificent food.
People of Italy are usually referred to as Italian(s) as a whole. However, there are many regional groups that go by their ethnic name, such as Lombards, Sicilians, Sardinians, Milanese, etc.
Italy currently has one national language, Italian. Several other languages are also spoken throughout the country. Over the centuries many regional languages have developed that some consider dialects of modern Italian. Examples include Milanese, spoken near the city of Milan, Neapolitan, spoken near Naples, Sicilian, spoken on Sicily, etc.
Roman Catholicism is the majority religion — 85% of native-born citizens are nominally Catholic — there are mature Protestant and Jewish communities and a growing Muslim immigrant community. All religious faiths are provided equal freedom before the law by the constitution. Before the arrival of Christianity in the 1st century A.D. the country was mostly pagan and worshiped the Roman Gods. Eventually Christianity replaced paganism and became the majority religion of the Roman Empire and Italy. The Pope of the Roman Catholic Faith resides within Rome in what is now known as Vatican City.
The two best known types of Italian architecture are Roman and Palladian.
The Romans adopted classical Greek architecture for their own purposes, which were so different from Greek buildings as to create a new architectural style. The two styles are often considered one body of classical architecture. Sometimes that approach is productive, and sometimes it hinders understanding by causing us to judge Roman buildings by Greek standard. One of the most famous types of Roman architecture is the Roman baths and aqueducts.
Palladian European style of architecture derived from the designs of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). Buildings by Palladio himself are rare, and all are in Italy. They include Villa Capra and Villa Badoer, as well as many churches in the Veneto. In both his architectural treatises and the buildings Palladio designed and built, he followed the principles defined by the Roman architect Vitruvius and his 15th-century disciple Leone Battista Alberti who adhered to principles of classical Roman architecture, as opposed to the rich ornamental style of the Renaissance.
The history of Italian cinema began a few months after the Lumiere brothers had discovered it. The first film was a few seconds long and was Pope Leo XIII giving a blessing to the camera. The Industry was born between 1903 and 1908 with three companies: the Roman Cines, the Ambrosio of Turnin and the Itala Film. Other companies would soon have followed in Milan and in Naples. In a short time these first companies reached a fair producing quality and films were soon sold outside Italy too. The cinema was later used by Mussolini as a form of propaganda during World War II. The blockbuster film The Passion of the Christ was recently made in Italy.
Italian theatre can be traced back into the Roman which was heavily influenced by the Greek tradition, and, as with many other literary genres, Roman dramatists tended to adapt and translate from the Greek. For example, Seneca's Phaedra was based on that of Euripides, and many of the comedies of Plautus were direct translations of works by Menander. During the 16th century and on into the 18th century Commedia dell'arte was a form of improvisational theatre , although it is still performed today. Travelling teams of players would set up an outdoor stage and provide amusement in the form of juggling, acrobatics, and, more typically, humorous plays based on a repertoire of established characters with a rough storyline, called Canovaccio.
Italy -- Political system, law and government --
Type: Republic since June 2, 1946.
Constitution: January 1, 1948.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), Council of Ministers (cabinet), headed by the president of the council (prime minister). Legislative--bicameral parliament: 630-member Chamber of Deputies, 315-member Senate (plus a varying number of "life" Senators). Judicial--independent constitutional court and lower magistracy.
Subdivisions: 94 provinces, 20 regions.
Political parties: Forza Italia, Democratic Party of the Left, National Alliance, Northern League, United Christian Democrats, Democrats, Italian People's Party, Christian Democratic Center, Socialist, Communist Renewal, Social Democratic, Republican, Liberal, Greens, Italian Renewal.
Suffrage: Vote for House; universal over 18; vote for Senate; universal over 18.
Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum. The constitution was promulgated on January 1, 1948.
The Italian state is centralized. The prefect of each of the provinces is appointed by and answerable to the central government. In addition to the provinces, the constitution provides for 20 regions with limited governing powers. Five regions--Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige, Valle d'Aosta, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia--function with special autonomy statutes. The other 15 regions were established in 1970 and vote for regional "councils." The establishment of regional governments throughout Italy has brought some decentralization to the national governmental machinery, and recent governments have devolved further powers to the regions. However, many regional governments, particularly in the north of Italy, are seeking additional powers.
The 1948 constitution established a bicameral parliament (Chamber of Deputies and Senate), a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet), headed by the president of the council (prime minister). The president of the republic is elected for 7 years by the parliament sitting jointly with a small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime minister, who chooses the other ministers. The Council of Ministers--in practice composed mostly of members of parliament--must retain the confidence of both houses.
The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected by a mixed majoritarian and proportional representation system. Under 1993 legislation, Italy has single-member districts for 75% of the seats in parliament; the remaining 25% of seats are allotted on a proportional basis. The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members. In addition to 315 elected members, the Senate includes former presidents and several other persons appointed for life according to special constitutional provisions. Both houses are elected for a maximum of 5 years, but either may be dissolved before the expiration of its normal term. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both.
The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and subsequent statutes. There is only partial judicial review of legislation in the American sense. A constitutional court, which passes on the constitutionality of laws, is a post-World War II innovation. Its powers, volume, and frequency of decisions are not as extensive as those of the U.S. Supreme Court.