Area 116,306 square mi (301,230 square km)
Population 61.34 million 2014
Highest Point 15,577 ft (4,748 m)
Lowest Point 0 m
GDP $2.144 trillion 2014
Primary Natural Resources limited natural gas, minerals, beef, arable land.
ITALY, IN SOUTHWESTERN Europe, is a peninsula bordered by FRANCE to the northwest, SWITZERLAND to the north, SLOVENIA to the northeast, the ADRIATIC SEA to the east, the Ionian Sea to the south, and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west; its famous boot shape juts into the MEDITERRANEAN SEA. In both its physical and human geographic expressions, Italy presents a distinct and immediately recognizable character. Italy’s landscape has provided the scene for the Roman republic and empire, and its peninsular form has opened it to commerce, culture, and war. The geography of Italy colored the background of Renaissance art and has been the setting for fragmented city-states and a unified state. The geography of Italy today is a rich story of a people and a land that not only coexist but that are strongly tied together by history and opportunity.
Italy occupies the entirety of a peninsula extending southward from the European continent into the Mediterranean Sea, in addition to two large—and many small—islands. The Italian (or Apennine) peninsula is bounded by the highest crest of the ALPS in the north and northwest. These ranges curve to the south and southeast forming the Apennine ranges which serve as the structural framework of the peninsula. Within the curve created by these mountains is the Po River valley, the largest valley on the Mediterranean.
Drainage from the mountains fills several large lakes; among them Lakes Como, Maggiore, and Garda in the north and Lakes Trasimeno, Bracciano, and Bolseno in the central part of the country. Surrounding the peninsula, the Mediterranean Sea is divided into several distinct parts: the Adriatic Sea, with Italy to the west and the former Yugoslavia and ALBANIA to the east; the Ionian Sea, between the southern tip of Italy and Greece; the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west of the peninsula containing the large islands of Sicily and Sardinia; and the Ligurian Sea, between the island of Corsica (French) and the northwestern coastline of Italy.
Italy’s climate and weather are typical of Mediterranean climate regimes. The range of temperatures throughout the year is 43 degrees F (24 degrees C) in the north and only 26 degrees F (14 degrees C) in the south. Winter temperatures in the north can average below freezing, while southern low temperatures can be substantially above that mark. The cooling effects of altitude are felt in the Alpine and Apennine highlands. Rainfall is sufficient for agriculture in most of the country with up to 52 in (1270 cm) at some locations in the north, down to 30 in (76 cm) or less in the south. The dry summer season extends over at least June, July, and August in the south, and during these periods irrigation can be necessary for agriculture, and increases in population can strain the limited water resources.
The Italian landscape is considerably wooded, with 34 percent of the total land area forested; 9.25 percent of the land is engaged in permanent agriculture, while an additional 28 percent of the land is arable. In addition to agricultural potential, Italy’s natural resources include limited supplies of mercury, potash, marble, sulfur, natural gas and crude oil reserves, fish stocks, and coal.
Most of the extreme events that occur in Italy are related to its regional physical geographic characteristics. Heavy rains are associated with landslides and mudflows where steep mountainous terrain predominates and with flooding in river valleys and coastal lowlands. Heavy snowfall in the north can generate conditions suitable for avalanches. Active volcanoes are not uncommon in the south; examples include Mount Etna on Sicily, Mount Vesuvius, and Stromboli. Many of the smaller islands have been forged from volcanic activity and such activity continues to the present. Earthquakes can accompany volcanic activity and the associated tectonic movement. Land subsidence is of concern in some coastal areas, most notably in the city of Venice on the Adriatic Sea.
The people of Italy are as distinct as their physical geographic environment. Although some of the prevailing demographic trends in Italy are similar to those of the European continent as a whole, there are many elements of Italy’s human geographic character that are wholly unique. In terms of population statistics, Italy has an aging population with a declining rate of natural increase. That is, their death rate is greater than their birth rate, leading to declining population numbers in the absence of immigration. There is, however, substantial immigration into Italy, particularly from Eastern Europe, Africa, and the MIDDLE EAST.
The Italian language—which does not predominate in any other country of the world—is in the Romance group of the Indo-European language family. There are small areas in northern Italy where French, German, and Slovene are the predominant languages. The population is overwhelmingly Catholic, with the VATICAN CITY in Rome as the administrative center of the Catholic Church. There are small Protestant and Jewish communities and a growing Islamic immigrant community.
Politically, Italy has historically been at one time the heart of an empire, at another a loosely connected set of regional fiefdoms, and at still another the victim of fascist totalitarianism. Today, Italy is a democratic republic. The Italian federal government employs a parliamentary system, with a president and a prime minister. Parliament consists of two houses, the senate and the chamber of deputies. There are several dozen active political parties seeking seats in those houses. There are 20 regional governments with varying amounts of regional autonomy, and a large number of municipal political institutions.
Internationally, Italy is a member of the EUROPEAN UNION and of the NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION (NATO). Italy was comparatively late in securing African colonies but did so in the case of ERITREA, and in part Ethiopia and Somalia. These colonial claims were lost at the close of World War II, but even so, there are substantial political and economic ties between Italy and Eritrea to this day.
Italy’s capitalist economic system is based primarily on a diverse set of industrial activities. Generally speaking, the north of the country is heavily developed and industrialized (particularly in the cities of the Po River valley). Private development of manufacturing and processing dominate the economic activity in this region.
In contrast, the south of Italy is less industrialized and more dependent on agricultural activities. This region receives a greater share of social welfare subsidies to support the larger unemployed population. Some areas, both coastal and mountainous, are sought after as vacation locales by tourist from across Europe and around the world, and these areas depend on tourist spending for their economic base.
With Italy’s limited supply of natural resources, most of the raw materials for processing goods—and the energy supplies with which to do so—must be imported. As a member of the European Union, Italy has followed a severe fiscal policy in recent years in order to meet the requirements of that international body. Italy accepted the euro as its sole currency for all transactions on January 1, 2002. Italy places a relatively high tax burden on its citizens in order to allow government support of the labor market and a generous pension system for retirees.
Italy’s largest cities are centers of both economic and cultural activities. The capital, Rome, has been a metropolis through millennia. In addition to containing the Vatican City, Rome serves as the center for government and professional services and is an important cultural center. Both Florence in north-central Italy and Venice on the northern end of the Adriatic Sea serve as important centers of culture and history, in addition to supporting diverse economic activities. Turin, in the north, serves as an important center of manufacturing, and Milan, its neighbor to the east, is a center for transportation and business, notably the business of high fashion. Naples serves as the surrogate capital for southern Italy, while the islands of Sicily and Sardinia have concentrated metropolitan areas in Palermo and Cagliari, respectively.