The Italian Peninsula or Apennine Peninsula is one of the three peninsulas of Southern Europe (the other two being the Iberian Peninsula and Balkan Peninsula), spanning 1,000 km from the Po Valley in the north to the central Mediterranean Sea in the south. The peninsula is bordered by the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west, the Ionian Sea on the south, and the Adriatic Sea on the east. The interior part of the Apennine Peninsula consists of the Apennine Mountains, from which it takes its name, the northern part is largely plains and the coasts are lined with cliffs.

Excavations throughout Italy reveal a modern human presence dating back to the Palaeolithic period, some 200,000 years ago. In the 8th and 7th centuries BCE Greek colonies were established all along the coast of Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula. Subsequently, Romans referred to this area as Magna Graecia, as it was so densely inhabited by Greeks.

Ancient Rome was at first a small agricultural community founded circa the 8th century BCE that grew over the course of the centuries into a colossal empire encompassing the whole Mediterranean Sea, in which Ancient Greek and Roman cultures merged into one civilization. This civilization was so influential that parts of it survive in modern law, administration, philosophy and arts, forming the ground that Western civilization is based upon. In its twelve-century existence, it transformed itself from monarchy to republic and finally to autocracy. In steady decline since the 2nd century CE, the empire finally broke into two parts in 285 CE: the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in the East. The western part under the pressure of Goths finally dissolved, leaving the Italian peninsula divided into small independent kingdoms and feuding city states for the next 14 centuries, and leaving the eastern part sole heir to the Roman legacy.

Issues Relevant to U.S. Foreign Diplomacy: Unification of Italian States

For many centuries, the Italian peninsula was a politically fragmented conglomeration of states. This was the case when the United States announced its independence from Great Britain in 1776. When war broke out between Austria and the Revolutionary French Government in 1792, the French invaded the Italian peninsula, consolidated many of the Italian states, and established them as republics. In 1799 the Austrian and Russian armies pushed the French out of the Italian peninsula, which led to the demise of the fledgling republics.

After Napoleon’s rise to power, the Italian peninsula was once again conquered by the French. Under Napoleon, the peninsula was divided into three entities: the northern parts which were annexed to the French Empire (Piedmont, Liguria, Parma, Piacenza, Tuscany, and Rome), the newly created Kingdom of Italy (Lombardy, Venice, Reggio, Modena, Romagna, and the Marshes) ruled by Napoleon himself, and the Kingdom of Naples, which was first ruled by Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte, but then passed to Napoleon’s brother-in-law Joachim Murat.

The period of French invasion and occupation was important in many ways. It introduced revolutionary ideas about government and society, resulting in an overthrow of the old established ruling orders and the destruction of the last vestiges of feudalism. The ideals of freedom and equality were very influential. Also of consequence, the concept of nationalism was introduced, thus sowing the seeds of Italian nationalism throughout most parts of the northern and central Italian peninsula.

With the downfall of Napoleon in 1814 and the redistribution of territory by the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), most of the Italian states were reconstituted: the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia (often referred to as Sardinia), the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchy of Parma, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (fused together from the old Kingdom of Naples and Kingdom of Sicily). These were largely conservative regimes, presided over by the old social orders.

Although the Italian peninsula remained fragmented through the mid-1800s, the concept of a united Italy began to take root. Secret societies formed to oppose the conservative regimes. Several of these societies also promoted Italian nationalism and the idea of a unified Italian political state. One such society was the group Young Italy, founded in 1831 by Guiseppe Mazzini. Mazzini was an ardent advocate of the necessity for Italian unification through the desires and actions of the Italian people. Thus, the movement of Italian unification, a process referred to as the Risorgimento (resurgence) proliferated by mid-century.

The revolutions of 1848 ignited nationalist sentiment throughout the Italian peninsula. There were widespread uprisings in several Italian cities that year, mostly by the professional classes (such as doctors, lawyers, shopkeepers) as well as students. Lombardy-Venetia and Milan tried to rise up against Austrian rule. Although the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia sent troops to aid the revolt, it was crushed by the Austrians at Custoza in July 1848. The Italian uprisings were unsuccessful and by 1849 the old regimes were once again in place.

Yet, the idea of the Risorgimento continued to gain adherents after 1848. The final push for Italian unification came in 1859, led by the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia (then the wealthiest and most liberal of the Italian states), and orchestrated by Piedmont-Sardinia’s Prime Minister, Count Camillo di Cavour. A skilled diplomat, Cavour secured an alliance with France. The Franco-Austrian War of 1859 was the agent that began the physical process of Italian unification. The Austrians were defeated by the French and Piedmontese at Magenta and Solferino, and thus relinquished Lombardy. By the end of the year Lombardy was added to the holdings of Piedmont-Sardinia.

The northern Italian states held elections in 1859 and 1860 and voted to join the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia, a major step towards unification, while Piedmont-Sardinia ceded Savoy and Nice to France. Giuseppi Garibaldi, a native of Piedmont-Sardinia, was instrumental in bringing the southern Italian states into the unification process. In 1860, Garibaldi cobbled together an army (referred to as the “Thousand”) to march into the southern part of the peninsula. Landing first in Sicily and then moving onwards into Naples, Garibaldi and his men overthrew the Bourbon monarchy and turned over the southern territories to Victor Emmanuel II, King of Piedmont-Sardinia. In early 1861 a national parliament convened and proclaimed the Kingdom of Italy, with Victor Emmanuel II as its king. At this point, there were only two major territories outside of the parameters of the new Kingdom of Italy: Rome and Venetia.

In 1866 Italy joined Prussia in a campaign against Austria (the 1866 Austro-Prussian War) and thus won Venetia. In 1870, taking advantage of the fact that France (the country responsible at the time for guarding the Papal States) was distracted by involvement in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), the Italian army entered Rome. That year, Rome and the Papal States were incorporated into Italy and the Risorgimento completed. During the summer of 1871, the Italian capital moved to Rome from Florence (it was moved from Turin to Florence in 1865).

Italy — History and Culture

Italy’s history and culture are entwined with its ancient heritage, and all Italians are immensely proud of their country and its amazing past. A love of music, art, good food and great wine is born into every native, and the enjoyment of life’s finer things is compulsory. Much of the country’s rural regions still have a traditional lifestyle and even the modernity of the great cities is touched by the iconic eras predating the present.


The myth goes that the twins Romulus and Remus founded Rome in 753 BC, although the expansion of Rome and its Imperial beginnings really date back around 350 BC with the conquest of the Etruscans, a former Mediterranean power. The empire dominated all of Western Europe for over 800 years until its fall in 475 AD, after which Italy became a confusion of numerous city-states for most of the following millennium.

Ancient Rome’s golden days began after the conquests of Carthage and the Macedonian empires, with a fusion between the Hellenistic and Roman cultures bringing a cosmopolitan ethos to the previously rural Roman elite. By the dying years of the pre-Christian era Rome had consolidated its position as a major empire and had few foes. The zenith of Italian civilization began with the election of Augustus Caesar, now accepted as the official beginning of the great empire and the birth of Roman literature. Iconic poets such as Horace, Virgil and Ovid wrote the texts still regarded as ‘the classics’ today.

Augustus’s enlightened rule brought the empire its Pax Romana, a 200-year period of peace and prosperity, during which Rome did little to expand further, although Britain was conquered by order of Emperor Claudius in 47 AD. By 395 AD, the Roman Empire was divided into the East and West, with the western sector facing increasing barbarian invasions and by 476 AD, made defunct. Shortly afterwards, Italy fell to the forces of Attila the Hun, but was reestablished by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 553, a relief which only lasted 19 years.

During the medieval period and the Middle Ages, Italy was a confusion of city states including the Papal State, with destabilizing internal conflict and invasions by various European raiders. Venice, Florence and Genoa became great powers, with their wealth spurring the magnificence of Renaissance artists to ever greater heights. The present day museums in Italy hold the majority of works by masters such as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Rafael, and their genius was employed in many famous architectural designs.

From the late 16th century, Italy was divided between European powers until 1796 when Napoleon’s army arrived in the north to break the stranglehold of the Austrians around Milan and Sardinia. The French were successful and Napoleonic Italy became a reality from 1800 to 1814. In 1815, the Pope excommunicated the French uprising, who was immediately arrested and sent back across the border after which the Austrians took over once more.

After centuries of unrest, the 19th century saw radicals committed to a united Italy, led by Garibaldi. In 1848, revolutionary riots broke out, followed by 18 months of violence and drama until 1859. There was a year-long war involving Napoleon III against Austrian attempts to regain their position of power. The final steps to unity came in 1860-1861 under King Victor Emmanuel I’s reign.

Between 1914 and 1918, WWI had little effect on the country, but WWII was a very different story due to the rise of the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who dragged Italy into the conflict in 1940 in support of Nazi Germany. Italy became a theater of war when Allied forces arrived in Sicily and began making their way up the mainland in spite of fierce resistance from the German army. In 1943, Mussolini changed sides, signing an armistice with the Allies and was promptly imprisoned. He and his mistress were executed by Italian partisans in April 1945.

Post-war Italy sang to a different tune, that of rejection of fascism and acceptance of itself as a republic, which spurred an economic boom between 1950 and 1973. Industry flourished and energy and transportation infrastructure were put in place, although from 1970 to 1980 social conflict including terrorism threatened prosperity. The Second Republic, led in 2008 by Silvio Berlusconi, is now a center of controversy over its fragile economic status.


The rich culture of Italy formed the heart of the Western World from the days of Imperial Rome up to the end of the 16th century. The Roman Empire itself, the emergence of the Roman Catholic Church, the cultural flowering of the Renaissance era and the birth of Humanism all exerted strong influence across the globe. Nowadays, Italian culture is best represented in art, music, fashion and cuisine, all existing in harmony with great icons of the past, many of which are now UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Italy is home to more than 50% of the world’s art treasures, and the works of its great composers over the ages are still much-loved by the majority of locals. Music, whether classical or modern, is an integral part of life, unsurprisingly in a country which invented the musical stave, and the piano and opera have given birth to many of the world’s greatest composers, conductors and singers. In modern times, Italy is credited with developing progressive rock, italo-disco and experimental rock.

Theater performances have a long heritage here, based on the tradition of traveling players and their Canovaccio comedies. Specific regions have folk music traditions, for example, the famous Neapolitan dialect songs made famous in the early to mid 19th century by Enrico Caruso and Mario Lanza. Visitors to Naples will still hear ancient classics such as Torno al Suriento floating out from streetside bars and eateries.

The family heads the social structure in Italy, with entire groups living under one roof in the more traditional southern region. Emotional and financial support is a priority, and religion still plays a crucial influence in most communities. Bella Figura – a concept of presenting a good image in both dress and personal style – is important, and the Italians are highly fashion conscious. Hierarchy is another dominating belief and relates to age, professional success and familial ties.

One of the delights of an Italian vacation is the spontaneous nature of Italians in general, making them the perfect hosts on any occasion. Arriving a few minutes late for a dinner is the norm, as is bringing wine or chocolates as a small gift. Italians are experts in making guests feel welcome on any occasion, and are family-friendly in the extreme.

Wars for the Domination of Italy 509–265 BCE

Throughout this period Rome fought a series of wars against other peoples and states in Italy, including hill tribes, the Etruscans, the Greeks and the Latin League, which ended with Roman dominion over the whole of peninsular Italy (the boot shape piece of land which sticks out from the continent.) The wars concluded with each state and tribe converted into "subordinate allies," owing troops and support to Rome, but no (financial) tributes and some autonomy.

Interesting geography facts about Italy

11. Italy is home to Europe’s only three active volcanoes

On the island of Sicily, Mount Etna last erupted in 2018, but you can often see a white plume of steam rising from the top. It's a surreal sight as you stroll along Catania's main shopping street, the via Etnea. For a more up-close sight, consider trekking to the summit of Mount Etna.

Mount Stromboli is currently active and located its own small island off the coast of Sicily. You can plan to visit the island, but be aware that you might have to change plans depending on the current level of activity. If you make it out, make sure to take a guided hike to visit the 'Sciara del Fuoco'.

Vesuvius overlooks the southern city of Naples and hasn't erupted since 1944, making it together with the excavation site of Pompeii a very popular half-day excursion from Naples.

Mount Vesuvius overlooking Naples © Enki Photo/Shutterstock

12. The Vatican City is the smallest country in the world

At just 100 acres, the Vatican City in Rome is roughly 1/8 the size of New York's Central Park. It became a soveign nation, separate from Italy, in 1929, with the Pope as head of state. Despite being small in scale, it's packed with historic monuments like St Peter's Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Raphael frescoes and more, while its economy is fuelled by religious donations, museum revenues and the sale of postage stamps and souvenirs. Consider taking a guided tour to explore the Vatican, granting you fast-track access.

Piazza San Pietro in the Vatican City © Banauke/Shutterstock

13. Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world

Though 2020 was an obviously anomaly, some 64.8 million people visited Italy in 2019 – with many heading to tourist hotspots like Rome, Florence and Pisa. Despite the millions of visitors, you can still find places not teeming with people, like Castelmezzano in Basilicata, or Camogli in Liguria. Our local experts would be happy to guide you find the perfect balance between must-see hotspots and off-the-beaten-track destinations. All in one convenient itinerary for you, ready to be booked.

Duomo Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence © Songquan Deng/Shutterstock

14. You'll find over 1500 lakes in Italy

From the famous names like Lake Garda and Lake Como to the lesser-known Lake Iseo in Lombardy, the country is dotted with charming bodies of water. And that means an abundance of waterside activities, too. From tracing beautiful lakes on tremendous hiking trails to scenic boat trips and stellar wild swimming, there's plenty on offer for active visitors in Italy. Explore the northern lakes with our sample Enchanting Italian Lakes trip - fully customizable to fit your preferences.

Varenna old town on the shores of Lake Como © Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

15. Italy's highest mountain is Mont Blanc

Rising 4,808 metres (15,774 ft) above sea level, Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco to Italians) stands on the border between France and Italy. It's also the highest mountain in the Alps, and is eternally popular with all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts, from hikers to skiiers, climbers to trail runners. Day tours are available from Milan, allowing you to visit both Mont Blanc as well as Courmayeur.

On the route up Mount Blanc © Berit Kessler/Shutterstock

History of Italy from 1870 To 1915

The unification of Italy was brought about by the efforts of men like Mazzini, Cavour, Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel II, etc., and foreign help.

According to Luigi Sturzo, “Italian unity was obtained too suddenly by a people for centuries divided and heterogeneous.

Liberty, preserved as a torch in the little country of Piedmont, was rather given as a gift than won by the efforts of the people and nationality, affirmed as self-determination and self-government by an elite, did not find an equal echo in the popular consciousness.” No wonder, in spite of her unification, Italy did not play any important part in European politics, as was done by Germany.

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The people of Italy were backward. The country was still undeveloped and consequently her resources were small. The people were illiterate and did not take interest in the politics of the country. Regionalism also stood in the way of national progress. Political life of the country left much to be desired. There was corruption all round. Intrigues were the order of the day.

The quarrel between the Pope and the Italian Government was not in the interests of the country. Italy was deprived of the services of those Italian Catholics who could not participate in politics on account of the imposition of the ban by the Pope. The net result was that Italy remained a third rate power.

To quote Sturzo again, Italy “became a pawn in the various vicissitudes of the European political game, useful now to this Power, now to that, in a subtle contest of skill in which she seemed to derive benefits, but which earned her only pricks and disappointments. This was due partly to the inherent difficulties of her position, and partly to the lack of continuity in her foreign policy, so that time and again there slipped from the hands of her ministers those very cards which they had guarded with jealous care. In this way, Italy received no help from her allies and gave none.”

“We have made Italy we still have to make Italians”:

With a view to achieve that objective, many measures were adopted. The administrative and judicial systems were reorganized and centralized. A system of local government was set up on the lines of France. The railways were nationalized. Compulsory military service was enforced in the country. Brigandage was suppressed. Secret societies like the Mafia of Sicily and the Camorra of Naples were exterminated.

In 1897, the Compulsory Education Act was passed with a view to lessen illiteracy in the country. The measures were not successful on account of the lack of funds. The problem of property slowed the progress of the nation.

The National Debt was very great and as the government had to spend a lot of money on many projects, the burden of taxes on the people was unbearable. The Italian Government was always on the verge of bankruptcy.

The population of Italy increased and the government did not know what to do with it. However, thousands of Italians migrated to North and South America. The miserable condition of the people gave an opportunity to the socialists to fish in troubled waters. There were serious riots in Turin, Milan and Rome in 1889. Four years later, there was a serious labour trouble in Sicily.

In 1898, there were serious riots all over the country especially in Milan. In Southern and Central Italy, they took the form of “bread riots”. There was so much of dissatisfaction in the country that King Humbert’ was assassinated in 1900. He was succeeded by Victor Emmanuel III.

2. Internal Politics of Italy:

A parliamentary system on the lines of Great Britain was adopted in Italy. However, the franchise was limited and only those were allowed to vote who had property and educational qualifications. The franchise was enlarged in 1882 when the number of voters was nearly quadrupled. In 1912, universal manhood suffrage was established in the country.

Italian politics was not a clean one. There was too much of jobbery, corruption and intrigues. The political life of the country was demoralized. The names of three persons are important in Italian politics during this period and those were Depretis, Crispi and Giolitti. Depretis was in power from 1876 to 1887.

It was under him that Italy entered into the Triple Alliance in 1882. Elementary education was made compulsory. Railway system was completed. Franchise was extended. A new colonial policy was initiated. Depretis adopted corrupt methods to keep himself in power.

On the death of Depretis in 1887, Crispi became the head of the administration. He was a very powerful minister and he followed a vigorous colonial policy. It was during his regime that an Italian Protectorate was established over Somaliland. He fell from power in 1891 but came to power again after two years. From 1893 to 1896, he was practically a dictator. He fell on account of the defeat of Italy by Abyssinia in the Battle of Adowa in 1896. The name of Giolitti is prominently associated with the years before the World War I.

The state of affairs improved in Italy after the assassination of King Humbert in 1900 and the accession of Victor Emmanuel III. The new King was young, sympathetic and democratically minded. Industries began to develop in the North and vine culture was promoted in the South. Foreign capital began to flow into Italy and was utilized for the development of the country. The merchant marine was expanded.

The Pope removed the ban on the Catholics with regard to their participation in politics. A new Social Insurance Act was passed. In 1904, a new Education Act was passed. For the first time, the budget of 1905 showed a surplus. Manhood suffrage was established in 1912. The use of hydroelectric power helped the industrial development of the country.

3. The Roman Question in Italy:

The Pope had opposed the unification of Italy and in spite of that the same was completed in 1870. However, the entry of Italian troops into Rome in 1870 gave a blow to the position of the Pope. The Italian Government tried to reconcile the Pope and passed in 1871 the Law of Papal Guarantees. The new law gave to the Pope the government of the Vatican and Lateran palaces and grounds and villa of Castel Gandolfo.

The Pope was also given the honours due to a reigning sovereign. He was given the right to communicate freely with governments and people abroad. He was given the use of Italian telegraphs, railways and mails. He was also given an annual subsidy of million lire from the national treasury as compensation for the loss of temporal possessions.

However, Pope Pius IX condemned the Law of Papal Guarantees. His acceptance of the law would have implied his recognition of the unjust entry of Italian troops into Rome in 1870. Moreover, he wanted the Papal Guarantees to be given not by a law of the Italian Parliament but an international treaty. Pius IX declared himself as a “prisoner” of the Vatican.

He issued a circular letter called the Enyclical Non-expedite by which the Italian Catholics were forbidden to vote or hold offices under the royal government. The uncompromising attitude of the Pope was helpful to him in one way. So long as he was not on friendly terms with the government of Italy, he could not be suspected of being subservient to Italian interests.

On account of his so-called “imprisonment”, there was sympathy for him among the Catholics all over the world. However, it had a very unfortunate effect on the fortunes of Italy. The country was deprived of the public services of many Italians who, obedient to the Pope, removed themselves from the politics of the country.

Pope Pius IX died in 1878, but his successor, Leo XIII, continued the policy of his predecessor. In 1905, the Encyclical Non-expedite were partially removed by Pius X. In 1919, it was completely repealed by Benedict XV. On his accession in 1922, Pius XI gave his blessings to the Italian troops.

4. Colonial Policy of Italy:

Colonial expansion was a necessity for Italy on account of the very high rate at which her population was increasing. She tried to secure some concessions in China along with other European Powers, but she was the only European Power which failed to achieve anything. Great Britain proposed to Italy to annex Tunis and Tripoli but the latter failed to avail of the opportunity.

However, in 1881, France established her protectorate over Tunis. That led to ill-feelings between the two countries and all chances of securing Tunis vanished once for all. However, it was in 1911 that Italy attacked Turkey and was able to secure in 1912 Tripoli and Cyrenaica. The new acquisition was given the name of Libya.

Having lost Tunis, Italy started seeking compensation somewhere else in Africa. In 1885, she occupied the Abyssinian port of Massowa. During the regime of Crispi, an Italian protectorate was established over Somaliland.

The Italian settlements on the Red Sea were given the name of Eritrea and Italy began to expand towards Abyssinia. That led to a conflict between Italy and Abyssinia. However, she was defeated in 1896 in the Battle of Adowa. It was in the time of Mussolini that the Italians had their revenge for the defeat of Adowa and conquered and annexed the whole of Abyssinia.

5. Foreign Policy of Italy:

To begin with, the Italian foreign policy was dominated by the Roman Question. As pointed out before, the Pope refused to co-operate with the Italian Government and called upon the heads of the Catholic States of Europe to take action against Italy. Thus, there was always the fear of French and Austrian intervention in the affairs of Italy. This fear was not an imaginary one but a real one.

Relations between Italy and France became very bad in 1881 when France established a protectorate over Tunis. There were anti-Italian demonstrations in France and many Italians were murdered. There was a possibility of French attack on Italy. It was under these circumstances that Italy joined Germany and Austria and thus the Triple Alliance came into existence in 1882.

The Triple Alliance gave strength and prestige to Italy and thus the fear of French invasion was eliminated. Although Italy was the petitioner, she was able to secure very favourable terms. When the Triple Alliance was renewed in 1887, Italy was able to get still better terms. Her obligations were lessened but her previous security was maintained. Italy entered into another alliance with England in 1887.

By that alliance, Great Britain and Italy agreed to maintain the status quo in the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean and Black Seas. They also agreed to support each other in the Mediterranean if either Power went to war with another Power. Italy agreed to support the policy of Great Britain in Egypt. Great Britain agreed to support the policy of Italy in Northern Africa, particularly in Tripoli.

After 1887, the relations between Italy and Britain became all the more cordial. In 1902, Italy gave an assurance to France that although she was a member of the Triple Alliance, she would not fight against her. On the occasion of the Algeciras Conference of 1906, Italy voted with England and France against Germany and Austria.

In 1909, Czar Nicholas II paid a visit to King Victor Emmanuel III. The two sovereigns agreed to do everything in their power to maintain the status quo in the Balkans. Russia agreed to maintain a benevolent attitude in reference to Italy’s designs on Tripoli and Gyrenaica. Italy promised to reciprocate this attitude towards the ambitions of Russia and with regard to the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles.

It is to be observed that from the beginning of the 20th century, Italy had a foot in two camps. Although she was a member of the Triple Alliance, Austria and Germany did not put much trust on her help. She also betrayed them in 1906. On the occasion of the Bosnian crisis of 1908-09 also.

Italy resented the fact that Austria had annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina without ever giving her a prior intimation. Otherwise also, the relations between Italy and Austria were not satisfactory. On account of the determination of the Italians to get back the Italian-speaking areas which were still within the Austrian Empire, even the highly-placed Italians helped the Irredentist movement.

The plain fact was that in spite of the Triple Alliance, the relations between the two countries could not be cordial. The result was that when the World War I broke out in 1914, Italy did not declare war along with Germany and Austria. That may be partly due to the fact that she was still exhausted on account of her war with Turkey in 1911-12.

However, a more important reason was that Italy was determined to get some concessions from Austria before she joined the Central Powers. Although Germany put pressure on Austria to give concessions to Italy, Austria was not generous in her concessions. Great Britain and France were also trying to woo Italy.

As they were prepared to give Italy whatever she demanded, the Treaty of London was signed in 1915. After signing the Treaty, Italy precipitated matters with the Central Powers and declared war against Austria on 23 May 1915. Curiously enough, war against Germany was not declared till 27 August 1916.

Although Italy fought on the side of the Allies during the World War I, she was not happy at the Peace Settlement. She was not given what had been promised to her by the Treaty of London. The interests of Italy and Yugoslavia conflicted and as the Allies favoured Yugoslavia, Italy was discontented.

There was, otherwise also a lot of unrest in Italy. Communist propaganda began to spread in the country, and consequently there were strikes everywhere. The peasants turned out their landlords and captured their property. There was chaos everywhere. There was every danger of the country becoming communist. It was at that time that Mussolini captured power in 1922.

Coalition splits

2010 August - Mr Berlusconi's coalition loses majority in lower house of parliament after more than 30 deputies break away from his People of Freedom party.

2011 February - A Milan judge orders Mr Berlusconi to stand trial in April on charges of abuse of power and paying for sex with an under-age prostitute.

2011 September - Parliament gives final approval to a 54bn euro (£47bn $74bn) austerity package. The package contains a pledge to balance the budget by 2013.

Italy's Location

Italy, as we know it today, was the result of the collision of the Eurasian and African tectonic plates, eventually forming the Apennines Mountains, which dominate central Italy. The Apennines, whose characteristic limestone forms the backbone of the peninsula. The Italian Peninsula once lay adjacent to France and Spain, but it has rotated anticlockwise through nearly ninety degrees, and continues to move about one inch a year. The Ionian Sea, lying between southern Italy and Western Greece, is the deepest part of the Mediterranean Sea. It covers a basin that is subsiding in front of the Aegean plate as the plate moves gradually southwest. The rocks of southeast Sicily include a small portion of Africa that has become detached, providing further evidence of rifting and rupturing. Sardinia, like its northern neighbor Corsica, is an uplifted splinter of the most ancient rock foundations.

Below the towering Alps spreads the plain of the river Po. The flat, low-lying expanses are prone to flooding. Huge quantities of sediment have been washed into what was once a shallow arm of the Adriatic Sea. The basin has subsided the accumulated sediments of clay, sand and gravel are now up to six miles deep.

Some of Italy’s peaks dominate their surroundings in a highly active way. Live volcanoes such as Etna and Vesuvius continue to menace local inhabitants. The rich soil that volcanoes have created over the centuries provides good farming land. But in spite of this, much of the Southern part of Italy is hard to farm, with erosion destroying a lot of the land’s surface. In the north however, The Po River, Italy’s largest, continually brings water and fertility to its huge valley, where farms produce sizable crops of cereal and rice. With its fertile plains, and bare clay hills, its high mountains and over 1800 miles of coastline, it is a land of dramatic regional contrasts. These contrasts make themselves felt in all aspects of Italian life, from tradition and history, to food. The north is rich, productive and bustling, especially in it’s “industrial triangle’, between Turin, Milan and Livonia. The south is generally poorer, harsher, and hotter.

Italian History

Built on the famous “Seven Hills”, Rome and its empire was one of the greatest forces for change Europe has ever known. Wherever the Roman Legions took their armies, their contributions to civilized society went as well. This included central heating, a legal system, and most importantly, a public water system. Rome was able to spread its boundaries through its vast aqueduct system that stretched throughout its empire. Wherever the water could flow, land could be developed. Most of their knowledge came from the previous settlers called the Etruscans. They taught the Romans to develop their mining systems and introduced the horse-drawn carriage. These were two very important aspects of the geographical development of Italy.

The rise of the city-states after the fall of Rome revolved around the geographical location of its cities. Ports such as Venice and Genoa prospered. The power of Italy’s medieval cities grew in the North, dominating the countryside and taking advantage of the sloping hills in battle. Cities such as Venice, Milan, and Florence emerged as great powers.

Italy’s complex coastlines and numerous islands demonstrate the long history of volcanic activity in the region. Although destructive in nature, it has afforded most of Italy’s landscape with some of the most fertile land in the region. Spring in Tuscany, in the northern part of Italy, is still one of the most beautiful sights in the world.

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Most Notable and Famous Italians in History

Italians have made important contributions to mankind, most notably in the fields of science, mathematics, philosophy, engineering, economics, international politics, medicine, literature, visual arts and music.

In medieval Europe many of the first women scientists and physicians were Italian. See: 15 women who changed Italy .

Italians who most influenced human history
(in alphabetical order)

Andrea Amati (1500-1577)
A luthier from Cremona, Anrea Amati, laid the basis of modern violin-making. His grandson, Niccolo, had Antonio Stadivari, the inventor of the Stradivarius, as a pupil. See Italian luthiers .

Violin maker in Cremona. Photo © zodebala

Dante Alighieri (c. 1265 – 1321)
commonly known as Dante, was an Italian poet who greatly influenced generations of poets and authors throughout the centuries, such as Byron, Geoffrey Chaucer and William Blake. He was the author of La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy), an allegory of life and God as revealed to a pilgrim, translated into 59 different languages since 1400. It is written in terza rima, a three-line rhyme scheme of his own invention and tells the story of a man who endures the torment of Hell (Inferno) and Purgatory (Purgatorio) in his quest to reach Paradise (Paradiso).

Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274)
Tommaso of Aquino was a medieval Catholic priest who greatly influenced thinking and teaching in philosophy. His Summa Theologica has been published in 1,317 editions in 24 different languages since 1463. His writings gave rise to several schools and periods of thomism, an encompassing synthesis of philosophy, theology and the sciences of man.

Eugenio Barsanti (1821 – 1864)
Eugenio Barsanti, together with Felice Matteuci, developed the first internal combustion engine driven by gas. Their engine was never used as a commercial device, but, as it was more economical than the previous versions, it led to groundbreaking improvements in later developments of the gas engine.

Cesare, Marquis of Beccaria (1738 – 1794)
commonly known as Cesare Beccaria was one of the first to criticize the barbarism and ad hoc nature of eighteenth century criminal justice. He is the founding father of a classical school of criminology and most criminal systems in democratic countries are directly or indirectly based upon the recommendations in his work On Crimes and Punishments.

Giambattista Beccaria (1716 – 1781)
discovered the light sensitivity of silver chloride, an important development in photography. He was also the strongest and most active supporter of Benjamin Franklin’s electrical theories.

Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 – 1375)
Boccaccio counts as an important figure in the development of a European humanist literature and influenced a large range of scholars and thinkers across genre and period.
His Decameron has been translated into 49 different languages since 1380. It is believed to have influenced Geoffrey Chaucer and his famous book of the Canterbury Tales.

Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446)
One of the most important Italian architects who designed, among other projets, the dome of the Cathedral of Florence (1419-1436) and the Sagrestia Vecchia of S. Lorenzo (1421-1440).

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564)
commonly known as Michelangelo, was a Renaissance painter and sculptor.

Giovanni Caboto (1450 – c. 1500)
was a Venetian navigator who explored the coast of Newfounland under the commission of Henry VII of England in 1497. His discovery made him the first European to land in North America since the Norse visits to Vinland in the eleventh century.
See: Famous Italian explorers

Tommaso Campanella (1568 – 1639)
was one of the most important philosophers of the late Renaissance. His best-known work is the utopian treatise La città del Sole (The City of the Sun). However, in reality, his thought was extremely complex and engaged with all fields of learning. He spent twenty-seven years imprisoned in Neapolitan castles (1599-1626), during which he dedicated himself to the huge task of providing a new foundation for the entire encyclopedia of knowledge.

Gerolamo Cardano (1501 – 1576)
Gerolamo Cardano was an Italian Renaissance mathematician, physician, astrologer and gambler. See: Famous Italian Mathematicians

Giosuè Carducci (1835 – 1907)
In 1906 he became the first Italian to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was regarded as the official national poet of modern Italy.
See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Enrico Caruso (1873 – 1921)
Enrico Caruso was a famous Italian tenor who sang at the major opera houses of Europe and North and South America, appearing in a wide variety of roles from the Italian and French repertoires that ranged from the lyric to the dramatic. See also: Verismo in Italian opera .

Giovanni Caselli (1815 – 1891)
invented the pantelegraph, an ancestor of the fax, which became the first commercial application of the fax, established in 1865. For political and commercial reasons his invention was not further implemented until it was ‘re-discovered’ by the Japanese and gave rise to a widespread public use of the fax through telecom lines. See: italian inventors .

Benvenuto Cellini (1500 – 1571)
Benvenuto Cellini was an Italian goldsmith, sculptor, painter, soldier and musician, who acquired world-wide fame because of his minute and lengthy autobiography. His vivid portrayal of sixteenth-century Rome and Florence, in which drama and wit abound, is of great historical value. It was translated into German by Goethe.

Cellini’s became also famous throughout Europe for his marvelous work in precious metals.

Francesco Cirio (1836 – 1900)
Was the first to develop the concept of preserving vegetables in cans in 1856.

Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506)
Christopher Columbus was an explorer, colonizer, and navigator from the Republic of Genoa, in northwestern Italy, whose voyages across the Atlantic Ocean led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere. With his four voyages of exploration and several attempts at establishing a settlement on the island of Hispaniola, all funded by Isabella I of Castile, he initiated the process of Spanish colonization which foreshadowed general European colonization of the “New World”.

Although Columbus was not the first explorer to reach the Americas from Europe (being preceded by the Norse led by Leif Ericson), the voyages of Columbus molded the future of European colonization and encouraged European exploration of foreign lands for centuries to come.
See: Famous Italian explorers

Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 – 1519)
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was an Italian polymath or the archetype of the Renaissance Man: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived. His Mona Lisa is the most famous and most parodied portrait and The Last Supper the most reproduced religious painting of all time. Leonardo is also revered for his technological ingenuity. He conceptualised a helicopter, a tank, concentrated solar power, a calculator, the double hull and outlined a rudimentary theory of plate tectonics. As a scientist, he made important discoveries in anatomy, civil engineering, optics, and hydrodynamics, but his failure to publish his findings meant that his influence on these fields is not well documented by historians. See also: Famous Italian inventors

Birth house of Leonardo da Vinci, in Vinci, Tuscany. Photo © Slow Italy

See also: Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo with photos of the birthhouse and birthplace of the genius artist, and a full biography of Leonardo da Vinci .

Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (c. 1185 – 1252)
John of Plano Carpini was the first European since 900 AD on record as having traveled further east than Baghdad and returned to share his observations. He was one of the first Europeans to enter the court of the Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. The account of his travels, Historia Mongalorum, show that he was a shrewd observer. They are the first European description of Mongol living conditions, customs and beliefs. See: Famous Italian explorers

The route followed by Carpini (blue crossed-out line) traveling east as compared to the routes of later explorers.

Giovanni da Verrazanno (1485–1528)
Giovanni da Verrazzano greatly contributed to the science of mapmaking in terms of the geography of the East Coast of North America. The bridge spanning the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island and the Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge in Rhode Island are named in honor of the explorer.
See: Famous Italian explorers

Salvino degli Armati (1258-1312)
Salvino D’Armato degli Armati of Florence is one of the possible inventors of eyeglasses. It is thought that he invented eyeglasses around 1284. See: Famous Italian inventors

Grazia Deledda (1871 – 1936)
Deledda was the first Italian woman to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Vittorio de Sica (1901 or 1902 – 1974)
Vittorio De Sica was an Italian director and actor, a leading figure in the neorealist movement.

Federico Fellini (1920 – 1993)
Federico Fellini was an Italian film director. Known for a distinct style that blends fantasy and baroque images, he is considered one of the most influential and widely revered filmmakers of the 20th century.

Enrico Fermi (1901 – 1954)
See: Famous Italian scientists

Enzo Ferrari (1898-1988)
Italian motor racing driver andthe founder of the Ferrari and Scuderia Ferrari Grand Prix racing team. See also: Ferrari

Leonardo Fibonacci (c. 1175 – c. 1250)
Fibonacci was instrumental in popularizing Hindu-Arabic numerals in the Western world, the system we still use today (until then Roman numerals were used).See: Famous Italian Mathematicians

Tommaso Francini (1571–1651)
Garden designer and garden engineer in charge, among other projects, of the waterworks at Fontainbleau, the fountains of the Palais du Luxembourg and the Villa Medicea di Pratolino.

Dario Fò (1926 – 2016)
Nobel prize winner in literature and a relevant figure of political theatre. See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642)
Considered the “father of modern physics” and the “father of modern science”. He played a central role in the transition from natural philosophy to modern science by applying mathematics to motion. Before Galilei there as no math in physics while today’s modern physics could not be conceivable without math.

Luigi Galvani (1737 – 1798)
He is recognized as the pioneer of bioelectromagnetics. His discoveries triggered the field of neurophysiology, which in turn led to some of the greatest discoveries in neuroscience. Galvani’s name is used as a verb in everyday language (galvanize). See: Famous Italian scientists

Carlo Goldoni (1707 – 1793)
Created the Commedia dell’Arte

Cesare Lombroso (1835 – 1909)
Italian criminologist, often referred to as the father of criminology

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527)
Recognized as the father of modern political science. His Prince has been translated into 49 languages since 1532.

Guglielmo Marconi (1874 – 1937)
Italian engineer, recipient of a Nobel Prize in physics and famous for having invented the wireless telegraphy. See: Famous Italian inventors

Antonio Meucci (1808 – 1889)
Now considered the first inventor of the telephone even if Graham Bell was the first to patent the invention. See: Famous Italian inventors

Eugenio Montale (1896 – 1981)
One of the greatest Italian lyric poets, recipient of a Nobel Prize of literature. See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Maria Montessori (1870 – 1952)
Italian physician and educator known worldwide for the educational method that bears her name. See: Famous Italian inventors

Palladio (1508 – 1580)
Andrea Palladio was an Italian Renaissance architect active in the Republic of Venice. Palladio, influenced by Roman and Greek architecture, primarily by Vitruvius, is widely considered the most influential individual in the history of Western architecture. All of his buildings are located in northern Italy, but his teachings, summarized in the architectural treatise I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura (The Four Books of Architecture), gained him wide recognition.

Vilfredo Pareto (1848 – 1923)
Italian economist and sociologist. The Pareto distribution, Pareto efficiency, Pareto index and Pareto principle (also known as 80/20 rule) are named after him. See: Famous Italian scientists

Francesco Petrarca (1304 – 1374)
Francesco Petrarca (known in English as Petrarch), contemporary of Boccaccio, also known as the “Father of Humanism, was an Italian scholar, poet and one of the earliest Renaissance humanists.

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 – 1494)
Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola was an Italian Renaissance philosopher. He is famed for the events of 1486, when at the age of 23, he proposed to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy and magic against all comers, for which he wrote the famous Oration on the Dignity of Man which has been called the “Manifesto of the Renaissance”, and a key text of Renaissance humanism.

Marco Polo (c. 1254 – 1324)
Marco Polo was a merchant from the Venetian Republic who wrote Il Milione, which introduced Europeans to Central Asia and China. He learned about trading whilst his father and uncle, Niccolò and Maffeo, travelled through Asia and met Kublai Khan. In 1269, they returned to Venice to meet Marco for the first time. The three of them embarked on an epic journey to Asia, returning after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa Marco was imprisoned, and dictated his stories to a cellmate.

Il Milione was translated, embellished, copied by hand and adapted there is no authoritative version. It documents his father’s journey to meet the Kublai Khan, who asked them to become ambassadors, and communicate with the pope. This led to Marco’s quest, through Acre, into China and to the Mongol court. Marco wrote of his extensive travels throughout Asia on behalf of the Khan, and their eventual return after 15,000 miles (24,140 km) and 24 years of adventures.

Their pioneering journey inspired Columbus and others.
See: Famous Italian explorers

Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924)
Famous opera composer
See also: Verismo in italian opera

Salvatore Quasimodo (1901 – 1968)
One of the most important Italian poets of the 20th century. See: Italian Nobel Prize Winners

Raffaello Sanzio (1483 – 1520)
Italian painter and architect known as Raffaello or Raphael, one of the leading masters of the High Renaissance. World famous for the frescoed Raphael Rooms in the Vatican Palace.

Ascanio Sobrero (1812 – 1888)
Ascanio Sobrero was cited by Alfred Nobel as the inventor of nitroglycerine. However, it was Nobel who received world-wide recognition for inventing dynamite, a stable application developed by Nobel to more easily handle and transport nitroglycerine. See: Famous Italian inventors

Altiero Spinelli (1907 – 1986)
One of the founding fathers of the European Union

Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737)
Brought the violin to its highest level of perfection. The most famous violin, the “Le Messie”, is of his makin.

Evangelista Torricelli (1608 – 1647)
A physicist and mathematician from Faenza famous for the discovery of the Torricelli’s trumpet or horn whose surface area is infinite, but whose volume is finite. The discovery prompted a fierce controversy about the nature of infinity, and is supposed by some to have led to the idea of a “completed infinity”. See: Famous Italian inventors

Antonio Maria Valsalva (1666 – 1723)
coined the term Eustachian tube and he described the aortic sinuses of Valsalva

Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)
Italian opera composer. The chorus Va, pensiero from his four acts opera Nabucco(1842) was associated with the spirit of the Italian unification movement. He is also famous for his operas, Aida, Rigoletto and La Traviata.

Amerigo Vespucci (1454 – 1512)
See: Famous Italian explorers

Luchino Visconti (1906 – 1976)
An Italian theater, opera and cinema director, best known for his films Rocco and His Brothers (1960), The Leopard (1963) and Death in Venice (1971), among others.

Alessandro Volta
Known for having invented the electric battery. See: Famous Italian inventors

Italians who most influenced the history of Italy

Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour (1810 – 1861)
Contributed to the unification of Italy

Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807 – 1882)
Contributed to the unification of Italy

Goffredo Mameli (1827 – 1849)
Composed the Italian national hymne

Alessandro Manzoni (1785 – 1873)
Wrote the first novel in Standard Italian

Vittorio Emanuele di Savoia (1820 – 1878)
First king of unified Italy