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About Italy

General Information -- Geography -- Climate -- Religion -- Language -- Population and Ethnic Composition-- Government -- Administrative Division -- Time Zone -- Currency Exchange and Credit Cards -- Capital City -- Official Holidays -- Airports and Public Transportation -- Traditional Cuisine -- Brief History

General Information

Rare is the traveler who isn’t smitten by Italy. Everyone loves the Italians – their quirky, outspoken zest for life, and their gorgeous country and rich culture. Teeming with ancient history, artistic splendor, divine food and wine, and a romantic olive-grove dappled landscape, Italy hits the heart and soul fast.
From dazzling Renaissance and baroque masterpieces, to stunning natural beauty, Italy offers tangible pleasures to all. Natural and historic beauties aside, modern Italy is exceptionally vibrant and simmers with a hedonistic passion – for food and wine, football and women, the everyday happenings of le dolce vita.



Italy consists predominantly of a large peninsula with a distinctive boot shape that extends into the Mediterranean Sea, where together with its two main islands Sicily and Sardinia it creates distinct bodies of water, such as the Adriatic Sea to the north-east, the Ionian Sea to the south-east, the Tyrrhenian Sea to the south-west and finally the Ligurian Sea to the north-west.
The Apennine Mountains form the backbone of this peninsula, leading north-west to where they join the Alps, the mountain range that then forms an arc enclosing Italy from the north. Here is also found a large alluvial plain, the Po-Venetian plain, drained by the Po River — which is Italy's biggest river with 652 km — and its many tributaries flowing down from the Alps, 4 km, and Apennines.
Other well-known or important rivers include the Tiber, Adige, Arno, etc
Its highest point is Mont Blanc at 4,810 metres, or Mont Blanc de Courmayeur, 4,748 m; the exact border course has not been agreed. Italy is more typically associated with two famous volcanoes: the currently dormant Vesuvius near Naples and the very active Etna on Sicily.
Sicily and Sardinia are the two major islands of Italy


The climate of the coastal areas is very different from that of the interior, particularly during the winter months. The higher areas are cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions, where most of the large towns are located, have a typical Mediterranean climate with mild winters and hot and generally dry summers. The length and intensity of the summer dry season increases.
There is no great difference in the temperatures at sea level from north to south. The east coast of the peninsula is not as wet as the west coast. The east coast north of Pescara is occasionally affected by the cold bora winds in winter and spring, but the wind is less strong here than around Trieste.
The whole of peninsular Italy and the large islands of Sicily and Sardinia have very changeable weather in autumn, winter, and spring in marked contrast to the settled sunny weather of summer. Disturbed weather can continue into late May and may commence any time after early September. Throughout the winter, however, cloudy rainy days alternate with spells of mild, sunny weather.
The least number of rainy days and the highest number of hours of sunshine occur in the extreme south of the mainland and in Sicily and Sardinia. Here sunshine averages from four to five hours a day in winter and up to ten or eleven hours in summer.
Generally, the hottest month is July (where temperatures can reach 32°C/34°C); the coldest month is January; the wettest month is November, with an average rainfall of 129mm; while the driest month is July, with an average rainfall of 15mm.



Roman Catholicism is by far the most popular religion in the country. Although the Catholic church has been separated from the state, it still plays a role in the nation's political affairs partly due to Holy See's location in Rome. Some 90% of Italians are Roman Catholic of which one-third are active members. Other Christian groups in Italy include Jehovah's Witnesses and the Waldensians.
In the past two decades, Italy has been receiving many waves of immigrants from all over the world especially eastern Europe and North Africa. As a result, some Muslims (1.4%) live in Italy, although other estimates indicate that there are up to one million Muslims as well as, 75,000 Hindus, 60,000 and a historical community of 30,000 Jewish members.



The official language of Italy is Standard Italian, descendant of Tuscan dialect and a direct descendant of Latin. (Some 75% of Italian words are of Latin origin.) However, when Italy was unified, in 1861, Italian existed mainly as a literary language, and was spoken by less than 3% of the population. Each historical region of Italy had its own so-called ‘dialetto’, with variants existing at the township-level. German, French, as well as native languages of immigrant communities are also spoken in Italy.

Population and Ethnic Composition


Italy is largely homogeneous in language and religion but is diverse culturally, economically, and politically. For a country of 58.7 million people, Italy has a smaller number of immigrants than France and Germany.
Since the beginning of Roman civilization, important ethnic groups like Greek settlers, Germanic and Celtic invaders and plunderers, and Norman French colonisers have all left important impressions on the people today.
The majority of immigrants in Italy come from other surrounding European nations, and they number 1,122,276, and chiefly come from Albania, Romania, the Ukraine, and Poland. French nationals living in Italy are more commonly women than men. The next largest group consists of North African Arab groups, and they number some 447,310 chiefly from Morocco, and Tunisia. Smaller groups consists of Asians, South Americans, and sub-Saharan Africans. Top 5 largest foreign minorities are Albanian, Moroccan, Romanian, Chinese, and Ukrainian



The 1948 Constitution of Italy established a bicameral parliament consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate, a separate judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers headed by the prime minister.
The President of the Republic is elected for seven years by the parliament sitting jointly with a small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime minister, who proposes the other ministers. The Council of Ministers must retain the support of both houses.
The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected through a proportional representation system. The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members, the Senate 315 elected senators; in addition, the Senate includes former presidents and other persons appointed senators for life by the President of the Republic according to special constitutional provisions. As of 15 May 2006, there are seven life senators (of which three are former Presidents). Both houses are elected for a maximum of five years, but both may be dissolved before the expiration of their 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 later statutes. A constitutional court, the Corte Costituzionale, passes on the constitutionality of laws, and is a post-World War II innovation.
All Italian citizens older than 18 can vote. However, to vote for the senate, the voter must be at least 25 or older.

Administrative Division


Italy is subdivided into 20 regions (regioni). Five of these regions enjoy a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their specific local matters.

Time Zone


Italy is in the Central European Time Zone. Central European Standard Time (CET) is 1 hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+1).
Like most states in Europe, Summer (Daylight-Saving) Time is observed in Italy, where the time is shifted forward by 1 hour; 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+2).
After the Summer months the time in Italy is shifted back by 1 hour to Central European Time (CET) or (GMT+1)

Currency Exchange and Credit Cards


Italy’s currency since 2002 is the Euro. A combination of travelers cheques and credit cards is the best way to take your money to Italy.
Major credit cards are widely accepted. They can also be used to get money from ATMs.

Capital City


Rome is the capital of Italy and of its Latium region. It is located across the confluence of the Tiber and Aniene rivers. It was once the capital of the Roman Empire, the most powerful, largest, and longest lasting empire of classical antiquity. The Vatican, a sovereign enclave within Rome, is the seat of the Roman Catholic Church and the home of the Pope.
Rome is the largest city and commune in Italy and it is also one of the largest among European capital cities, with an area of 1,285 square kilometers. The commune territory extends up to the Tyrrhenian Sea, with the district of Ostia, on the south-west, located on the shore. Within the city limits, the population is about 2,5 million; almost 3.8 million live in the general area of Rome as represented by the province of Rome. The current mayor of Rome is Walter Veltroni.
The city's history extends nearly 2,800 years, during which time it has been the seat of ancient Rome, and later the Papal States, Kingdom of Italy and Italian Republic.

Official Holidays


Airports and Public Transportation


The national airline is Alitalia, with Meridiana and Air One offering additional domestic service. Eurolines has offices n all major European cities, while in Italy, the main represented bus company is Lazzi. Eurostar trains run from major destinations throughout Europe direct to major Italian cities.
Numerous bus companies operate within Italy. Generally, it’s only necessary to make reservations for long trips, such as Rome-Palermo. Buses can be cheaper and faster way to get around if your destination is not on major rail lines.
Trenitalia is the partially privatized state train system that runs most of the services in Italy.

Traditional Cuisine


Italian cuisine features distinct regional and seasonal variations. While Tuscan cooking is simple with fresh flavours, dishes in the south tend to be more complex and spicier. Vegetarians won’t have a problem in Italy.
A full meal consist of antipasto, such as bruschetta (grilled bread with toppings), followed by the primo piatto, a pasta dish, and the secondo piatto, meat or fish. Next comes an insalata (salad) or contorni (vegetables) before finishing with dolci (sweets) and caffe (coffee).
Italian wine is delicious and a drinkable bottle costs as little as 7 Euro. In Tuscany, sample Chianti, sangiovese and brunello for reds, vernaccia for white; Piemont produces excellent Barolo, Sicily terrific nero di avola, and crisp vermentino hails from Sardinia and Liguria. Peroni is the national birra; for a drought, order it alal spinna.

Brief History


According to ancient mythology, Romulus (who was reared by a she-wolf along with his brother Remus) founded Rome in 753 B.C. In fact, the country had already been inhabited by Italic tribes since around 2000 B.C. From 900 B.C. the Etruscan civilization developed; the Romans overwhelmed the last Etruscan city at the end of the third century B.C.
The new Roman Republic expanded into southern Italy and claimed Sicily after the second Punic war in 241 B.C. Rome defeated Carthage in 202 B.C. and claimed Spain as well as Greece. Under Julius Cesar Rome conquered Gaul and Egypt. After Cesar’s assassination adopted son Octavius defeated rivals Mark Antony and Cleopatra, establishing the Roman Empire in 27 B.C. and adopting the title of Augustus Cesar. Emperor Constantine heralded in Christianity, and in AD 330 moved the Empire to Byzantium (Constantinople) soon to be sect by the Goth and Vandals. Over the next few centuries, Huns and Arabs moved into the region from the south.
Italy’s middle ages were marked by the development of the powerful city-states in the north. In the XV century, the Renaissance fostered artistic geniuses like Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael and Michelangelo. By the early XVI century was under Austrian Habsburg rule. After Napoleon’s invasion in 1796, a degree of unity was introduced for the first time in centuries. In the 1860s the Unification movement gained momentum, thanks in part to patriots Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi. In 1861 the kingdom of Italy was declared under the rule of king Vittorio Emanuelle. In 1921, Benito Mussolini’s fascist party took control. Mussolini was a German ally in WWII; he was killed by Italian partisans in April 1945.
Italy was a founding member of the European Economic Community in 1957. The country enjoyed economic growth for a while, but the 1990s heralded a period of crisis, both economically and politically. National bribery scandals rocked the nation. A program of fiscal austerity was needed to usher in Italy’s entry into the EMU. Italy also moved decisively against Mafia, prompted by the 1992 assassination of prominent anti-mafia judges.
Since 2001 Media magnate Sylvio Berlusconi has been Prime Minister, with his right wing for the Italia party. His tenure does far has disappointed many and been marred by continuous allegations of corruption.