Italy, officially the Italian Republic,
[ Council of the European Union .] [ Central Intelligence Agency .] is a country in Europe. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and the enclaved states San Marino and Vatican City. Italy covers an area of and has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. With around 61 million inhabitants, it is the fourth-most populous EU member state and the most populous country in Southern Europe.
In antiquity, Italy was the homeland of the Romans and the metropole of the Roman Empire. According to tradition, Rome was founded as a Kingdom on April 21, 753 BC and became a Republic in 509 BC, when the monarchy was overthrown in favor of a government of the Senate and the People. Following the Roman unification of Italy at the expense of the Etruscans, Celts, and Greeks of the peninsula, Rome led a federation of the Italic peoples to the conquest of Western Europe, Northern Africa and the Near East. In 27 BC Caesar Augustus became the first Roman Princeps and inaugurated the Pax Romana, a period of more than 200 years during which Italy's technology, economy, art and literature flourished. The crisis of the third century led to the separation of the Eastern Roman Empire from the Western Roman Empire. The Edict of Milan ended the persecution of Christians and the Edict of Thessalonica recognised religious primacy to the Bishop of Rome . The West collapsed when Italy capitulated to the Herulians of Odoacer in 476 AD, but the legacy of the Roman Empire endured its fall and can be observed in the global distribution of civilian law, republican governments, Christianity and the Latin script.
During the Early Middle Ages, Italy endured sociopolitical collapse and barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century, numerous rival city-states and maritime republics, mainly in the northern and central regions of Italy, rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking, laying the groundwork for modern capitalism. These mostly independent statelets served as Europe's main trading hubs with Asia and the Near East, often enjoying a greater degree of democracy than the larger feudal monarchies that were consolidating throughout Europe; however, part of central Italy was under the control of the theocratic Papal States, while Southern Italy remained largely feudal until the 19th century, partially as a result of a succession of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Angevin and Spanish conquests of the region.
The Renaissance began in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe, bringing a renewed interest in humanism, science, exploration and art. Italian culture flourished, producing famous scholars, artists and polymaths such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Galileo and Machiavelli. During the Middle Ages, Italian explorers such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, John Cabot and Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Nevertheless, Italy's commercial and political power significantly waned with the opening of trade routes that bypassed the Mediterranean. Centuries of infighting between the Italian city-states, such as the Italian Wars of the 15th and 16th centuries, left the region fragmented, and it was subsequently conquered by European powers such as France, Spain and Austria.
By the mid-19th century, rising Italian nationalism and calls for independence from foreign control led to a period of revolutionary political upheaval. After centuries of foreign domination and political division, Italy was almost entirely unified in 1871, establishing the Kingdom of Italy as a great power. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, Italy rapidly industrialised, namely in the north, and acquired a colonial empire, while the south remained largely impoverished and excluded from industrialisation, fuelling a large and influential diaspora. Despite being one of the main victors in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, leading to the rise of a fascist dictatorship in 1922. Participation in World War II on the Axis side ended in military defeat, economic destruction and the Italian Civil War. Following the liberation of Italy and the rise of the resistance, the country abolished the monarchy, reinstated democracy, enjoyed a prolonged economic boom and, despite periods of sociopolitical turmoil became a major advanced country. [ World Bank. Retrieved 1 August 2016.]
Today, Italy is considered to be one of the world's most culturally and economically developed countries, with its economy ranking eighth largest in the world and third in the Eurozone. As an advanced economy, it has the sixth-largest worldwide national wealth, and is ranked third for its central bank gold reserve. Italy has a very high level of human development, and it stands among the top countries for life expectancy. The country plays a prominent role in regional and global economic, military, cultural and diplomatic affairs, and it is both a regional power [Gabriele Abbondanza, Italy as a Regional Power: the African Context from National Unification to the Present Day ] ["Operation Alba may be considered one of the most important instances in which Italy has acted as a regional power, taking the lead in executing a technically and politically coherent and determined strategy." See Federiga Bindi, Italy and the European Union, p. 171.] and a great power. [ ] [ ] Italy is a founding and leading member of the European Union and a member of numerous international institutions, including the UN, NATO, the OECD, the OSCE, the WTO, the G7, the G20, the Union for the Mediterranean, the Council of Europe, Uniting for Consensus, the Schengen Area and many more.
As a reflection of its cultural wealth, Italy is home to 54 World Heritage Sites, the most in the world, and is the fifth-most visited country.