HISTORY
The Etruscans were the first people to move into the region now known as Italy, and they ruled Rome from about the twelfth to the eighth centuries B.C.E. Although archaeologists are uncertain about their origin, these people are said to have come from the eastern Mediterranean region, possibly Asia Minor (southwest Asia). Eventually they contributed to forming the Roman Empire, but little evidence of their existence remains today.
The first Republic of Rome was founded in 509 B.C.E.
Victories over Carthage (at the time a North African country near the present-day state of Tunis) and Hellenic Macedonia between 264 and 164 paved the way for further expansion of the Roman Empire into Britain, Spain, northern Africa, and present-day Iraq. The spreading empire became so large that it had to be divided into eastern and western sectors.
Christianity was officially embraced by Constantine (d.
337) in 313, and the capital city of the eastern empire moved from Rome to Constantinople (Istanbul). The western part of the Roman Empire disintegrated due to plague, famine, and tribal incursions (from the north), while the eastern empire continued to prosper in fits and starts until the Turks took over in 1453.
Ending the Middle Ages and marking the transition to the Modern Age was the Renaissance, spreading through the 14th to the 16th centuries. The Renaissance, or Rinascimento (in Italian), marked a change in the intellectual and cultural ideas of Italians. It was a cultural movement, which was attributed to the growing aristocratic urban city-states within northern Italy. The Renaissance eventually spread from Italy to the rest of Europe.
In the centuries post-Renaissance first Spain and then Austria took over Italy, followed by Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821) for a brief while. Napoleon utilized the French armies for fulfilling his imperialist designs in Europe. Later there was a drive for the unification of Italy led by King Victor Emmanuel II (1759–1824, of the Savoy Dynasty). The Kingdom of Italy was declared in 1861. The peninsular region of Italy, along with the neighboring states of Sardinia and Sicily, also formed a part of the Italian nation. The 1920s brought Benito Mussolini’s (1883–1945) dictatorship in Italy, ending an era of parliamentary rule. His alliance with Nazi Germany during World War II led to Italy’s defeat and major economic setbacks for the country. After the end of World War II, Italy became a democracy in 1946.
In the 1950s Italy became a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the EEC (European Economic Community), now the European Union (EU). The Euro was introduced in 1999.

GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Shaped like a boot afloat in the Mediterranean Sea, the Italian peninsula is surrounded by smaller water bodies like the Adriatic Sea (northeast), Ionian Sea (southeast), Tyrrhenian Sea (southwest), and the Ligurian Sea on its northwestern side. Switzerland, France, Slovenia, and Austria touch Italy on its northern border. The larger islands of Sicily and Sardinia also form a part of the country politically.
Both are about 9,650 square miles in size. Italy is mountainous, with the Alps (one of the biggest mountain chains in Europe) in the north and the Apennine Mountains forming the backbone of the remaining peninsula. The Alps stretch for 600 miles from east to west with the famous peaks of Monte Rosa, and Cervino.
Alpine vegetation (trees and shrubs growing in cold climates) covers the foothills of the mountains, which are marked by occasional large lakes like Maggiore, Como, Garda, and Iseo. The triangular Po River basin has the Alps to its north and the Apennine Mountains to its south, forming the lowest and most densely populated land area in Italy.
The Po River is the longest river, about 390 miles in length, and it flows into the Adriatic Sea in the east through a magnificent delta formation (the point at which a river breaks up into distributaries before emptying into the sea). The Corno Grande (Gran Sasso d’Italia) is the highest mountain peak of the Apennine Mountains at almost 10,000 feet. The country has three dangerous active volcanoes— Vesuvius near Naples, Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands, and Etna in Sicily. The climate depends on the altitude of a region and its proximity to the sea.
Winters are severe in the Alps, with snowfall beginning every September. It gets warmer on the lower altitudes. Summers are hot and dry in the interiors.
Summers next to the sea are cooler, and pleasant in the Alps and Apennine mountains.
Italy has a number of natural parks. The largest is Parco Naturale dei Monti Sibillini, located in Marche. It is spread over 25 miles of mountain peaks and is noted for its exotic birds. There are a variety of salamanders found in Italian seas.
The Italian town of San Remo (also called the Town of Flowers) is famous all over the world for its many varieties of tropical flowers (roses, carnations, begonias, camellias). The town of Tuscany (located in central Italy) is one of the most beautiful places in Italy. It has 120 protected nature reserves as well as a rich traditional heritage, accessible to the public in dozens of museums. Tuscany houses more than 100 species of plants that have medicinal value, especially for veterinary ailments.

ECONOMY
Italy has a diversified industrial base with a profitbased capitalist economy in the north, rendering the north more prosperous than its southern counterpart.
The southern part has an economy based on welfare and agriculture with unemployment levels up to 20 percent. Sectional tensions arise from this economic dispority. The per capita income, however, is similar to other developed European nations. Italy hardly has any natural resources of its own. About 75 percent of its energy requirements are imported.
Italy is a destination and a transit country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual and labor exploitation.
Estimates provided by PARSEC, a social research institute in Italy, indicate that 2,000 to 3,000 new trafficking victims—largely from Nigeria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, and Albania— entered Italy in 2004.
The country has a strong tourism sector, along with rapidly evolving small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Trade is mostly done with the developed members of the European Union (EU) and the United States.

CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Italy is rightly referred to as the world’s living art gallery. Whatever the medium, Italians have significantly contributed to its development. The European Renaissance (cultural and scientific revolution) began in Italy in the 14th century. Italian authors of poetic classics that continue to be read include Dante, Tasso, Petrarch, and Ariosto while Machiavelli, Boccaccio, and Castiglione exerted a lasting influence on European culture through their prose.
Giants like Leonardo da Vinci, Filippo Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Raffaello, Botticelli, and Fra Angelico made significant contributions in architecture, painting, anatomy, and sculpting. Tommaso Geraci is a modern-day Italian sculptor of repute.
Composers Vivaldi, Palestrina, Monteverdi, and Corelli influenced the musical sensibilities of people all over the world well into the 19th century, while the compositions of Giacomo Puccini, Gioacchino Rossini, and Giuseppe Verdi made Italian romantic opera famous. The world owes the piano and the musical notation system to Italy. Contemporary Italian artists, writers, composers, architects, filmmakers, and designers continue to contribute to the growth of Western culture.
Football (or soccer) is the national game. Italy has won the Football World Cup three times: 1934, 1938, and 1982.

CUISINE
The Italian system of meals is quite different from the American or English. Colazione, or breakfast, is light. There is usually a cappuccino (coffee and milk) or an espresso (strong black coffee) coupled with a brioche (a sweet pastry). Pranzo, or lunch, is the bigger meal. It begins with an antipasto (starter) that might include bread, cheese, and fresh vegetables.
Then comes the first course of rice, peas, pasta, and soup, called primo piatto. The secondo piatto has meat or fish with salad and vegetables (contorno) and frutta (fresh fruit). The lunch might end with an espresso or amaro (a strong digestive liquor). Dena (dinner) is similar to lunch.
These days, people prefer a lighter lunch and make dinner the bigger meal of the day. People enjoy gelato (“ice cream”), which is available in a plethora of flavors any time of the day, and also enjoy having granita, crushed ice soaked with flavored syrup. The food is rich and creamy in the north while southern Italians prefer spicier food. The famous Italian red wine called Chianti is made in Tuscany. It can be easily identified, because it is kept in squat bottles covered with straw baskets, or fiaschis.

BIRTH
Having more children is considered an economic asset in Italian households. When a child is born, a feeling of friendliness fills the entire family. Godparents are chosen from friends and family to rear the children in case the real parents are unable to do so.
The godfather can be the best man present at the child’s parent’s wedding or a good friend of the family (called compare or padrino). The godmother is chosen in a similar fashion. The birth of a new family member is marked by a christening ceremony, which relatives from far and wide attend to bless the newborn. The baby is given a single name, usually derived from a saint’s name such as Maria, Giovanna, and so on. A boy is named after his grandfather.

MARRIAGE
Traditionally the family arranges weddings in Italy.
The groom’s (or bride’s) family contacts the father or uncle for marriage. After both families agree, the couple gets officially engaged. Sometimes a masciata, a matchmaker, is sent to the prospective bride’s house to arrange a marriage. Before the wedding, the bride prepares a trousseau that includes new clothes, household items, and sometimes clothes for the future husband. Friends and family give money and gifts to the newlywed couple. The groom’s family also contributes resources for the wedding.
The sposalizio, the actual wedding, is officiated by a civil authority or a priest. Weddings on Sunday are considered luckiest. Weddings during Lent (a 40-day fast), May (veneration of Virgin Mary), and August (believed to bring ill health and bad luck) are considered improper.
According to folklore men are supposed to carry pieces of iron in their pockets to ward off the evil eye. Sometimes a vase or a glass is broken at the end of the ceremony, and the number of pieces it breaks into is considered the number of years the couple will live happily together.

DEATH
Despite being relatively poorer in the south, the people there can be said to be death oriented because they save a lot of money in order to ensure their loved ones proper funerals. In a bid to calm the soul, the favorite things of the deceased are buried with him or her in a strongbox. If some things are forgotten, then they are sent in the casket of another deceased villager on the assumption that both souls will meet after death. To keep the soul of the deceased from finding its way back into the house, his or her body is taken with the feet coming out first so that the door used to exit cannot be seen.
Lamenting and wailing are forbidden to enable the soul to reach its destination without confusion. To prevent the soul from coming back, frequent turns are made on the way to the cemetery and different routes are taken returning home after the funeral.