Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is located on the Italian Peninsula in Southern Europe, and on the two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia. Italy shares its northern Alpine boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The independent states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within the Italian Peninsula, while Campione d'Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland.
The total land area of Italy is approximately 301,328 square kilometres. It is approximately 1,130 kilometres long and 160 kilometres wide for most of the peninsular. At its widest point in the north, it is 480 kilometres wide and at its narrowest point in the centre, it is 112 kilometres wide. Geographically, It is mostly mountainous, with narrow coastal plains. In general, Italy has a Mediterranean climate. It is mainly mild on the coast, becoming colder inland in the mountains. It can be extremely hot everywhere in the summer, and extremely cold in the north during the winter.
Italy has a rich and colourful history. It has been the home of many European cultures, such as the Etruscans and the Romans, and later was the birthplace of the movement of the Renaissance, that began in Tuscany and spread all over Europe. Italy's capital, Rome, has been the centre of Western civilization, and Vatican City, located in Rome, is the centre of the Catholic Church. The warring factions of the middle ages finally gave way to a nationalist movement in the 19th century, with Italy acheiving unification around the turn of the century.
Today, Italy is a democratic republic, and a developed country with the 7th-highest GDP, the 8th-highest Quality-of-life index, and the 20th-highest Human Development Index rating in the world. It is a founding member of what is now the European Union (having signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957), and also a member of the G8, the Council of Europe, the Western European Union, and the Central European Initiative. Beginning January 1, 2007, Italy became a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Italy has a population of approximately 60 million. It is the sixth most populous country in Europe, and the twenty-third most populous in the world.
Italy is divided into 20 regions. Five of these: Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige, Aosta Valley and Friuli-Venezia Giulia have special status and a greater degree of independence. The regions are divided into provinces, 110 in all, varying dramatically in size. These provinces are divided into comunes, of which there are 8,100. The government is increasing delegating powers to the regions some of which, particularly in the north of Italy, are impatient with the pace and breadth of these reforms.
Italy has made an incalculable contribution to the culture of Europe and the rest of the world. writers such as: Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio - artists such as: Giotto, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio and Michelangelo; and composers such as: Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini have all had a tremendous and lasting influence on the development of Western civilization. Contemporary Italian artists, writers, filmmakers, architects, composers, and designers continue to contribute significantly to Western culture.
Tourism is one of the biggest contributors to the Italian economy. More than 40 million tourists a year flock to the country mainly for its art, cuisine, history, fashion and culture. Not forgeting its beautiful coastline and beaches, its mountains, and priceless ancient monuments. There are 24 National Parks in Italy and more UNESCO World Heritage sites than in any other country.
Italy has a long sporting tradition and has been extremely successful at international level in various sports.
In Olympic history, Italy has finished in the top five of the medal count eleven times in the Summer Olympic Games and three times in the Winter Olympic Games.
Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Italy and the Italian National Football team (the 'Azzurri') are currently the second most successful football team in the world after Brazil, having won four FIFA world cup titles.
Cycling is also an extremely popular sport in Italy. Italians have won more World Cycling Championships than any other country except Belgium. The Giro d'Italia is a world famous long distance bicycle race held every May and constitutes one of the three Grand Tours along with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, each of which lasts approximately three weeks.
Italy is one of the main basketball nations of Europe, with the national team winning a Silver Medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2004.
The Italian men's national volleyball team dominated international volleyball competitions in the 1990s and early 2000s. They won three World Championships in a row (1990, 1994 and 1998), six European Championships, one World Cup (1995) and eight World League titles. The Italian women's national volleyball team won the 2007 Women's European Volleyball Championships and the 2007 FIVB Women's World Cup gold medal. They finished fifth in the Beijing Olympics in 2004.
Italians also excel in winter sports, having won the Olympic gold medal twice for cross country skiing and luge. In downhill skiing they have won four World Cups titles.
The Ferrari F1 motor racing team, founded by Enzo Ferrari, have competed in fomula one racing since 1948. They are the most successful Formula One team in history with a record of 15 drivers' championship titles and 16 constructors' championship titles. Italian motorcycle racer, Valentino Rossi, is one of the most successful of all time, with nine Grand Prix World Championships to his name, a record seven in the premier class.