Bursting with culture, obsessed with soccer and offering endless amounts of mouthwatering wine and food – Italy epitomizes the best of Europe in more ways than one
The land known as Italy today has been the cradle of European cultures and peoples such as the Etruscans and the Romans.
Ancient Rome was at first a small agricultural community founded circa the 8th century BC 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.
Centuries after its decline, Italy would become the birthplace of the Renaissance, an immensely fruitful intellectual movement that would prove to be integral in shaping the subsequent course of European thought.
Through much of its post-Roman history, Italy was fragmented into numerous kingdoms and city-states (such as the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the Duchy of Milan), but was unified in 1861, a tumultuous period in history known as the “Risorgimento”. In the late 19th century, through World War I, and to World War II, Italy possessed a colonial empire, which extended its rule to Libya, Eritrea, Italian Somaliland, Ethiopia, Albania, Rhodes, the Dodecanese and even a concession in Tianjin, China.
Modern Italy is a democratic republic. It has been ranked the world’s eighteenth most-developed country and its Quality-of-Life Index has been ranked in the top ten in the world.
There are about 55 million speakers of the language in Italy and 6.7 million outside. However, there are over 150 million people in the world who use Italian as a second or cultural language. Italy has numerous dialects spoken all over the country and some Italians cannot speak the standard language at all.
Roman Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the country, and the Italian Catholic Church is part of the global Roman Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and by law Vatican City is not part of Italy.
Italy has a rich Catholic culture and Roman Catholic art in Italy especially flourished during the Middle-Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods at the hands of legends such as Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Sandro Botticelli, Tintoretto, Titian, Raphael and Giotto. Roman Catholic architecture in Italy is equally as rich and impressive, with churches, basilicas and cathedrals such as St Peter’s Basilica, Florence Cathedral and St Mark’s Basilica.
The Mafia originates from Italy and its influence is widespread in Italian society, directly affecting 22% of Italians and 14.6% of Italy’s GDP, while even Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has long been accused of links with organised crime. The fight against the Mafia has cost the lives of many, including the high profile assassinations of judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
There are four separate Mafias controlling territory and business activities in four Southern Italian regions: Cosa Nostra in Sicily, Camorra in Campania, ‘Ndrangheta in Calabria and Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia, exerting influence over 13 million Italians. Their business involvement reaches European and global scale.
In the post-war period, Italy was transformed from a weak, agricultural based economy which had been severely affected by the consequences of World War II, into one of the world’s most industrialized nations and a leading country in world trade and exports, even so that in 1987, the Italian economy surpassed the British economy, by GDP (nominal), an event known as ‘il sorpasso’. According to the International Monetary Fund, in 2008 Italy was the seventh-largest economy in the world and the fourth-largest in Europe but now is better known for it’s status amongst the “PIIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) of Europe. Italian living standards have a considerable north-south divide and the country is characterised by economic stagnation, political instability and problems in pursuing reform programs. The country has an inefficient state bureaucracy, low property rights protection and high levels of corruption, heavy taxation and public spending that accounts for about half of the national GDP. On a more positive note, Tourism is one of the fastest growing and profitable sectors of the national economy:
with 43.7 million international tourist arrivals and total receipts estimated at $42.7 billion, Italy is the fourth highest tourism earner and the fifth most visited country in the world.
Italy didn’t exist as a state until the country’s unification in 1861.
Due to this comparatively late unification, and the historical autonomy of the regions that comprise the Italian Peninsula, many traditions and customs that are now recognized as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin. Despite the political and social distinction of these regions, Italy’s contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe and the world remain immense. Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (44) to date, and has rich collections of world art, culture and literature from many different periods. Notable artists include Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian and Raphael.
As an amateur artist the mere mention of these names makes me giddy with excitement!
So i must be off to explore it all for myself and will be to tell you ALLLLLLL about it!!
Much love. H.G