Italy , officially the Italian Republic is a unitary parliamentary republic in Southern Europe. To the north, Italy borders France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia, and isAlpine watershed, enclosing the Po Valley and theVenetian Plain. To the south, it consists of the entirety of the Italian Peninsula and the two biggest Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
Italian territory also includes the islands of Pantelleria, 60 km (37 mi) east of the Tunisian coast and 100 km (62 mi) southwest of Sicily, and Lampedusa, at about 113 km (70 mi) from Tunisia and at 176 km (109 mi) from Sicily, in addition to many other smaller islands. The sovereign states of San Marino and the Vatican City areenclaves within Italy, while Campione d'Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland. Italy covers an area of 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and has a largely temperate climate. With 60 million inhabitants, it is the 5th most populous country in Europe. Italy is also the 4th-largest economy in the European Union, 3rd in the Eurozone and 9th in the world (IMF, 2012).
Italy's capital and largest city, Rome, has for centuries been the leading political and religious centre of Western civilisation, serving as the capital of both the Roman Empireand Christianity. During the Dark Ages, Italy endured cultural and social decline in the face of repeated invasions by Germanic tribes, with Roman heritage being preserved largely by Christian monks. Beginning around the 11th century, various Italian cities,communes and maritime republics rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking (indeed, modern capitalism has its roots in Medieval Italy) concurrently, Italian culture flourished, especially during the Renaissance, which produced many notable scholars, artists, and polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci,Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Meanwhile, Italian explorers such as Polo,Columbus, Vespucci, and Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and theNew World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Nevertheless, Italy would remain fragmented into numerous warring states for the rest of the Middle Ages, subsequently falling prey to larger European powers such as France, Spain, and laterAustria. Italy would thus enter a long period of decline that lasted until the beginning of the 18th century.
After many unsuccessful attempts, the second and the third wars of Italian independence resulted in the unification of most of present-day Italy between 1859 and 1866. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the new Kingdom of Italyrapidly industrialized and acquired a colonial empire in Africa. However, Southern and rural Italy remained largely excluded from industrialisation, fuelling a large and influential diaspora. Despite victory in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, which favoured the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship in 1922. The subsequent participation in World War II at the side of Nazi Germany ended in military defeat, economic destruction and civil war. In the years that followed, Italy abolished the monarchy, reinstated democracy, and enjoyed a prolonged economic boom, thus becoming one of the most developed nations in the world with the fifth largest economy by nominal GDP by the early 1990s. Italy was a founding member of the Nato in 1949 and one of the Inner Six of the European Community in 1957, which became the EU in 1993. It is part of the Schengen Area, and has been a member of the Eurozone since 1999.
Italy is considered to be both a major Middle Power and a major Regional with membership in prominent institutions such as the UN, the EU, the NATO, the OECD, the WTO, the Uniting for Consensus, the G7, G8, G20, the Union for the Mediterranean, the Council of Europe and the Central European Initiative. Italy currently maintains the world's tenth-largest nominal defence budget and is a participant in the NATO nuclear sharing policy.