Italy, a republic located in South-Central Europe, has borders with five other European countries – Austria, France, Switzerland and Slovenia – all of which are located to the north of the country, while south of these borders is the boot-shaped Italian peninsula, as well as the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, and a number of smaller islands. Italy, whose coastline of almost 5,000 miles (7,600 kilometers) borders the Adriatic Sea, Ionian Sea and Tyrrhenian Sea, covers an area of around 116,000 square miles (approximately 301,000 sq. km.) and has a total population of around 60 million people. 


Italy possesses a wide variety of landscapes, including plains, mountain ranges (the Alps and Appenines), volcanoes, rivers, lakes, forests and woodland, vineyards, beaches and ski resorts. Italy also contains several national parks, as well as hundreds of towns and cities of great cultural and architectural interest, with churches and cathedrals, palaces, museums and art galleries, and other historical buildings. 


Italian is the official language of Italy, while several dialects are also spoken across the country. Many other languages and minority dialects are also recognized, with some having co-official status alongside Italian, particularly around the French-Italian, Austrian-Italian and Slovene-Italian borders. In some of these areas, traffic signs are in Italian plus one or two local languages. 


Italy, a member of the G8 group of leading industrialized countries, is the world’s 25th richest economy by GDP (nominal) per capita and the world’s eighth-largest economy. Following the Second World War, the country saw a dramatic shift from an economy dependent on agriculture to a leading industrialized economy dominated by automobiles and machinery, and driven by trade and exports. Italy is especially known around the world for its creativity, reflected in its fashion, design and automobile industries, and is renowned for high quality brands such as Armani, Benetton, Prada, Valentino, Versace, Benetton, Prada, Fiat, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. It is also the world’s largest producer of wine. Tourism has become increasingly important, with Italy presently the fifth-most visited country in the world. The principal exports of Italy include engineering products, machinery, textiles, footwear and apparel, chemicals, food, beverages and tobacco, automobiles, transport equipment, and minerals and non-ferrous metals. 


Italian food is known the world over for being one of the world’s richest and most varied cuisines. Due to the geography of Italy, Italian dishes vary extensively in the different regions, which all developed their respective regional dishes based on what could be grown or reared, or was accessible and available locally. Certain Italian specialties such as the ‘pizza’ (which originated in Naples) and ‘spaghetti alla Bolognese’ (from the city of Bologna) are standard Italian dishes in restaurants worldwide. Breakfast usually consists of a croissant or pastry accompanies by coffee (especially ‘cappuccino’ – strong coffee topped with frothy milk – which the Italians regard as only a morning beverage, not to be consumed after 11 a.m., and ‘espresso’, a small shot of strong black coffee). Lunch varies across the country, but working Italians in the larger cities tend to consume a ‘panino’, a sandwich (served cold or toasted) that consists of a wide, French-style baguette and is filled with meats or cheeses and sometimes salad or grilled vegetables. Dinner is usually a family affair and consists of several courses, starting with an appetizer (sliced meats, in particular) and followed by a first course (pasta or, in some areas of northern Italy, a rice dish known as a ‘risotto’ accompanied by meat or vegetables such as mushrooms or asparagus) and a second course of meat or fish, accompanied by a side dish of cooked vegetables or salad. Fish and seafood are consumed especially around the south and in coastal areas, while dishes in the north consist primarily of meat and dairy products. Food is often seasoned with herbs such as basil and oregano, to give it that distinctive Italian taste. Most meals are finished with cheese and or fresh fruit. Wine is also consumed at mealtimes.

Italian desserts also vary by region and include ice cream, fruit tart, ‘tiramisu’ (a layered dessert of sponge fingers and a whipped mixture of mascarpone cheese and egg yolks, flavored with cocoa and liquor and cocoa) and ‘zabaglione’ (a light, whipped custard dessert consisting of egg yolks, sugar and sweet Marsala wine).


Culturally, Italy has been a leading center of world culture for several centuries, which has unquestionably drawn in, and continues to draw in, high volumes of tourists, all attracted to its world-famous buildings, art galleries and museums.


Italy has been at the forefront of fine art since the Renaissance period, with highly acclaimed artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Canaletto, Raphael, Tintoretto and Titian, as well as the Italian Futurists of the early twentieth century (including Carra, Balla and Palazzeschi) and more recently Modigliani and De Chirico, all making a mark around the world. 


Italian literature has a history that goes back to the early Middle Ages and flourished in particular during the Renaissance period. There are been several celebrated and highly influential Italian writers through the centuries, including Dante, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Ariosto, Leopardi, Manzoni and Foscolo, through to more modern writers such as Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Luigi Pirandello, Primo Levi, Leonardo Sciascia, Italo Svevo and Umberto Eco.


Music has always been an important of Italy’s cultural backdrop, with Italian classical music composers such as Bellini, Puccini, Donizetti, Paganini and Verdi, and more recently a number of pop and rock artists such as Eros Rammazzotti (particularly popular in Spanish-speaking countries) and Zucchero (who has collaborated with several international artists) gaining global acclaim.


Italy’s contribution to the world of cinema is unquestionable, with prolific directors including Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Sergio Leone, Michelangelo Antonioni, Luchino Visconti, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Dario Argento, and actors such as Rudolph Valentino, Totò, Sofia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Gina Lollobrigida and Claudia Cardinale all known and loved throughout the world. In 1998, the Italian movie “Life is Beautiful” (“La vita è bella”, 1997) was nominated for seven Academy Awards, and at the 1999 ceremony won the Oscar for best actor (Roberto Benigni, who also wrote and directed the movie, best original dramatic score and best foreign language film, as well as a whole host of other international movie industry awards.


Today, Italy celebrates and supports its love of culture with several art and music festivals across the country. Prominent music festivals include the Sudtirol Jazz Festival in the South Tyrol region of Alto Adige, the Sanremo Festival of Song, Bologna’s alternative and rock music festival I-Day Festival, the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro (the birthplace of Gioachino Rossini), the Puccini Festival (dedicated to the composer Giacomo Puccini), Umbria Jazz (held in the heart of the country every summer), the Ravello Festival (dedicated to Wagner and held on the Amalfi Coast), and the Blues & Wine Soul Festival (held in Agrigento, Sicily).