May 23, 2012, 7:40 am
Source: CIA World Factbook
Content Cover Image

The Vittorio Emanuele Bridge over the Tiber River in Rome with Vatican City (and St. Peter's Basilica) in the background.

Italy is a nation of 61 million people in southern Europe. It is a peninsula extending into the central Mediterranean Sea, northeast of Tunisia and also includes the major Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Sicily.

Its major environmental issues include:

  • air pollution from industrial emissions such as sulfur dioxide;
  • coastal and inland rivers polluted from industrial and agricultural effluents;
  • acid rain damaging lakes; and,
  • inadequate industrial waste treatment and disposal facilities

Different regions of Italy are susceptible various natural hazards such as landslides, mudflows, avalanches, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, flooding. The city of Venice is impacted by land subsidence.

Italy became a nation-state in 1861 when the regional states of the peninsula, along with Sardinia and Sicily, were united under King Victor Emmanuel II.

An era of parliamentary government came to a close in the early 1920s when Benito Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship. His alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy's defeat in World War II.

A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946 and economic revival followed.

Italy was a charter member of NATO and the European Economic Community (EEC). It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999.

Persistent problems include illegal immigration (Italy's long coastline and developed economy entices tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from southeastern Europe and northern Africa), organized crime, corruption, high unemployment, sluggish economic growth, and the low incomes and technical standards of southern Italy compared with the prosperous north.

Italy has a strategic location dominating central Mediterranean as well as southern sea and air approaches to Western Europe


Location: Southern Europe, a peninsula extending into the central Mediterranean Sea, northeast of Tunisia

Geographic Coordinates: 42 50 N, 12 50 E

Area: 301,340 sq km(land: 294,140 sq km; water: 7,200 sq km). Note: includes Sardinia and Sicily

Land Boundaries:  1,899.2 km (Austria 430 km, France 488 km, Holy See (Vatican City) 3.2 km, San Marino 39 km, Slovenia 199 km, Switzerland 740 km)

Coastline: 7,600 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
continental shelf: 200 m depth or to the depth of exploitation

Natural Hazards: regional risks include landslides, mudflows, avalanches, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, flooding; land subsidence in Venice.

Terrain: mostly rugged and mountainous; some plains, coastal lowlands.  The highest point is Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco) de Courmayeur (4,748 m) (a secondary peak of Mont Blanc).

Climate: predominantly Mediterranean; Alpine in far north; hot, dry in south.


Topographic map of Italy. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Italy experiences significant volcanic activity.

Etna (elev. 3,330 m), which is in eruption as of 2010, is Europe's most active volcano. Flank eruptions pose a threat to nearby Sicilian villages. Etna, along with the famous Vesuvius, which remains a threat to the millions of nearby residents in the Bay of Naples area, have both been deemed "Decade Volcanoes" by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior, worthy of study due to their explosive history and close proximity to human populations.

Stromboli, on its namesake island, has also been continuously active with moderate volcanic activity.

Other historically active volcanoes include Campi Flegrei, Ischia, Larderello, Pantelleria, Vulcano, and Vulsini

Ecology and Biodiversity

See: Ecoregions of Italy

1. Alps conifer and mixed forests

2. Po Basin mixed forests

3. Italian sclerophyllous and semi-deciduous forests

4. Appenine deciduous montane forests

5. South Appenine mixed montane forests

6. Tyrrhenian-Adriatic sclerophyllous and mixed forests

7. Northeastern Spain and Southern France Mediterranean forests

8. Illyrian deciduous forests

9. Dinaric Mountains mixed forests

Map source: World Wildlife Fund

People and Society

Population: 61,261,254 (July 2012 est.)

Italy is largely homogeneous linguistically and religiously but is diverse culturally, economically, and politically. Italy has the fifth-highest population density in Europe--about 200 persons per square kilometer (about 500 per sq. mi.). Minority groups are small, the largest being the German-speaking people of Bolzano Province and the Slovenes around Trieste. There are also small communities of Albanian, Greek, Ladino, and French origin. Immigration has increased in recent years; however, the Italian population is declining overall due to low birth rates. Although Roman Catholicism is the majority religion--85% of native-born citizens are nominally Catholic--the constitution provides for freedom of religion.

Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) spans the Arno River in Florence; since Medieval times it has hosted shops and merchants along its length.
Malcesine is an old medieval town on the eastern shore of Lago di Garda, Italy's largest lake.
The Alps march across this image of Autumnal (early October) southern Europe. On either side of and above the Alps are the countries of (from left to right) France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, and Slovenia, while below the Alps is Italy. The Mediterranean and Ligurian Seas sit to the west of Italy, while to the right is the Adriatic Sea. As the season progresses, snow begins to whiten the Alps. Image courtesy of NASA.
The village of San Pietro (Saint Peter) is at the entrance of Val Gardena (Gardena Valley) in the Dolomites.
The Castel Sant'Angelo along the Tiber River in Rome is also known as the Mausoleum of Hadrian. The Roman emperor built it as a tomb for himself and his family around A.D. 135. Succeeding emperors were also entombed there. The structure was in turn a fortress, a castle, and a museum.
Positano is a small, picturesque town on the Amalfi coast. In the 16th and 17th centuries, at the peak of its importance, it was the main port of the Amalfi Republic, but by the first half of the 20th century, it was a poor fishing village. In the 1950s, it emerged as a tourist attraction.

Ethnic Groups: Italian (includes small clusters of German-, French-, and Slovene-Italians in the north and Albanian-Italians and Greek-Italians in the south)

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 13.8% (male 4,315,292/female 4,124,624)
15-64 years: 65.9% (male 19,888,901/female 20,330,495)
65 years and over: 20.3% (male 5,248,418/female 7,109,074) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: 0.38% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 9.06 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 9.93 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: 4.67 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 81.86 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 1.4 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Italian (official), German (parts of Trentino-Alto Adige region are predominantly German speaking), French (small French-speaking minority in Valle d'Aosta region), Slovene (Slovene-speaking minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area)

Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write)98.4% (2001 census)

Urbanization: 68% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 0.5% (2010-15 est.)

Italy's Cultural Contributions
Europe's Renaissance period began in Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries. Literary achievements--such as the poetry of Petrarch, Tasso, and Ariosto and the prose of Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and Castiglione--exerted a tremendous and lasting influence on the subsequent development of Western civilization, as did the painting, sculpture, and architecture contributed by giants such as da Vinci, Raphael, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, and Michelangelo.

The musical influence of Italian composers Monteverdi, Palestrina, and Vivaldi proved epochal; in the 19th century, Italian romantic opera flourished under composers Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Giacomo Puccini. Contemporary Italian artists, writers, filmmakers, architects, composers, and designers contribute significantly to Western culture.


Greeks settled in the southern tip of the Italian Peninsula in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.; Etruscans, Romans, and others inhabited the central and northern mainland. The peninsula was subsequently unified under the Roman Republic. The neighboring islands came under Roman control by the third century B.C.; by the first century A.D., the Roman Empire effectively dominated the Mediterranean world.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West in the fifth century A.D., the peninsula and islands were subjected to a series of invasions and lost political unity. Italy became an oft-changing succession of small states, principalities, and kingdoms, which fought among themselves and were subject to ambitions of foreign powers.

Popes of Rome ruled central Italy; rivalries between the popes and the Holy Roman Emperors, who claimed Italy as their domain, often made the peninsula a battleground. Beginning in the 11th century, the commercial prosperity of northern and central Italian cities, combined with the influence of the Renaissance, somewhat mitigated the effects of these medieval political rivalries.

Although Italy declined after the 16th century, the Renaissance had strengthened the idea of a single Italian nationality. By the early 19th century, a nationalist movement developed and led to the reunification of Italy--except for Rome--in the 1860s. In 1861, Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy was proclaimed King of Italy. Rome was incorporated in 1870. From 1870 until 1922, Italy was a constitutional monarchy with a parliament elected under limited suffrage.

20th-Century History
During World War I, Italy renounced its standing alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary and, in 1915, entered the war on the side of the Allies. Under the postwar settlement, Italy received some former Austrian territory along the northeast frontier. In 1922, Benito Mussolini came to power and, over the next few years, eliminated political parties, curtailed personal liberties, and installed a fascist dictatorship termed the Corporate State. The king, with little or no effective power, remained titular head of state.

Italy allied with Germany and declared war on the United Kingdom and France in 1940. In 1941, Italy--with the other Axis powers, Germany and Japan--declared war on the United States and the Soviet Union. Following the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, the King dismissed Mussolini and appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio as Premier. The Badoglio government declared war on Germany, which quickly occupied most of the country and freed Mussolini, who led a brief-lived regime in the north. An anti-fascist popular resistance movement grew during the last 2 years of the war, harassing German forces before they were driven out by Allied forces in April 1945. A 1946 plebiscite ended the monarchy, and a constituent assembly was elected to draw up plans for the republic.

Under the 1947 peace treaty, minor adjustments were made in Italy's frontier with France, the eastern border area was transferred to Yugoslavia, and the area around the city of Trieste was designated a free territory. In 1954, the free territory, which had remained under the administration of U.S.-U.K. forces (Zone A, including the city of Trieste) and Yugoslav forces (Zone B), was divided between Italy and Yugoslavia, principally along the zonal boundary. This arrangement was made permanent by the Italian-Yugoslav Treaty of Osimo, ratified in 1977 (currently being discussed by Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia). Under the 1947 peace treaty, Italy also relinquished its overseas territories and certain Mediterranean islands.

The Roman Catholic Church's status in Italy has been determined, since its temporal powers ended in 1870, by a series of accords with the Italian Government. Under the Lateran Pacts of 1929, which were confirmed by the present constitution, Vatican City is recognized by Italy as an independent, sovereign entity. While preserving that recognition, in 1984, Italy and the Vatican updated several provisions of the 1929 accords. Included was the end of Roman Catholicism as Italy's formal state religion.


Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum. The constitution came into force on January 1, 1948.

The 1948 constitution established a bicameral parliament (Chamber of Deputies and Senate), an independent judiciary, and an executive branch composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet), headed by the president of the council (prime minister). The president of the republic is elected for 7 years by the parliament sitting jointly with a small number of regional delegates. The president nominates the prime minister, who chooses the other ministers. The Council of Ministers--in practice composed mostly of members of parliament--must retain the confidence of both houses.

The houses of parliament are popularly and directly elected by a proportional representation system. Under 2005 legislation, the Chamber of Deputies has 630 members (12 of whom are elected by Italians abroad). In addition to 315 elected members (six of whom are elected by Italians abroad), the Senate includes former presidents and several other persons appointed for life according to special constitutional provisions. Both houses are elected for a maximum of 5 years, but either may be dissolved before the expiration of its normal term. Legislative bills may originate in either house and must be passed by a majority in both.

Government Type: Republic

Capital: Rome; 3.357 million (2009)

Other Major Cities: Milan 2.962 million; Naples 2.27 million; Turin 1.662 million; Palermo 872,000 (2009)

Administrative divisions: The Italian state is centralized. The prefect of each of the provinces is appointed by and answerable to the central government. In addition to the provinces, the constitution provides for 20 regions with limited governing powers. Five regions--Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige, Valle d'Aosta, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia--function with special autonomy statutes (regioni autonome, singular - regione autonoma). The other 15 regions (regioni, singular - regione) were established in 1970 and vote for regional "councils." The establishment of regional governments throughout Italy has brought some decentralization to the national governmental machinery, and recent governments have devolved further powers to the regions. Many regional governments, particularly in the north of Italy, are seeking additional powers.

  1. Abruzzo
  2. Basilicata
  3. Calabria
  4. Campania
  5. Emilia-Romagna
  6. Lazio (Latium)
  7. Liguria
  8. Lombardia
  9. Marche
  10. Molise
  11. Piemonte (Piedmont)
  12. Puglia (Apulia)
  13. Toscana (Tuscany)
  14. Umbria
  15. Veneto (Venetia)
Autonomous regions:
  1. Friuli-Venezia Giulia
  2. Sardegna (Sardinia)
  3. Sicilia (Sicily)
  4. Trentino-Alto Adige (Trentino-South Tyrol) or Trentino-Suedtirol (German)
  5. Valle d'Aosta (Aosta Valley) or Vallee d'Aoste (French)

Independence Date:  17 March 1861 (Kingdom of Italy proclaimed; Italy was not finally unified until 1870)

Legal System: civil law system; judicial review under certain conditions in Constitutional Court.  Italy has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; but accepts International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction

The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code and subsequent statutes. There is only partial judicial review of legislation in the American sense. A constitutional court, which passes on the constitutionality of laws, is a post-World War II innovation. Its powers and the volume and frequency of its decisions are not as extensive as those of the U.S. Supreme Court.

This southerly-looking view taken from onboard the space shuttle, shows the triangular-shaped island of Sicily. With only very limited coastal plains, the island's topography consists of rugged hills and low mountains. Snow-capped Mt. Etna is visible near the northeast point of the island. Some other distinctive features in this image are the lighter-colored zone of suspended sediment in the water along the southern coast, in the middle distance, the smaller islands of Malta, and off to the south, across the Mediterranean, the north African shore. Image courtesy of NASA.


International Environmental Agreements

Italy is party to international agrements on: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Sulfur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.

The Grand Canal curves in a great “S” through the heart of the red tile roofs of Venice, Italy, in this Ikonos image, acquired on April 2, 2001. The Canal is the main thorough-fare through the city, which is built on 118 tiny islands linked by canals and bridges. The city sits in the center of the Laguna Venetta, three kilometers from the Italian mainland and three kilometers from the Adriatic Sea. Boats, the primary form of transportation, can be seen as small white strips in the Grand Canal and the water around the island. In the large image, the causeway leading to the mainland stretches northwest from the island. The narrow length of land east of Venice, which is covered by the city of Lido, separates the Laguna from the Adriatic.

Founded in the fifth century, Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its architecture and art. Some of the city’s most famous sites are visible in this image. The large square on the right edge of the image where the Canal widens into the Laguna is St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco). St. Mark’s Basilica sits on the far right side of the square. South of the Basilica, the Palazzo Ducale forms a stark, white “U.”

This image also emphasizes Venice’s fragility. Like the fabled city of Atlantis, the city is at risk of being submerged. Autumn and winter high tides flood city streets and raise water levels on the canals, making it difficult or impossible for boats to squeeze under the bridges. The high tides, called aqua alta, are also eroding the foundations of buildings, which are tightly packed along the edge of the canals and the city’s outer shores.

Source: NASA. Image by Robert Simmon, NASA’s Earth Observatory, based on data copyright Space Imaging



Total Renewable Water Resources: 175 cu km (2005)

Freshwater Withdrawal: 41.98 cu km/yr (18% domestic, 37% industrial, 45% agricultural)

Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 723 cu m/yr (1998)


Agricultural products: fruits, vegetables, grapes, potatoes, sugar beets, soybeans, grain, olives; beef, dairy products; fish

Irrigated Land: 39,500 sq km (2008)


Italy has few natural resources. With much land unsuited for farming, Italy is a net food importer. There are no substantial deposits of iron, coal, or oil. Proven natural gas reserves, mainly in the Po Valley and offshore in the Adriatic, constitute the country's most important mineral resource. Most raw materials needed for manufacturing and more than 80% of the country's energy sources are imported. Italy's economic strength is in the processing and the manufacturing of goods, primarily in small and medium-sized family-owned firms. Its major industries are precision machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electric goods, tourism, fashion, and clothing.

Natural Resources: coal, mercury, zinc, potash, marble, barite, asbestos, pumice, fluorspar, feldspar, pyrite (sulfur), natural gas and crude oil reserves, fish, arable land

Land Use:

arable land: 26.41%
permanent crops: 9.09%
other: 64.5% (2005)


The Italian economy has changed dramatically since the end of World War II. From an agriculturally based economy, it has developed into an industrial state ranked as the world's eighth-largest market economy. Italy belongs to the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations; it is a member of the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Italy has a diversified industrial economy, which is divided into a developed industrial north, dominated by private companies, and a less-developed, welfare-dependent, agricultural south, with high unemployment.

The Italian economy is driven in large part by the manufacture of high-quality consumer goods produced by small and medium-sized enterprises, many of them family owned.

Italy also has a sizable underground economy, which by some estimates accounts for as much as 17% of GDP. These activities are most common within the agriculture, construction, and service sectors.

Italy is the third-largest economy in the euro-zone, but exceptionally high public debt burdens and structural impediments to growth have rendered it vulnerable to scrutiny by financial markets. Public debt has increased steadily since 2007, reaching 120% of GDP in 2011, and borrowing costs on sovereign government debt have risen to record levels.

Italy continues to grapple with budget deficits and high public debt. Italy joined the European Monetary Union (EMU) in 1998 by signing the Stability and Growth Pact, and as a condition of this Euro zone membership, Italy must keep its budget deficit beneath a 3% ceiling. The Italian Government has found it difficult to bring the budget deficit down to a level that would allow a rapid decrease of the debt.

During the second half of 2011 the government passed a series of three austerity packages to balance its budget by 2013 and decrease its public debt burden. These measures included a hike in the value-added tax, pension reforms, and cuts to public administration.

The government also faces pressure from investors and European partners to address Italy's long-standing structural impediments to growth, such as an inflexible labor market and widespread tax evasion. The international financial crisis worsened conditions in Italy's labor market, with unemployment rising from 6.2% in 2007 to 8.4% in 2011, but in the longer-term Italy's low fertility rate and quota-driven immigration policies will increasingly strain its economy.

The euro-zone crisis along with Italian austerity measures have reduced exports and domestic demand, slowing Italy's recovery. Italy's GDP is still 5% below its 2007 pre-crisis level.

Prime Minister Mario Monti has announced plans to balance the budget by 2013 through EU-prescribed austerity measures, including tax increases and spending cuts.

Italy's closest trade ties are with the other countries of the European Union, with whom it conducts about 58.1% of its total trade (2009 data). Italy's largest European Union trade partners, in order of market share, are Germany (12.7%), France (11.6%), Spain (5.7%), and the United Kingdom (5.1%). Italy continues to grapple with the effects of globalization, where certain countries (notably China) have eroded the Italian lower-end industrial product sector.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $1.822 trillion (2011 est.)

GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $2.246 trillion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $30,100 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 1.9%
industry: 25.2%
services: 72.9% (2011 est.)

Industries: tourism, machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, food processing, textiles, motor vehicles, clothing, footwear, ceramics

Currency: Euros (EUR)

See: Energy profile of Italy




Agency, C., & Department, U. (2012). Italy. Retrieved from


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