Italy is a south-central European country, whose boot-shaped borders extend into the Mediterranean Sea. The country’s historical cities, world-renowned cuisine and geographic beauty make it a popular destination for more than 40 million tourists each year. The nation is home to Mount Etna, Europe’s tallest and most active volcano, and houses two countries within its borders – the Vatican and San Marino.
Italy’s history started with the Etruscans, an ancient civilization that was eventually supplanted by the Romans in the third century B.C. Italy’s city-states were the first to embrace the European renaissance. The country became unified in the 19th century.
Italy is a republic with more than 60 million people. Its capital, Rome, is its largest city. About 80 percent of Italy’s population is Christian, with most people identifying as Roman Catholic. But about 20 percent of people claim to be atheist or agnostic – despite living in the Pope’s backyard.
In some ways Italy’s economy, the fourth-largest in the eurozone, is essentially two economies: a higher growth economy in the developed industrial north and a more sluggish one in the less-developed south. Italy’s main exports are machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, apparel and wine.
From the artwork of Leonardo da Vinci to the fashion houses of Milan, Italy’s cultural influence has always been profound. Remnants of Greek, Etruscan and Roman civilization dot the peninsula. The country’s regional cuisines inspire chefs worldwide.
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While Italy may make an ideal tourist destination, life in the country is more complicated. Italy is persistently plagued by organized crime and corruption. Slowing economic growth and high youth and female unemployment remain large concerns.
Leaders have also sounded alarms over Italy's birth rate – which has recently reached historic lows – and the economic ramifications of an aging population. Tensions are simmering over immigration issues, as tens of thousands of migrants from Southeast Europe, North Africa and the Middle East try to reach Italy’s coastline. General elections scheduled for the spring of 2018 will show if voters continue to follow a populist trend in the country and across Europe.
Italy is a member of several international organizations, among them the European Union and the United Nations. It’s also a charter member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization.