Italy is a unitaryparliamentary republic in Europe. Italy covers an area of 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and has a largely temperate climate; due to its shape, it is often referred to in Italy as lo Stivale (the Boot). With 61 million inhabitants, it is the 4th most populous EU member state. Located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, San Marino and Vatican City.
For centuries divided by politics and geography until its eventual unification in 1861, Italy has developed a unique culture, shaped by a multitude of regional customs and local centres of power and patronage. During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a number of magnificent courts competed for attracting the best architects, artistis and scholars, thus producing an immense legacy of monuments, paintings, music and literature.
The country has had a broad cultural influence worldwide, also because numerous Italians emigrated to other places during the Italian diaspora. Furthermore, the nation has, overall, an estimated 100,000 monuments of any sort (museums, palaces, buildings, statues, churches, art galleries, villas, fountains, historic houses and archaeological remains).
Thanks to the great longitudinal extension of the peninsula and the mostly mountainous internal conformation, the climate of Italy is highly diverse. In most of the inland northern and central regions, the climate ranges from humid subtropical to humid continental and oceanic. In particular, the climate of the Po valley geographical region is mostly continental, with harsh winters and hot summers.
The coastal areas of Liguria, Tuscany and most of the South generally fit the Mediterranean climate stereotype (Köppen climate classification Csa). Conditions on peninsular coastal areas can be very different from the interior's higher ground and valleys, particularly during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions have mild winters and warm and generally dry summers, although lowland valleys can be quite hot in summer. Average winter temperatures vary from 0 °C (32 °F) on the Alps to 12 °C (54 °F) in Sicily, like so the average summer temperatures range from 20 °C (68 °F) to over 30 °C (86 °F).
Education in Italy is free and mandatory from ages six to sixteen, and consists of five stages: kindergarten (scuola dell'infanzia), primary school (scuola primaria), lower secondary school (scuola secondaria di primo grado), upper secondary school (scuola secondaria di secondo grado) and university (università). The Superior Graduate Schools are independent institutions similar to French Grandes écoles which offer advanced training and research through university-type courses or are dedicated to teaching at graduate or post-doctoral level.
Italy hosts a broad variety of universities, colleges and academies. Founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is likely the oldest in the world. In 2009, the University of Bologna is, according to The Times, the only Italian college in the top 200 World Universities. Milan's Bocconi University has been ranked among the top 20 best business schools in the world by The Wall Street Journal international rankings, especially thanks to its M.B.A.program, which in 2007 placed it no. 17 in the world in terms of graduate recruitment preference by major multinational companies. Bocconi was also ranked by Forbes as the best worldwide in the specific category Value for Money. In May 2008, Bocconi overtook several traditionally top global business schools in the Financial Times Executive education ranking, reaching no. 5 in Europe and no. 15 in the world.
Modern Italian cuisine has developed through centuries of social and political changes, with roots as far back as the 4th century BC. Italian cuisine in itself takes heavy influences, including Etruscan, ancient Greek, ancient Roman, Byzantine, and Jewish. Significant changes occurred with the discovery of the New World with the introduction of items such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers and maize, now central to the cuisine but not introduced in quantity until the 18th century. Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is known to be one of the most popular in the world, wielding strong influence abroad.
The Mediterranean diet forms the basis of Italian cuisine, rich in pasta, fish and vegetables and characterised by its extreme simplicity and variety, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Italian cooks rely chiefly on the quality of the ingredients rather than on elaborate preparation. Dishes and recipes are often derivatives from local and familial tradition rather than created by chefs, so many recipes are ideally suited for home cooking, this being one of the main reasons behind the ever increasing worldwide popularity of Italian cuisine, from America to Asia. Ingredients and dishes vary widely by region.
A key factor in the success of Italian cuisine is its heavy reliance on traditional products; Italy has the most traditional specialities protected under EU law. Cheese, cold cuts and wine are a major part of Italian cuisine, with many regional declinations and Protected Designation of Origin or Protected Geographical Indication labels, and along with coffee (especially espresso) make up a very important part of the Italian gastronomic culture. Desserts have a long tradition of merging local flavours such as citrus fruits, pistachio and almonds with sweet cheeses like mascarpone and ricotta or exotic tastes as cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon. Gelato, tiramisù and cassata are among the most famous examples of Italian desserts, cakes and patisserie.
Italy's official language is Italian. It is estimated that there are about 64 million native Italian speakers while the total number of Italian speakers, including those who use it as a second language, is about 85 million. Italy has numerous regional dialects, however, the establishment of a national education system has led to decrease in variation in the languages spoken across the country during the 20th century. Standardisation was further expanded in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to economic growth and the rise of mass media and television (the state broadcaster RAI helped set a standard Italian).
Several minority languages are legally
recognised: Albanian, Catalan, German, Greek, Slovene, Croatian, French, Franco-Provençal, Friulian, Ladin, Occitan and Sardinian. French is co-official in the Valle d’Aosta—although in fact Franco-Provencal is more commonly spoken there. German has the same status in South Tyrol as, in some parts of that province and in parts of the neighbouring Trentino, does Ladin.Slovene is officially recognised in the provinces of Trieste, Gorizia and Udine.
Because of significant recent immigration, Italy has sizeable populations whose native language is not Italian. According to the Italian National Institute of Statistics, Romanian is the most common mother tongue among foreign residents in Italy: almost 800,000 people speak Romanian as their first language (21.9% of the foreign residents aged 6 and over). Other prevalent mother tongues are Arabic (spoken by over 475,000 people; 13.1% of foreign residents), Albanian (380,000 people) and Spanish (255,000 people). Other languages spoken in Italy are Ukrainian, Hindi, Polish, and Tamil amongst others.