Italy, commanding a long Mediterranean coastline, has left a powerful mark on Western culture and cuisine. Its capital, Rome, is home to the Vatican as well as landmark art and ancient ruins. Other major cities include Florence, with Renaissance treasures such as Michelangelo’s "David" and its leather and paper artisans; Venice, the sinking city of canals; and Milan, Italy’s fashion capital.

Capital: Rome Currency: Euro Population: 59.83 million (2013) World Bank President: Sergio Mattarella Prime minister: Matteo Renzi.

Italy

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Italy is a unitary parliamentary 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.

Since ancient times, Greeks, Etruscans and Celts have inhabited the south, centre and north of the Italian Peninsula respectively. Rome ultimately emerged as the dominant power, conquering much of the ancient world and becoming the leading cultural, political, and religious centre of Western civilisation. The legacy of the Roman Empire is widespread and can be observed in the global distribution of civilian law, Republican governments, Christianity and the latin script.

During the Dark Ages, Italy suffered sociopolitical collapse amid calamitous barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century, numerous rival city-states (e.g. Florence) and maritime republics (e.g. Venice) rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce, and banking, and even laid the groundwork for capitalism. These independent city-states and regional republics, acting as Europe's main port of entry for Asian and Near Eastern imported goods, often enjoyed a greater degree of democracy in comparison to the monarchies and feudal states found throughout Europe at the time, though much of central Italy remained under the control of the theocratic Papal States, while Southern Italy remained largely feudal until the 19th century, partially as a result of a succession of Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Spanish, and Bourbon conquests of the region.

During the Renaissance, a period of renewed interest in humanism, science, exploration and art, Italy and the rest of Europe entered the modern era. The Italian culture flourished at this time, producing famous scholars, artists, and polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Italian explorers such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Nevertheless, Italy's importance as a commercial and political power significantly wained with the opening of trade routes from the New World, as New World imports and trade routes became more influential in Europe and bypassed the East Asian and Mediterranean trade routes that the Italian city-states had dominated. Furthermore, the Italian city-states constantly engaged one another in bloody warfare, with this tension and violent rivalry culminating in the Italian Wars of the 15th and 16th centuries, a series of wars and foreign invasions that left the Italian states vulnerable to annexation by neighboring European powers. Italy would remain politically fragmented and fall prey to occupation, colonization, conquest, and general foreign domination by European powers such as France, Spain, and later Austria, subsequently entering a long period of decline.