land of painters to popes, pasta to polenta, medieval castles to
ice-capped mountains. And most importantly, the land of love. Thanks
to its breathtaking landscapes (captured by pen and paintbrush by
some of the world’s greatest artists), it’s developed
a reputation for being one of the most romantic countries in the
And if you aren’t ready to fall in love with another person,
you will definitely fall in love with the country itself. The history.
The culture. The cuisine. The clothes. No wonder Italy is sometimes
called “Il Belpaese”, meaning “beautiful country”.
Located in Southern Europe, the Republic of Italy
is composed of the Po River Valley, the Italian Peninsula, Sicily
and Sardinia (the two biggest isles in the Mediterranean), and the
commune of Campione d'Italia. Within its borders are the independent
countries of San Marino and the Vatican. The Principality of Monaco,
Nice, Italian Switzerland, the Istrian peninsula, Corsico and Malta
are also not part of the territory.
You can easily spot Italy on a map — it’s
shaped like a boot (hence the local nickname, ‘lo stivale’).
The north is embroidered by the snowy Alps, which it shares with
France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The deep blue ocean surrounds
the rest of this peninsula: the Adriatic to the northeast, the Tyrrhenian
Sea to the southwest, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Ligurian
to the northwest. It shares these waters with Croatia, Slovenia
While Italy is best known for the Venice canals,
its major waterway is the Po River (the largest in the country)
and its many tributaries. Other important geographical features
are its two famous volcanoes, Vesuvius (now dormant) and Etna. Italy
also has many mountains, making it ideal skiing country, but its
highest point is Mont Blanc (4,810 metres or 15,781 feet high).
Italy’s diverse landscape also leads to
equally diverse climates. In the north, summers are very hot and
winters are very cold (especially in the alps, where the temperatures
can get very harsh). The climate evens out as you head south, though
the regions south of Rome can have a few weeks of extremely hot
weather when the African wind Sirocco passes through.
Those who wish to visit Italy should schedule
the trip during April to May (spring) and October to November (autumn),
when temperatures are at their most pleasant. Avoid going there
during August, which coincides with the locals’ vacation time
— you’ll find many of the shops closed.
As a major seaport (and at points in its history,
a major political power), Italy has been a melting pot of many cultures:
Germanic, Celtic, Norman, Frankish, Byzantine.
Because of the country’s diverse heritage,
and the many periods of prosperity its various cities enjoyed, Italy
was home to some of the world’s greatest artists, and most
beautiful masterpieces of architecture, painting and sculpture.
No art student can study the development of European culture without
encountering the Italian Renaissance and Baroque, or complete one’s
degree without studying the works of Italian masters like Michelangelo,
Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli, Fra Angelico, Tintoretto,
Caravaggio, Bernini, Titian and Raphael. Its churches and villas
are some of the most admired in the world, and in fact the country
enjoys the distinction having the largest number of UNESCO World
Heritage Sites (41 as of July 13, 2006).
Italy has also left its mark in literature, due
to the work of the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri, whose Divine
Comedy is said to be one the most important European works
of the Medieval period. Other well known writers are Boccaccio,
Giacomo Leopardi, Alessandro Manzoni, Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto, and
Petrarca. In Philosophy, Italy is known for Machiavelli, Vico, and
Bruno. The great literary tradition was continued by modern writers
like Nobel Laureate Giosuè Carducci, Grazia Deledda, Luigi
Pirandello, Salvatore Quasimodo, Eugenio Montale and Dario Fo.
Italian scientists have also been responsible
for some of the biggest breakthroughs: Galileo Galilei, Fermi, Cassini,
Marconi, Meucci. Leonardo Da Vinci, while better known for his art,
was also an inventor.
Italy is also credited to have been the birthplace
of the piano and the violin, and classical musical forms like the
symphony, sonata and concerto. Some of the world’s greatest
composers, like Vivaldi, Corelli, Paganini, Rossini, Verdi and Puccini
were Italian, while Berio and Nono introduced the world to electronic
Italy is also home to some of the world’s
greatest fashion houses, and Milan is counted as one of the world’s