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The period in Europe known as the Renaissance began in Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries and the literary works of that time, such as the poetry of Petrarch, Tasso, and Ariosto and the prose and poetry of Dante, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and Castiglione, had a lasting influence on the subsequent development of Western civilization, together with 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 set the base for the composers of the 19th century and Italian romantic opera flourished under composers Gioacchino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Giacomo Puccini, Gaetano Donizetti and Vincenzo Bellini. Contemporary Italian artists, writers, filmmakers, architects, composers, and designers still contribute significantly to Western culture, and well-known to film-goers are the directors and producers such as Sergio Leone, Roberto Rossellini, Federico Fellini, Bernardo Bertolucci and Vittorio De Sica.

Italian style and Italian design interior décor is world-famous, not just for kitchens and bathrooms but for terracotta designs dating from Roman and even Etruscan times. Throughout Italy are the many museums that highlight the art and culture of Italy and many famous monuments and buildings, including the leaning tower of Pisa and the Roman Colosseum.

Football, although a sport, also is a part of popular culture, as it is the main national sport for which the Italians are well-known for their passion. Dancing also, as in many other countries, has a central role in Italian popular culture. The folkdance to the music of the Tarantella, which dates back to the Middle Ages, is said to be the most well-known song and dance of all the Italian folkdancing music. An essential part of the traditional Italian wedding, the Tarantella varies according to the part of Italy and can be heard, if not danced to, in restaurants and pizzerias throughout the country.

But Italian cultural officials are speaking of a deepening crisis in the preservation of the Italian heritage. Floods and looting, and builders who have quarried ancient marble for homes, have all taken their toll of the cultural heritage of Italy - and now cultural officials say they are worried about simple neglect and lack of public money. One of Rome's most important buildings, Castel Sant'Angelo, the grand papal refuge, is said to be on the verge of "collapse" and the government has been forced to arrange emergency money quickly for its preservation.

According to the Culture Ministry, the nation's inventory of cultural pieces is 4.7 million, spread out over 600,000 sites around the country. One study shows that Italy's entire cultural budget, including its funds for personnel and restoration, was less than half of what was needed just for adequate physical upkeep of its cultural sites and objects. One idea is to ask the Italian people to begin to donate beyond what they already pay in taxes and a series of advertisements are being aired on television showing the David with leg amputated and Jesus rubbed out of de Vinci´s Last Supper.

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