Overview of Italy

Italy is a country located in southern Europe. Italy occupies a boot-shaped peninsula that extends into the Mediterranean sea from southern Europe. The country also includes two large islands, Sicily and Sardinia.
The History
Italy has had a long and colorful history. For much of its history, Italy has been divided into many small and often warring city states. This occurred after the break up of the Roman Empire when much of Europe became feudal. In 476, Odoacer defeated the last emperor of ancient Rome, Romulus Augustulus. Odoacer ruled for 13 years after gaining control. He was then attacked and defeated by Theodoric, the king of a Germanic tribe named the Ostrogoths. Both kings, Theodoric and Odoacer ruled jointly until Theodoric murdered Odoacer. Theodoric continued to rule Italy with a government comprised mostly of Italians and an army composed of Ostrogoths. During his rule, he brought peace to the country but after his death in 526, the kingdom began to grow weak. In 553, Justinian, the Byzantine emperor who ruled the eastern part of the Roman Empire, defeated the Ostrogoths and expelled them. For a time, the Old Roman Empire was united again. Byzantine rule in Italy collapsed as increased attacks from Germanic tribes weakened the empire. Byzantine rule collapsed in 572 when the Lombards invaded.
In the 400ís and 500ís the popes increased their influence in both religious and political matters in Italy and elsewhere. The popes were usually the ones who made attempts to protect Italy from foreign invasion or to soften foreign rule. The popes for almost 200 years had opposed attempts by the Lombards, who controlled most of Italy, to take over Rome. The popes defeated the Lombards with the aid of two Frankish kings, Charlemagne and Pepin the Short. The papal states were created out of land won for the popes by Pepin.
From the 10th century on, Italian cities began to grow rapidly and became increasingly independent of one another. They flourished because of their access to the Mediterranean trade routes and almost had a complete monopoly on all spice and silks coming into Europe. They became centers of political life, foreign trade and banking. At this time, the church grew in power also. The Italian popes became increasingly more involved in the European political scene. Many of these city states became extremely wealthy and powerful and resisted the attempts of noblemen and emperors to control them.
During the 1300ís, one of the greatest eras in human history occurred, The Renaissance. The Renaissance occurred primarily in Italy in the various city states. Many great artists and philosophers lived during this period and enhanced Italyís prestige.
The kingdom of Italy was formed in 1861. Five years later, in 1866, Venetia became a part of that kingdom. Rome became its capital in 1871.
Benito Mussolini became premier in 1922. In 1940, Italy entered World War II on the side of the Germans. Italy surrendered in 1943 and established a new republic in 1946.
Culture and Customs
The population of Italy is approximately 58 million people, most of whom live in the urban cities. The four largest cities in Italy, in order of population are Rome, Milan, Naples and Turin. The most densely populated areas of the country are the industrialized regions of Lombardy and Liguria in the northwest region of Campania in the south. The areas with the lowest population density are the mountains of both the north and south.
More than two thirds of Italyís population reside in cities. Most live in large, concrete apartment buildings. A few of the more wealthy people live in single-family homes. The oldest sections of an Italian city are made up o low buildings that have apartments around a central courtyard. Newer parts of the city often have larger apartment buildings. Poor neighborhoods are usually found on the outskirts of the city.
Most unmarried children live with their parents. Parents often help an adult son or daughter purchase an apartment near their own. Many young women work outside the home, and grandparents often help care for the children of working mothers. Many urban areas provide public child-care centers.
City growth and the increased use of the automobile have led to some serious problems with urban pollution in Italy. In large cities, the air pollution poses a health hazard and