Italy is a European country, formally known as the Italian Republic. The boot-shaped peninsula has an area of 301,230 square kilometers and a population of 57.99 million. Rome is the capital of Italy and has a population of 3.8 million. Standard Italian is the official language of the country, but during an Italy cruise you will also hear French, German, Serbian, and Croation being spoken within the country. The large majority of the population is Roman Catholic, though a small minority of Jewish, Muslim and Protestant is present as well. Italy’s form of government is a Republic and the Head of State is Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and Prime Minister is Silvio Berlesconi. The major industries of the country include apparel, motor vehicles, tourism, textiles, chemicals, engineering, and food processing. Italy is a part of the European Union and its major trading partners are that of Germany, Spain, France, UK, Netherlands and the US.
Religious Significance in Italy’s Ancient History
Excavations throughout Italy have found proof of human life in Italy dating back to the "Old Stone Age" nearly 200,000 years ago. From 1800-1000 B.C., the time period known as the “Bronze Age,” the majority of Italy unified into the Apennine culture, known for its organized agricultural settlements.
Around 700 B.C. Greeks began to settle southern Italy while Etruscans were settling Northern Italy. The Etruscans in many ways came to develop a complex society. They built detailed irrigation canals, stone walled cities and immense stone temples as well as established a king-led government. Remnants of these structures can still be visited today during Italy travel. After many wars, the cultures of the Greeks of the south and Etruscans of the north blended together, resulting in the birth of the city of Rome.
Nearly 200 years later Roman aristocrats began to rebel against the Etruscan kings as democracy was budding in Athens, Greece. Etruscan rule was overthrown with the help of plebeians and slaves, and the Romans established a primitive democratic government. By 146 B.C. the entire peninsula of Italy was under Roman possession.
Due to the sheer magnitude of size of the Roman Empire, maintaining control became increasingly difficult and rebellions became more and more prevalent. In 330 A.D. the city of Rome lost its administrative power with Constantine I’s transfer of the empire headquarters from Rome to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). With this loss of power began the decline of the Roman Empire. Rome eventually fell in 476 A.D.
During the middle ages, the Papacy came to be the ruling form of government. This resulted in centuries of Popes and kingdoms battling each other for control. By about 900 A.D., Northern Italy began to divide into separate battling city-states as the Holy Roman Emperors began to lose power. In central Italy as well, the Papacy was losing power but continued to rule with the help of French kings worried about the German Holy Roman Emperors nudging farther south. The Papacy and the Holy Roman Church is still prevalent within Italy today, and a great pull for travel to Italy. In 1100 AD Southern Italy was conquered by the Normans, and remained under their rule for many years to come.
After 1300 the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire became more interested in pursuing their power in areas other than Italy. Within Italy, this created an atmosphere free of oppression, and ultimately responsible for the onset of the intellectual and artistic revival known as the Renaissance.
Legendary Italian Culture
Standard Italian is the national language of Italy, although you are likely to hear other languages spoken throughout the country during a cruise of the area. Many regional languages, or dialects of modern Italian have developed over time and though not standardized, some are so different from Standard Italian they are considered separate languages by most linguists.
Prior to the emergence of Christianity in the 1st century A.D. the majority of Italy’s population were pagan and worshiped Roman gods. Presently, 85 % of Italy’s native-born population is of the Roman Catholic faith. Six percent of the population is Protestant, Jewish or Muslim. All religious faiths are provided equal freedom before the law by the constitution. The Pope of the Roman Catholic Faith resides within the popular travel region of Rome in what is now known as Vatican City.
Because of the late unification of the various regions of the Italian peninsula in 1861, many traditions and customs that we now recognize as distinctly Italian are actually rooted in their region of origin. Another important influence on Italian culture is religion, particularly Roman Catholicism. Despite the political and social isolation of these regions in the past, Italy's contributions to the heritage of Europe remain vast.
Italy has been a starting point for many artistic and intellectual movements that moved throughout Europe and beyond, such as the Renaissance and the Baroque. Possibly one of Italy's grandest cultural accolades is in the realm of art, validated through the work of artist such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, Botticelli, Bernini, Titian and Raphael, among many others. During an Italy cruise, take advantage of the works of such legendary artists.
In addition to its great contribution to art, Italy has also had a significant impact on areas of literature, science and music. Italy produced literary figures including Leopardi, Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Castiglione; poets such as Tasso, and Ariosto; and well-known philosophers including Bruno, Ficino, Machiavelli. Italian scientists and inventors include Galileo Galilei, Fermi, Cassini, Fibonacci, Marconi and Volta. Many of the foundations of classical music originate in Italy, not to mention the invention of the piano and violin. Many existing classical music forms were developed in Italian music of the 16th and 17th century, such as the sonata, symphony, and concerto. Additionally, Italy is the birthplace of opera.
Sports popular in Italy are similar to those popular in other European countries. They include soccer, rugby, basketball, volleyball, skiing, archery, car racing, skating, and water polo. Italy recently hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, and has been participating in the summer Olympics since 1900 and the winter Olympics since 1948. The Italian Grand Prix is held at Monza and all professional soccer events are organized by The Italian Football Federation. The original theory of chess came into being during the 16th and 17th centuries in Italy.
A Taste of Italy!
The cuisine of Italy varies widely and is particular to the tastes and cultures unique to individual regions. The country of Italy was only unified in 1861, and its cuisines reflect the variety of its regions and its diverse history (with culinary influences from Greek, Roman, Norman and Arab civilization). Italian cuisine is regarded as a prime example of the Mediterranean diet, and is imitated all over the world. But there is no better place to enjoy Italian food than in the country itself.
Southern Italy grows fruits, olives and tomatoes, where irrigation is possible. Of course, Italy is known globally as one of the largest wine producers in the world. During an Italy cruise be sure to sample some wine from one of the 20 major wine regions, from Valle d’Aosta on the French border to Sardinia and Sicily in the south. Grains, sugar beets, vegetables, fruits, olives and wine grapes are also among the most important products produced in Italy.
As a general rule, northern and southern Italian cuisines are differentiated primarily by the cooking fat and style of pasta commonly used. Northern Italian cuisine favors butter, cream, Mascarpone cheese, risotto and fresh egg pasta, while Southern Italian cuisine tends toward Mozzarella cheese (usually from water buffalo), olive oil and dried pasta. Travelers will also likely find that southern Italian cuisine also uses a greater amount of tomato. Pasta and pizza play a substantial part in almost all Italian recipes.
Italy Geography: Much More than a ‘Boot’
Italy, a boot-shaped peninsula, is situated in Europe with its northern border attached to the European mainland. Mainland Italy is approximately 150 miles wide and stretches 760 miles into the Mediterranean Ocean. The country is also comprised of two large islands: Sicily and Sardinia. Sicily is the largest and most populated of all the Mediterranean islands. The second largest island but the least populated is Sardinia. Italy is the fourth largest country in Western Europe. Separating Italy in the north from France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia are the Alps. Also bordering the peninsula are the Mediterranean Sea, Adriatic Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea. In addition, Italy has two independent countries within its borders: Vatican City and San Marino. Many visitors on a tour of Italy include a trip to the Vatican City, which is the smallest country in the world and the center for the Roman Catholic Church. San Marino, on the north east coast of Italy, is an independent republic.
The Alpine regions of northern Italy contain some of the highest mountains in Europe. Many rivers flow down from the mountains towards the Po Basin, passing through the Italian Lake District (Maggiore, Como, Garda). The Po Basin is covered with rich soil and has long been one of Italy’s most prosperous regions.
The southern region of Italy consists of mile upon mile of olive trees, forests and rolling hills. Puglia, the ‘heel of the boot’ should be included in any Italy tour. The region is renowned for its whitewashed coastal homesteads, hills covered in olive groves and vineyards, and medieval villages connected by narrow, winding streets. Calabria, the ‘toe,’ is heavily forested and thinly populated. The Calabrian hills are home to bears and wolves.
Italy’s longest river, the Po River is 404 miles long. Other significant rivers of the country include the Tiber, Adige, Arno, Piave, Reno, Volturno, Tagliamento and Isonzo.
Mont Blanc is Italy’s highest point, at 15,781 feet. Italy is also home to two famous volcanoes: Mt. Vesuvius near Naples, which is currently dormant and Mt. Etna in Sicily, which is currently very active.
Enjoy the Modern History of Italy
In 1859 French and Italian forces combined to rid Italy of Austria's presence. An Italian unification movement followed under the leadership of Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the Chief Minister of Victor Emmanuel, and General Giuseppe Garibaldi, a national hero. Italians were able to declare themselves a nation-state on March 17, 1861 under king Victor Emmanuel II of the Savoy Dynasty. All states of the peninsula united with the exception of Venice and Rome, which would be added later.
In 1870 the Papal States were annexed and on September 20 of that year Rome became part of the Kingdom of Italy. Surrounded by Rome, the Vatican City is now independently recognized, but this independence was not recognized until 1929.
Italy joined World War I in 1915 in hopes of ultimately being rewarded with land. Italy plummeted into chaos and unrest that left the country highly susceptible to the fascist movement of Benito Mussolini in 1919. In October of 1922 Mussolini was named prime minister. Under this dictatorship Italy eventually joined forces with Hitler and fought for Germany’s side in WWII. When Mussolini was ousted in 1943 Italy swapped sides and fought against the Germans.
After the war, in 1946 a modern government emerged which is the government you will experience if planning Italy travel today: The Italian Republic, or Republica Italiana. With this new government in place, Italy experienced an amazing economic recovery. The country joined NATO in 1949, and has continued to prosper into the 21st century. Italy's Prime Minister today is Silvio Berlusconi.
A Look into Italian Politics
If you travel to Italy today you will be officially visiting the Italian Republic, or Republica Italiana. The legislative, executive and judicial branches govern the region.
The 1948 Constitution of Italy established a bicameral legislature, consisting of the Chamber of Deputies, having 630 members, and the Senate, made up of 315 members. The executive branch is composed of a Council of Ministers (cabinet) headed by the Prime Minister. The current constitution was adopted in 1948. The legislatures as well as representatives from all of the regions elect Italy’s President.
The President of the Republic serves seven-year terms and is elected by the parliament as well as a small number of regional delegates. The President nominates the Prime Minister, who in turn suggests other ministers to be formally named by the President. This Council of Ministers must maintain the support of both houses.
The houses of parliament are elected through a full representation system. Both houses are elected for a maximum of five years, but both may be disbanded before the completion of their term. The Italian judicial system is based on Roman law modified by the Napoleonic code. After WWII a constitutional court was created, the Corte Costituzionale that ensures the constitutionality of laws.
All Italian citizens older than 18 have the right to vote. However, to vote for the senate, the voter must be at least 25.
Italy travel includes tours to a number of the country’s regions. Italy is subdivided into 20 regions. Five of these regions enjoy a special autonomous status that enables them to enact legislation on some of their specific local matters.
Italy’s Climate from the Alps to Sicily
Although the climate varies throughout the peninsula of Italy—slightly warmer in the south and cooler in the north, Fahrenheit temperatures average in the 40’s and 50’s in most cities in the months of December through March. During travel in April and May you will likely experience temperatures in the 50’s and 60’s in April. Upper 60’s to mid 80’s average in the summer months of June through August, cooling down a few degrees in September and October. The norm lingers around the 50’s in November. Generally, the hottest month is July and the coldest month is January. If you plan to tour Italy in November, note that it is the wettest month with an average rainfall of 129mm. The driest month is July, with an average rainfall of 15mm.
Although generally temperate, winters are cold in the mountainous areas, particularly around the Alps in the north, which can suffer severe, long winters. Winters tend to be moderate in central Italy and mild and warm along the southern coast and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Summers in the north are very pleasant, dry and breezy. Summer travel in the south offers very hot and dry weather.
Since much of Italy’s land is used for farming, a large portion of the country’s vegetation has been cleared for crops. In addition, a history of forest fires and overbuilding, poaching, and little regulation with regard to hunting have strained Italy’s ecology and wildlife as a whole.
Despite this lack of regulation in the past, for a number of reasons over the past 30 years the wildlife population has been showing significant signs of recovery. One major reason for this revival is a change in the attitudes of Italians due largely in part to media awareness-raising campaigns promoted by environmental associations. Another reason for the turn-around is an increase in protected areas and a decrease in hunting.
Since many croplands and pastures in remote areas have been abandoned, Italy’s woodlands have increased from 20% to 30% of total surface area. This has allowed such animals as red and roe deer, lynx, boar and wolves to roam again along the Apennines, after being driven out over 100 years ago. Forty years ago there were less than 100 wolves in the region; today there are more than 500. Brown bears have returned to the Trentino and Friuli-Venezia-Giulia regions. Recently the European lynx has returned to the Alps and Apennines, after being seemingly extinct for the past century. And where there once was only a rare sighting, visitors can now spot thousands of pink flamingo pairs nesting along the coast.
Birds commonly seen throughout the country include grouse falcons and swallows. Marine life common to the Mediterranean Sea include sponges, sardines, swordfish, sharks, tuna, anchovies and octopi. During an Italy adventure cruise also keep an eye of for whales in the sanctuary of the Mediterranean between Liguria, the French Cote d'Azur, and Corsica.