Italy (Italian Italia), republic in southern Europe, on the northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Most of Italy consists of a boot-shaped peninsula that juts out from southern Europe into the Mediterranean. Italy also includes the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Sicily and many lesser islands. Italy is blessed with varied and splendid landscapes, and because of its location most of the country enjoys sunshine and a mild Mediterranean climate.
Italy was the heart of the ancient Roman Empire, which united the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea and spread the civilizations of ancient Greece and Rome through much of Europe. After the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century ad, Italy’s political unity was lost. But Rome, under the Roman Catholic Church, remained the spiritual center of western Europe.
In the late Middle Ages northern Italian cities such as Florence, Venice, and Milan became prosperous commercial centers. In these cities the rebirth of classical culture known as the Renaissance began in the 14th century. Italian Renaissance painters, sculptors, writers, and architects were admired and imitated all over Europe, while Italy’s many small states became pawns in power struggles between France, Spain, and Austria. Italian nationalism emerged as a powerful force in the 19th century, and a united Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed in 1861. In 1946, after World War II, the monarchy was abolished and the Italian Republic was established. Since then, Italy has had a succession of governments, dominated during most of that period by the center-right, with the left in opposition. Rome is the capital and largest city of Italy, but nearly all of Italy’s towns and cities retain artistic treasures and other reminders of Italy’s cultural heritage. © "Italy" © Emmanuel Buchot and Encarta
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