More than half of Italy consists of the Italian Peninsula, a long projection of the continental mainland. Shaped much like a boot, the Italian Peninsula extends generally southeast into the Mediterranean Sea. The country is about 1,100 km (about 700 mi) long; the toe of the boot adds another 200 km (124 mi) or so. The mainland portion of Italy, in the north, has a maximum width of about 610 km (about 380 mi), whereas the narrower peninsula measures about 240 km (about 150 mi) across at its widest point. Except for a few parts of the Alps in northern Italy, no place in the country is more than 120 km (75 mi) from the sea.
Italy is bordered by Switzerland and Austria on the north; by Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea, on the east; by the Ionian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, on the south; on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Ligurian Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea; and on the northwest by France. It comprises, in addition to the Italian mainland, the islands of Elba, Sardinia, and Sicily, and many lesser islands. Enclaves within mainland Italy are the independent countries of San Marino and Vatican City; the latter is a papal state mostly enclosed by Rome.
The Alps extend in a wide arc along Italy’s northern frontier, from the French border on the west to the Slovenian border on the east. They include high peaks such as Monte Cervino and Monte Rosa, which rises to its highest point in Switzerland just west of the border. The highest point in Italy is near the summit of Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco), on the border of Italy, France, and Switzerland; the peak, located in France, is 4,810 m (15,782 ft). Italy’s other mountain chain, the Apennines, forms the backbone of the Italian Peninsula.
The broad Plain of Lombardy, including the valley of the Po River, spreads between the Alps and the Apennines. With the exception of this plain in the north, most of Italy is mountainous or hilly, with few large areas of level land. The Apennines run from the Gulf of Genoa on the Mediterranean coast south into Sicily. The highest peak in this chain is Monte Corno (2,912 m/9,554 ft). The Apennines form the watershed of the Italian Peninsula.
Only about one-third of the total land surface of Italy is made of plains, of which the greatest single tract is the Plain of Lombardy. The coast of Italy along the northern Adriatic Sea is low and sandy, bordered by shallow waters and, except at Venice, not readily accessible to oceangoing vessels. From a point near Rimini southward, the eastern coast of the peninsula is fringed by spurs of the Apennines. Along the middle of the western coast, however, are three stretches of low and marshy land, the Campagna di Roma, the Pontine Marshes, and the Maremma. The western coast of Italy is broken up by bays, gulfs, and other indentations, which provide a number of natural anchorages. In the northwest is the Gulf of Genoa, the harbor of the important commercial city of Genoa. Naples, another leading western coast port, is situated on the beautiful Bay of Naples, dominated by the volcano Mount Vesuvius. A little farther south is the Gulf of Salerno, at the head of which stands the port of Salerno. The southeastern end of the peninsula is deeply indented by the Gulf of Taranto, which divides the so-called heel of Italy (ancient Calabria) from the toe (modern Calabria). The Apennine range continues beneath the narrow Strait of Messina and traverses the island of Sicily, where the volcano Mount Etna is located. Another active volcano rises on Stromboli, one of the Lipari Islands (Isole Eolie), northwest of the Strait of Messina. In addition to volcanic activity, Italy is also plagued by frequent minor earthquakes, especially in the southern regions. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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