When you think of Italy, what springs to mind? The Leaning Tower of Pisa? Yummy pizza and pasta, perhaps? Well, there’s a lot more to this incredible country, gang - see for yourselves with our fascinating facts about Italy…
Official Name: Italian Republic
Form of Government: Republic
Population: 60, 606, 230
Official Language: Italian
Area: 301,277 square kilometres
Major Mountain Ranges: Alps, Apennines
Major Rivers: Po, Adige, Arno, Tiber
Italy is a boot-shaped peninsula that juts out of southern Europe into the Adriatic Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea, Mediterranean Sea and other waters. Its location has played an important role throughout its history.
The sea surrounds Italy, and mountains crisscross the interior, dividing the land into regions. The Alps cut across the top of the country and are streaked with long, thin glacial lakes. From the western end of the Alps, the Apennines mountains stretch south down the entire peninsula.
West of the Apennines are wooded hills that are home to many of Italy's historic cities, including Rome. In the south are hot, dry coastlands and fertile plains where olives, almonds, figs and other crops are grown.
For 22 centuries, Italians and their ancestors have hunted wild animals, cleared fields and grazed livestock. As a result, forests that once covered large areas of the country are gone. But the country's remote places still have wilderness largely untouched by humans. The lower slopes of Italy's Alps remain covered with thick forests, and above these woodlands are meadows where specially adapted wildflowers bloom.
Amongst the amazing mammals found in Italy are the Eurasian lynx, Italian wolf, Roe deer and Etruscan shrew - the smallest land mammal in the world! Sadly, however, human activity and habitat loss has put much of Italy’s awesome animals under threat. To help protect them, National Parks have been set up, such as Abruzzo National Park - the only place in the world where the critically endangered Marsican brown bear can be found.
Throughout Italy, millions of beautiful birds stop to rest during their annual migration to Africa.
Italy's location on the Mediterranean linked it with the trade routes of the ancient civilisations that developed in the region. With the city of Rome's rise to power, the Italian peninsula became the centre of a huge empire that lasted for centuries.
Italy's first societies emerged around 1200 BC. Around 800 BC, Greeks settled in the south and a civilisation called the Etruscans arose in central Italy.
By the sixth century BC, the Etruscans had created a group of states called Etruria. Meanwhile, Latin and Sabine people south of Etruria merged to form a strong city-state called Rome.
Etruscan kings ruled Rome for nearly a hundred years. But the Romans kicked out the Etruscans in 510 BC and went on to conquer the whole peninsula. They then set out to build a vast empire which, at its greatest extent in AD 117, stretched from Portugal to Syria to Britain to North Africa. Pretty huge, eh?
The first sole emperor of Rome, Octavian, took power in 27 BC and took the name Augustus Caesar. The empire flourished for more than 400 years, but by the fourth century AD it was in decline. In 395, the empire was split in two, and in 476, Germanic tribes from the north toppled the last emperor.
In the 12th century, Italian city-states began to rise again and grow rich on trade. But Italy remained a patchwork of territories, some of which were controlled by foreign powers. Beginning in 1859, an uprising forced the foreigners out, and in 1861 the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed.
In 1914, Italy took the side of the United Kingdom and the United States in World War I, but was left in poverty at war's end. Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party rose to power soon after, promising to restore Italy to its former glory. He ruled as a dictator and entered World War II on the side of Germany and Japan. In the final days of the war in 1945, Mussolini was captured and executed.
Throughout history, Italian art, architecture and culture have had an influence around the world. Famed Italian painters include Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Italy is also at the heart of the Catholic Church, which is governed from the Vatican City, a city-state surrounded by Rome.
The family is at the centre of Italian society. Young people often live at home until they are in their 30s, even if they have a job. When parents retire, they often go to live with their children.
Italians are also known for their love of food! Many Italian dishes have become popular worldwide, such as their famous pizza Margherita, spaghetti Bolognese and super-tasty tiramisu!
In Italy, politics can often be exciting and noisy. Crowds gather in the streets to protest government policies or to show support for their party.
Since World War II, Italy has enjoyed an economic transformation. Industry grew, and by the mid-1960s, Italy had become one of the world's leading economies. Today, the country’s main exports include machinery, vehicles, pharmaceuticals, plastics and clothing. Tourism is also an important part of Italy’s economy, with millions of people visiting every year to enjoy the country’s famous cities, historical buildings and beautiful beaches!