Italy officially the Italian Republic is a unitaryparliamentary republic in Europe. Italy covers an area of 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and has a largely temperate climate; due to its shape, it is often referred to in Italy as lo Stivale (the Boot). With 61 million inhabitants, it is the 4th most populous EU member state. Located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France,Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, San Marino and Vatican City.

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Since ancient times, Greek, Etruscan, Celtic, and other cultures have thrived on the Italian Peninsula. Rome ultimately emerged as the dominant power, conquering much of the ancient world and becoming the leading cultural, political, and religious centre of Western civilisation. During the Dark Ages, the region suffered sociopolitical collapse amid calamitousbarbarian invasions, but by the 11th century, numerous Italian city-states rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking, and even laid the groundwork for capitalism. The Renaissance led to a flourishing of Italian culture, producing famous scholars, artists, and polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Italian explorers such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery.

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Christopher Columbus ships.

Excavations throughout Italy revealed a Neanderthal presence dating back to the Paleolithic period, some 200,000 years ago; modern Humans arrived about 40,000 years ago. The Ancient peoples of pre-Roman Italy – such as the Umbrians, the Latins (from which the Romans emerged), Volsci, Samnites, the Celts and the Ligures which inhabited northern Italy, and many others – were Indo-Europeanpeoples; the main historic peoples of non-Indo-European heritage include the Etruscans, the Elymians and Sicani in Sicily and the prehistoric Sardinians.

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The Rome Colosseum.

Italy is located in Southern Europe, between latitudes 35° and 47° N, and longitudes 6° and 19° E. To the north, Italy borders France,Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia, and is roughly delimited by the Alpine watershed, enclosing the Po Valley and the Venetian Plain. To the south, it consists of the entirety of the Italian Peninsula and the two Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia, in addition to many smaller islands. The sovereign states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italy, while Campione d’Italia is an Italianexclave in Switzerland.

The country’s total area is 301,230 square kilometres (116,306 sq mi), of which 294,020 km2 (113,522 sq mi) is land and 7,210 km2(2,784 sq mi) is water. Including the islands, Italy has a coastline and border of 7,600 kilometres (4,722 miles) on the Adriatic, Ionian,Tyrrhenian seas (740 km (460 mi)), and borders shared with France (488 km (303 mi)), Austria (430 km (267 mi)), Slovenia (232 km (144 mi)) and Switzerland (740 km (460 mi)). San Marino (39 km (24 mi)) and Vatican City (3.2 km (2.0 mi)), both enclaves, account for the remainder.

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Odle mountains chain separating the Funes valley from the Gardena valley, taken from the Seceda refuge, Italian Alps.

The Apennine Mountains form the peninsula’s backbone and the Alps form most of its northern boundary, where Italy’s highest point is located on Mont Blanc (4,810 m/15,782 ft). The Po, Italy’s longest river (652 km/405 mi), flows from the Alps on the western border with France and crosses the Padan plain on its way to the Adriatic Sea. The five largest lakes are, in order of diminishing size: Garda(367.94 km2 or 142 sq mi), Maggiore (212.51 km2 or 82 sq mi, shared with Switzerland), Como (145.9 km2 or 56 sq mi), Trasimeno(124.29 km2 or 48 sq mi) and Bolsena (113.55 km2 or 44 sq mi).

The country is situated at the meeting point of the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate, leading to considerable seismic and volcanic activity. There are 14 volcanoes in Italy, four of which are active: Etna (the traditional site of Vulcan’s smithy), Stromboli, Vulcano and Vesuvius. Vesuvius is the only active volcano in mainland Europe and is most famous for the destruction of Pompeii and Herculanum. Several islands and hills have been created by volcanic activity, and there is still a large active caldera, the Campi Flegrei north-west of Naples.

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Vesuvius volcano, responsible of the destruction of Pompeii and Herculanum.

Although the country comprises the Italian peninsula and most of the southern Alpine basin, some of Italy’s territory extends beyond the Alpine basin and some islands are located outside the Eurasian continental shelf.

After its quick industrial growth, Italy took a long time to confront its environmental problems. After several improvements, it now ranks 84th in the world for ecological sustainability. National parks cover about five percent of the country. In the last decade, Italy has become one of the world’s leading producers of renewable energy, ranking as the world’s fourth largest holder of installed solar energy capacity and the sixth largest holder of wind power capacity in 2010. Renewable energies now make up about 12% of the total primary and final energy consumption in Italy, with a future target share set at 17% for the year 2020.

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Solar farm constructed in the region of Umbria, Italy.

Thanks to the great longitudinal extension of the peninsula and the mostly mountainous internal conformation, the climate of Italy is highly diverse. In most of the inland northern and central regions, the climate ranges from humid subtropical to humid continental and oceanic. In particular, the climate of the Po valley geographical region is mostly continental, with harsh winters and hot summers.

The coastal areas of Liguria, Tuscany and most of the South generally fit the Mediterranean climate stereotype (Köppen climate classification Csa). Conditions on peninsular coastal areas can be very different from the interior’s higher ground and valleys, particularly during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy. The coastal regions have mild winters and warm and generally dry summers, although lowland valleys can be quite hot in summer. Average winter temperatures vary from 0 °C(32 °F) on the Alps to 12 °C (54 °F) in Sicily, like so the average summer temperatures range from 20 °C (68 °F) to over 30 °C(86 °F).

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Portions of Italy are included in the Mediterranean Basin biodiversity hotspot. Important terrestrial ecoregions include the: Illyrian deciduous forests, the Italian sclerophyllous and semi-deciduous forests, the South Apennine mixed montane forests, the Tyrrhenian-Adriatic sclerophyllous and mixed forests, Apennine deciduous montane forests, the Dinaric Mountains mixed forests(Trieste) and the Po Basin mixed forests. There are also many cave systems significant for Biodiversity.

There are 102 mammal species in Italy. Some of the species are Alpine Marmot, forest dormouse, Etruscan shrew (the smallest mammal in the world), European snow vole, andSchreiber’s long-fingered bat. Notable large mammals are the Eurasian lynx, Italian wolf, Marsican brown bear, Pyrenean chamois, Alpine ibex, common genet, axis deer,mouflon, rough-toothed dolphin and Mediterranean monk seal.

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Etruscan Shrew, one of the smallest mammals in the world.

Italy has recorded 516 bird species. Notable birds are the hoopoe, roller, white-backed woodpecker, black woodpecker, European green woodpecker, Alpine chough, snow finch, rock partridge, Bonelli’s eagle, goshawk, eagle owl, lammergeier, Egyptian vulture, griffon vulture,collared pratincole, glossy ibis, spoonbill, Allen’s gallinule, great bustard, trumpeter finch, rosy starling, great spotted cuckoo, woodchat shrike,bluethroat and Eurasian nightjar.

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Bonelli’s Eagle.

Characteristic habitat types of the Italian Mediterranean coastal zone, are the Cystoseira biocenosis and the Posidonia oceanicaseagrass beds, Lithophyllum lichenoides communities form coralligenous reefs which are a spectacular sight the coralline alga is covered with large gorgonian fans, coral, and a diverse array of often colourful invertebrate organisms and hundreds of species of fish. These communities host sponges (Porifera), sea anemones, jellyfishes (Cnidaria), sea mats and hornwrack (Bryozoa) segmented worms (Annelida) snails, bivalves, squids and octopuses (Mollusca), starfishes and sea urchins (Echinodermata), crabs, lobsters and shrimps (Arthropoda) and little known groups such as, Echiura, Priapulida, Sipuncula, Brachiopoda, Pogonophora, Phoronida and Hemichordata.

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Mantis Shrimp.

The Italian fauna includes 56213 species of invertebrates. This is 97.8% of the total species richness (the vertebrates are 2.2%).Of these 37303 species (approximately 65%) are insects. Commonly seen insects in Italy are the sail swallowtail, the scarlet dragonfly, Cleopatra butterfly, European praying mantis, cicada,glow-worm, hummingbird hawk-moth, Italian stinkbug, firebug, field cricket, European hornet, cuckoo wasp, carpenter bee and the rose chafer.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italy

http://www.infoplease.com/country/italy.html

http://www.understandingitaly.com/profile.html

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