In economic terms, Italy was one of the most dynamic countries on the European continent in the aftermath of World War II, completing its conversion from the largely agricultural land it had previously been into a major industrial economy.
Italy’s economic structure is similar to those of most of Europe’s other more advanced countries. The service sector accounts for two thirds (roughly 69%) of gross domestic product (GDP) and trade and tourism are its points of strength. Another 29% or so of the national income comes from industry (including building) and the remaining 2% from farming. The strongest industries are mechanical engineering and clothing and textiles.
A feature typical of the Italian system is the industrial estate model, with roots inside a precisely-defined geographical area and made up of a close-knit fabric of small and medium-sized businesses, each specialising in a specific stage in the production chain. This model has turned Italy into one of the countries where entrepreneurial enterprise is furthest ahead, and entrepreneurial independence has made for a growth in creativity and a quest for good looks and good taste in the finished product that have brought world fame on Italian-made articles.
However, there is more to the Italian economy than small business. There are many major groups that have made the country’s industrial history and contributed to its growth. The agribusiness, metalworking, textiles and clothing, industrial design and furniture and furnishing accessory manufacturing are the industries that not only carry greatest weight in terms of turnover, employment and number of businesses, but bear Italian exports aloft worldwide, making a significant contribution to the country’s trade balance.
Italy ranks eighth in the world league table of manufactured goods exporting countries and seventh in terms of imports.
The tourist industry is another major pillar of the Italian economy, thanks to the country’s inestimable archaeological and artistic heritage. Over half the world’s historical and artistic heritage is to be found in Italy, which features hundreds of archaeological sites and over 3,000 museums nationwide. The tourist industry accounts for roughly a third of the country’s overall GDP, providing over a million jobs.
According to UNESCO, over half the world’s historical and artistic heritage is to be found in Italy. The number of archaeological sites runs to hundreds, and there are over 3,000 museums nationwide.
Southern Italy has a wealth of remains from the days when it was part of Magna Grecia, from the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento and the city of Selinunte in Sicilia to Paestum and the Homeric spell cast by the Phlegraean Fields in Campania. That most mysterious of peoples, the Etruscans, also left significant traces, such as their many burial grounds in Lazio and Tuscany, at Cerveteri, Tarquinia and Volterra to name but a few. However, archaeological Italy is first and foremost “Roman.” And although there is no lack of traces of republican Rome, it is the imperial era that has left the most significant marks, such as the city forums, the Coliseum, the Pantheon and the sites of Pompeii and Hercolanum, the two cities preserved intact by the tremendous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 BC.
Mediaeval monastic religious fervour has been immortalised in the many monasteries and hermitages along the traditional pilgrim routes to Rome, such as the Via Francigena (or Frankish Route), undoubtedly the most famous. Working in Tuscany, Giotto was to invent painting as we know it today, exporting it throughout almost the rest of the peninsula: suffice it to think of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi and the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.
The Renaissance was to take its cue, yet again in Tuscany, from men like Lorenzo dei Medici, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo da Vinci, Filippo Brunelleschi, Sandro Botticelli and many others, giving birth in the 15th and 16th centuries to one of the most fascinating cultural movements in the history of mankind, which held sway in the whole of the known world after first filling Florence and Italy in general with magnificent masterpieces, including the dome of St. Peter’s and the Sistine Chapel frescos in Rome. The artistic renaissance in the Venice area is represented by Palladio and the many mansions he designed, which formed the extension on dry land of the wealth of Venice with its canals, churches and palazzi.
In the 17th century too, Italy won high ranking in the art world, its absolute quintessence being Caravaggio, who revolutionised the concept of painting with a “cinematographic” use of light and unprecedented realism. The baroque era brought Rome great prominence, dominated by the creative imagination of Bernini and Borromini, eternal rivals and the creators of two great artistic schools, the symbol and model of Italian baroque, examples of which are scattered the length and breadth of the peninsula.
Italy, a peninsula reaching out into the Mediterranean, extends over an area of 301,333 km2 and is surrounded by the Ligurian, Tyrrhenian, Ionian and Adriatic seas. Its territory comprises a large number of islands: Sicily and Sardinia and many minor archipelagos. Italy borders on France to the West, Switzerland and Austria to the north, and Slovenia to the east.
The Italian peninsula presents a wide variety of climates: from Alpine to subcontinental. Central and southern Italy are marked by hot summers and mild, cool winters. The territory is divided into 20 regions, five of which have special status: Valle d’Aosta, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sicily and Sardinia.
The Etruscans and Greeks constituted Italy’s two major pre-Roman civilisations. Both appeared in or around the 8th century BC, establishing Etruria and Magna Grecia respectively, the former in central Italy and the latter in the south. The Etruscans were organised politically in city-states along an axis running through Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio, whereas the Greeks, who had set out from Greece as such, settled southern Italy, giving birth to major schools of philosophy, including those of Parmenides and Pythagoras.
The city of Rome grew up out of a settlement of herdsmen and farmers who had taken up residence on the Palatine Hill between the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 7th century BC. Tradition puts the date at 753 BC. Rome became a power in the republican period and consolidated its absolute rule over the “Mare Nostrum” in the Mediterranean. Julius Caesar took the process further, establishing a full-fledged empire extending from Hadrian’s Wall, almost on the Scottish border, to Persia, as well as taking in vast areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. The Roman Empire remained at the height of its splendour until the death of Marcus Aurelius (180 AD), at which point the Roman Empire sank into its long period of decline lasting until 476 AD, when it collapsed, sacked by the barbarian invasions.
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
Italy was overrun by a whole series of barbarian tribes in the Middle Ages, meanwhile seeing the appearance on the scene of Charlemagne and his Holy Roman Empire. Cultural and artistic life burgeoned again in the Renaissance, a phenomenon that spread over the whole of Europe but was triggered by the first stirrings of Florentine humanism.
The Modern Era
From the 16th to the 19th centuries, Italy fell prey to the division of spoils among foreign powers (France and Spain primarily, and Austria and Britain to a lesser extent). The south was long ruled first by the Spanish monarchs and then by the Bourbons, whereas the centre of the country continued to be ruled by the popes. In the north, France, Spain and Austria vied for Lombardy and Veneto. After an eventful, but brief Napoleonic revolutionary period, which gave Italy a flag and an initial administration by prefects, the country arrived at the Congress of Vienna still split into states and statelets.
The Risorgimento and the Birth of the Italian Nation State
The organisation imposed on the peninsula by the Congress of Vienna, which split Italy into seven states and placed the north under Austrian control, was repeatedly opposed, up to 1848, by attempts at revolution, largely the work of secret societies, such as the Carbonari. The Risorgimento’s undisputed leading figures included Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Camillo Benso di Cavour, whose endeavours led to the unification of part of the Italian nation under the Savoy throne, which annexed to its kingdom first the centre and north of the country, from Lombardy to Tuscany, then, after the expedition of Garibaldi’s Thousand, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. At last, after the inhabitants of the conquered areas had voted in favour of annexation in referendums, the first session of the new Italian Parliament in Turin set the seal on the birth of the Kingdom of Italy on 17 March 1861.
From Italian Unification to World War I
Albeit divided over government policy, the political parties shared the great aspiration to complete national unity by winning Rome, which was still under papal rule, and the Veneto, still in Austrian hands. The latter was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy after the Third War of Independence (in 1866), whereas Rome joined the Kingdom of Italy four years later, in 1870, with the breeching of Porta Pia, which marked the end of the Catholic Church’s millenary temporal power. The outbreak of World War I between the Central Empires and the Entente powers in 1914 provided an opportunity for completing the national unification process with Trentino, Venezia Giulia and Istria. Italy joined the Entente coalition against the Central Empires in 1915.
From Fascism to Republic
The war effort, which was kept up for three years and cost over 600,000 lives, led the country to victory and the completion of unity, but into a serious crisis as well. The years between 1919 and 1922 saw a period of great political, economic and social instability that paved the way for the rise to power of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party, which seized leadership of the government with the 1922 march on Rome. From then on, the democratic life of the state was gradually stamped out and a dictatorship set in. Over subsequent years, Mussolini launched his policy of rapprochement with National-Socialist Germany, commencing with the Rome-Berlin Axis of 1936 and culminating in the military alliance (the 1939 Pact of Steel) and in fighting World War II at Hitler’s side.
The military defeats led to Mussolini’s removal from the government after being placed in a minority at the Grand Council of Fascism meeting held on 24 and 25 July 1943, and to his subsequent arrest at the orders of King Vittorio Emanuele III. The reins of government were handed over to General Pietro Badoglio, who signed the deed of unconditional surrender to the Allies the following September. Thus began a dramatic period for Italy, marked by dual occupation, Allied south of Rome and German to the north, and by Mussolini’s founding, again in northern Italy, of the Italian Social Republic. The Allied troops entered Rome in June 1944 and continued their advance northwards, jointly with the partisan forces fighting the German occupation achieving the liberation of Italy on 25 April 1945. The Italian people voted in the constitutional referendum held on 2 June 1946 to abolish the monarchy and introduce the Republic. The referendum and the preceding local elections were also the first time that voting rights were extended to women.
The proceedings of the Constituent Assembly, which was elected on the same occasion, led to the drafting of the current constitution, which entered into force on 1 January 1948. The election for the first republican parliament was held on 18 April 1948 and handed an absolute majority of seats to the Christian Democratic Party, the Catholic party that was to dominate the Italian political scene until the end of the Cold War.
From the Post-War Period to the Present
The signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1947 brought Italy back into the international community, by then marked by the bipolar stand-off between the two superpowers of the day, the United States and the Soviet Union. The country opted unambiguously for the Western camp by taking a number of important steps, such as subscribing to the Marshall Plan in 1947 and joining the Council of Europe and, above all, the Atlantic Alliance in 1949; an advocate of international brotherhood in the days of Mazzini and a forerunner of the European Union with Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, Italy was one of the founder members of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. A member of the UN since 1955, Italy has been one of the countries most committed to the road to European integration, major milestones along which have been laid right here in the peninsula: from the Messina Conference in 1955 and the Venice Conference in 1956 to the historic signing of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, which established the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community.
From 1968 to the Present Day
1968 brought far-reaching political and social changes in Italy, making a significant impact on its inhabitants’ way of life and mindset. The seventies saw the introduction of major institutional and social reforms, such as the Bill of Workers’ Rights, the regional administrative system and the divorce law. The seventies were also the dark age of right- and left-wing terrorism.
The Christian Democratic Party, whose electorate was made up of centrist conservative moderates, dominated post-war political life until 1993: with rare exceptions, the post of prime minister was held by Christian Democrats. The “Bribesville” scandal and the resulting “Clean Hands” investigation sent shock waves running through the party world in 1992. The disintegration of the previous setup fostered the birth of a new party, “Forza Italia,” which won the 1994 election, taking the centre-right coalition into government. The principle of bipolarism and alternation in government of the two line-ups asserted itself in this period, which has been dubbed the Second Republic: centre-left governments from 1996 to 2001 and a centre-right government from 2001 to 2006 The coalition of centre-left parties returned to government from 2006 to 2008, whereas the April 2008 election returned the current centre-right government led by Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime minister for the third time and, in 2009, G8 chair for the third time.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs