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Italy Information - Page 2
Italy had a long history before the Romans. The "ice man" recently found in the Alpine passes is the most famous example of prehistoric life in the region.

Around the eighth century BC the Phoenicians settled in Sardinia and Sicily; they were followed by the Carthaginians and the Greeks. The Etruscans in Central Italy are of unknown origin. The Greek cities became larger and wealthier than their original homes in Greece and the region was known as Magna Graecia (Great Greece).

Rome, on the banks of the River Tiber, grew in power and conquered her neighbours. The Roman kings were ejected early on and the city became a republic, ruled by elected officials. The republic conquered all Italy and took control of Greece, Spain, parts of France, Africa and the Middle East. After a Civil War, Julius Caesar took personal power. He was followed by a number of Caesars including Augustus Caesar, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.

By the middle of the third century barbarian invasions from the north were cutting into the Empire. The Emperor Diocletian divided the Empire into two halves, with the Eastern capital in Constantinople. The Eastern Empire prospered while the West crumbled. Rome was sacked by Alaric in 410 AD.

Despite the reunification of the two Empires under Justinian (552 AD) pressure from the tribes from Germany and France continued. Over time the Pope, Bishop of Rome, had claimed the right to speak for all Christians. In 800 Pope Leo crowned Charlemagne, King of the Franks, as Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. All of Italy came under his control except for Sicily, now conquered by Arabs from North Africa and parts of the South ruled by Greeks.

In the eleventh century Sicily and Southern Italy were conquered by the Normans. The Pope and the Emperor competed with each other and with the French for control of the North. This confusion allowed the more powerful cities, such as Florence and Venice, to seize their independence.

In 1529 Pope Clement and the Emperor Charles, who was also King of Spain, settled their differences. Faced by the growing strength of Protestantism the Church reacted through the Inquisition and the establishment of orders such as the Jesuits.

France, Spain and Austria, all laid claim to parts of Italy over the next centuries and the ensuing struggle left the country divided and weak. By 1810 Napoleon had taken control of all Italy. After Napoleon's defeat various factions reigned until 1861 when the country became the Kingdom of Italy. Key players in the reunification were Giuseppe Mazzini, Camillo Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi. The final unification came in 1870 when the last French troops were driven from Rome.

At the end of the nineteenth century Italy once again began to colonize areas outside the country with campaigns in Abyssinia, Eritrea and Somalia. Libya and the Greek Islands of the Dodecanese were seized from Turkey.

During the First World War, Italy fought against Germany. Social unrest followed the war and in 1922 Benito Mussolini, the Fascist leader, took control of the country. During the Second World War, Mussolini sided with Hitler and Germany against the British. Mussolini was executed at the end of the war. The following year the King of Italy abdicated and Italy became a Republic.

Economic growth in the industrialized north caused internal migration from the south. Poor Italians also emigrated to Australia and the USA in large numbers.

In 1957 Italy became one of the six founders of the European Economic Community.

Italy is a traditionally agricultural country with relatively poor supplies of the raw materials of industry. This held Italy back for years, but the government's policy of industrialization after the Second World War has made Italy into one of the major industrial nations of the world.

One natural resource for which Italy is particularly famous is marble. Italian marble is exported all over the world for use in many types of buildings. Other resources include natural gas and crude oil reserves, coal, mercury, zinc, potash, pumice and sulphur.

Well known Italian companies include Fiat and Ferrari in the motor industry and Olivetti in computers and office equipment, Benetton, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana in the clothing industry.

Exports of food products, such as pasta, wine and prepared tomatoes are important to the Italian economy. The main agricultural products are grains, soybeans, potatoes, sugar beets, olives, grapes, nuts, citrus fruits, peaches and figs. Large numbers of livestock: cattle, sheep, chickens are raised. Fishing provides anchovies, sardines, tuna, octopus and shellfish.

Today, the services sector is the main contributor to the Gross Domestic Product and the largest employer. Tourism is a major earner, with visitors drawn by Italy's cultural heritage and its wide range of holiday opportunities - from winter sports to lakes, mountains and beaches.

Italy has a notable artistic heritage especially in painting, sculpture and music.

The earliest significant remaining art is the wall painting in Etruscan tombs and the images sometimes found in them.

Greek, and then Roman, art is best remembered for its sculpture, though the excavations at Pompeii have revealed beautiful wall paintings. The Byzantine period was famous for its mosaics especially those at Ravenna, the capital of the Western Empire.

The greatest period of Italian art was undoubtedly the Renaissance. Sculptors included Ghiberti, Donatello and Brunelleschi.

Although many of the greatest Renaissance artists worked in Florence, there were others who flourished elsewhere. Among the well known artists were Giotto, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Raphael, and Titian.

By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the importance of Italian art declined to some degree. The best known Italian painter of this period was Modigliani (1884-1920) who worked mainly in Paris.

The greatest writers of ancient Rome are still read today: poets include Horace, Ovid and Virgil and the historians Livy, Suetonius and Tacitus.

Italian literature includes Boccaccio's Decameron, Dante's Divine Comedy and Machiavelli's political work The Prince.

Modern authors of note are Primo Levi, who wrote of his time in Auschwitz, Umberto Edo, whose The Name of the Rose was very popular (filmed with Sean Connery) and Guiseppi di Lampedusa whose work The Leopard is the greatest novel about Sicily (filmed by Visconti).

Italian music is probably most associated with opera: composers include Rossini (1792-1868), Verdi (1813-1901) and Puccini (1858-1924).

Earlier famous Italian composers were Monteverdi (1567-1643) and Vivaldi (1678-1741).

At the end of the twentieth century Italy's most internationally known singer was probably Luciano Pavarotti.

The Italian film industry has always been important, both for the films it makes itself and for the foreign films made using its excellent facilities. At the end of World War II a style of films called 'neo realism' was especially successful in Italy and abroad. Directors such as Fellini, Bertolucci and Visconti followed.

Football is the most popular sport. The national team won the World Cup in 1982 and 2006; the main clubs like Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan are among the best in the world.

Basketball is also popular.

Ferrari is one of the world's biggest names in motor racing and two Formula One Grand Prix are staged in Italy: the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and the San Marino Grand Prix.

With Mv Augusta and Moto Guzzi Italy has also had a great history in motor cycle racing.

Cycle racing is very popular, with the Giro d'Italia one of the sport's main events. Skiing and other winter sports are major earners of tourism revenue and Italy regularly produces medal winners in the Olympics and other championships.

Windsurfing and other water sports are popular on the northern lakes and around the coastline.

As the centre of the Roman Catholic Church, Italy celebrates all Christian holidays and many Saints' Days. Venice is famous for its Carnival in February. Liberation Day is celebrated in April. The Palio, Siena's famous bareback horserace around the city's main piazza, has been held in the summer since 1283.

News from Italy is available from Newslink.

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