Italy is a European country that extends into the Mediterranean Sea. Italy has a 4,722.4 mile (7,600 km) coastline, but it is shares land border with a number of countries to its north—Austria, France, Slovenia, and Switzerland—as well as Vatican City and San Marino within its borders. The total area of Italy is 187,175.6 square miles (301,230 sq km).
The creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 with King Victor Emmanuel II, formerly ruler of Piedmont, Savoy, and Sardinia, lasted until 1946, when a republic was established by referendum. True unity was not actually accomplished until 1970. In the early part of the twentieth century, Benito Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship in Italy and formed an alliance with Nazi Germany, leading to Italy’s defeat in World War II. Italy has been a charter member of both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as well as the European Economic Community (EEC).
The population of Italy was estimated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to be 58,126,212 in July 2009, making it the 24th most populous country in the world. A fifth of the population is age 65 or over. The population is primarily Italian, but there are also peoples from German, French, and Slovenian origins in the north and Albanian and Greek origins in the south. Ninety percent of the population is considered Roman Catholic, but only a third of those are practicing their faith. The other ten percent is comprised of Protestants, Jews, and Muslims.
The official name of Italy is Repubblica Italiana, which is given in English as Italian Republic, and the capital is Rome, once the capital of the Roman Empire. The chief of state is a president, who is elected by both houses of parliament and representatives from the 15 regions and five autonomous regions. Italian is the official language of Italy, but in some parts of the Trentino-Alto Adige region, people predominantly speak German. There are also areas in which there are a French-speaking or Slovene-speaking minority. The literacy rate is 98.4%.
Italy’s economy is more focused on industry in the north and agriculture in the south, where there is more unemployment. Overall, 65% of the labor force is in services, with 30.7% in industry, and 4.2% in agriculture. The main industries are tourism, machinery, metals and chemicals, food processing, and textiles. The chief agricultural products are fruits and vegetables, grapes, and potatoes.
Italy is known for its cheeses, sausages, hams, and wines, as well as for many prepared dishes from its widely varying regional cuisines. Cheeses include Parmesan, Romano, mozzarella, and gorgonzola. Sausages include pepperoni and sopressata. Some of the dishes for which it is known include pizza, pasta in a wide variety of shapes and prepared with a wide variety of sauces, polenta, risotto, gnocchi, and antipasto. Seafood is also widely served.