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Presentation of Italy
Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is an independent nation in southern Europe. It extends southward from the Alps to the MEDITERRANEAN SEA, forming a narrow, 1,100-km-long (700-mi), boot-shaped peninsula reaching almost to the northern coast of Africa. The peninsula is bordered by the LIGURIAN SEA and the TYRRHENIAN SEA on the west, the IONIAN SEA on the south, and the ADRIATIC SEA on the east. It is advantageously located to control traffic between the eastern and western basins of the Mediterranean. The national territory includes the two large islands of SARDINIA and SICILY; the smaller offshore islands of CAPRI and Ischia (both off the Bay of Naples) and ELBA (in the Tuscan Archipelago); the Lipari (Aeolian) Islands, north of Sicily; the islands of Pantelleria, Linosa, Lampione, and Lampedusa in the Strait of Sicily between Sicily and Africa; and--by agreements with Yugoslavia in 1954 and 1975--TRIESTE and the northern sections of ISTRIA. Located on the Italian peninsula are two small independent enclaves--VATICAN CITY, in Rome, and the Republic of SAN MARINO, near RIMINI. Italy is bordered on the northwest by France, on the north by Switzerland, on the northeast by Austria, and on the east by Yugoslavia. The capital is ROME. The name Italy (Italia) was already in use during Roman times and came into the Latin language from the ancient Oscan tongue, which in turn may have taken it from a southern Greek dialect. Its etymology is linked to a Greek word meaning "calf," and according to a modern interpretation it is a reference to Calabria in southern Italy, where early inhabitants adopted the calf as their symbol. The modern Italian state dates from 1861, when the title king of Italy was conferred on VICTOR EMMANUEL II, king of Sardinia. Before that time, Italy consisted of separate states which have retained a strong sense of regional identity and are identifiable today in the nation's 20 administrative regions. Eight of these states are located in northern (or Upper) Italy: EMILIA-ROMAGNA, FRIULI-VENEZIA GIULIA, LIGURIA, LOMBARDY, PIEDMONT, TRENTINO-ALTO ADIGE, VALLE D'AOSTA, and VENETO. Six are in central Italy: ABRUZZI, LATIUM, MARCHE, MOLISE, TUSCANY, and UMBRIA. Southern Italy contains four: APULIA, BASILICATA, CALABRIA, and CAMPANIA. The other two states are the island regions of Sardinia and Sicily. Italy has been historically important since Roman times, and millions of tourists are attracted each year to its ancient cities and art treasures. Modern Italy is an important industrial nation and a leading member of the EUROPEAN COMMUNITY (EC). Italy's rapid growth since 1950 has been referred to as the "Italian miracle." The term is apt, because Italy has developed with few economic assets other than an abundant, skilled labor force.
Italy can be divided topographically into three parts: continental, peninsular, and insular Italy. Continental Italy, in the north, includes the broad, triangular-shaped North Italian Plain--Italy's only large lowland--and the high mountains of the Alps, which curve along the northern border in a broad arc about 1,300 km (810 mi) long and 150 to 250 km (93-155 mi) wide. These mountains extend from Savona, on the Ligurian coast, to near Trieste in the east. The highest peaks in the Alps are west of the SIMPLON PASS (linking Domodossola and Brig, Switzerland) and include Gran Paradiso, which rises to 4,061 m (13,323 ft) south of Aosta; Mont Blanc (see BLANC, MONT), the highest mountain in Europe, on the border with France; the MATTERHORN, on the border with Switzerland; and Monte Rosa (see ROSA, MONTE), Italy's highest point. The central Alps, located between the Simplon Pass on the west and the Resia Pass on the east, rise over 3,300 m (10,800 ft) in the Lepontine Alps and to 4,049 m (13,284 ft) farther east in the Bernina Alps. Italy's eastern Alps include the Otztal and Carnic Alps, forming parts of the border with Austria; the Dolomites, rising wholly within Italy to 3,342 m (10,965 ft) in Marmolada; and the Julian Alps, located primarily in Slovenia. Peninsular Italy encompasses all of the Italian peninsula south of the North Italian Plain and the junction of the Ligurian Alps with the APENNINES at Savona. The Apennines form the backbone of the peninsula and reach their highest elevation in the central or Abruzzi Apennines. In the northern and central sections of the peninsula, the highest mountains are close to the Adriatic coast. Broad lowlands, backed by the rolling hills of the pre-Apennines, border the Tyrrhenian coast in Tuscany and Latium. In the south, the highest mountains are close to the Tyrrhenian coast, which is rocky, steep, and indented south of Naples. VESUVIUS, Europe's only active mainland volcano, is near Naples. Insular Italy includes Sardinia, Sicily, and many smaller islands off their shores. Sardinia covers an area of 23,812 sq km (9,194 sq mi) and rises to a high point of 1,834 m (6,016 ft) in the ancient granite massif of Gennargentu. Sicily covers an area of 28,812 sq km (11,124 sq mi) and rises to 3,262 m (10,703 ft) in Mount ETNA. Northern Sicily is traversed by high mountains geologically related to the Apennines. This chain reappears across the Sicilian Channel as the ATLAS MOUNTAINS of northern Africa. Two active volcanoes--STROMBOLI and Vulcano--located on islands off the north coast of Sicily, together with frequent earthquakes felt throughout Italy, attest to the geologic youth of the Alpine chain and the Apennines. Only Sardinia is composed primarily of ancient rocks.
The richest and most productive soils for agriculture are the alluvial soils of the North Italian Plain and the smaller river valleys of the peninsula. Well suited for forestry and pasture are the brown podzolic soils, which developed under an original forest cover and are found throughout the Apennines. Regosols have developed on the weathered volcanic deposits of Tuscany and Latium and on the lower slopes of active volcanoes. Red soils are common in Apulia and in other limestone areas in the south. Climate Except for the Alps, which have a mountain climate that varies with altitude, Italy has a continental climate in the north and a Mediterranean climate in the south. Summer temperatures average 24 deg C (75 deg F) for July throughout the nation, but winter temperatures range from a January average of 1 deg C (33 deg F) at BOLZANO in the north to 7 deg C (45 deg F) at Rome, and 12 deg C (53 deg F) at Palermo on Sicily. The annual temperature range between summer and winter is greatest in the north (typical of a continental climate) and least in the south. Precipitation ranges from 1,067 mm (42 in) at Udine to 356 mm (14 in) in Catania, Sicily. It is concentrated during the winter in the south (typical of a Mediterranean climate) and during the warmer part of the year in the north. Six climatic subregions may be distinguished. The Alpine zone is characterized by harsh winters, abundant precipitation, frequent snow, and cool summers. The lowlands of the North Italian Plain experience harsh winters with long periods of frost, warm summers, precipitation concentrated in spring and fall, and intense fog in fall and winter. The coastal Tyrrhenian region has mild winters and hot, dry summers. The Adriatic coast has a climate similar to that of the Tyrrhenian coast but tends to be drier and colder in winter. The Apennines are climatically similar to the North Italian Plain. The islands have a typically Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild winters during which some rainy days can be expected. Drainage The main Italian waterway is the 652-km-long (405-mi) PO RIVER, which drains most of the North Italian Plain and enters the Adriatic Sea about 56 km (35 mi) south of Venice. The ADIGE RIVER, Italy's second longest, has a length of 410 km (255 mi) and flows into the Adriatic Sea north of the Po. In the peninsula, the main river is the 405-km-long (253-mi) TIBER RIVER, which flows from the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines through Rome and Ostia to the Tyrrhenian Sea. Also important in the peninsula is the 241-km-long (151-mi) ARNO RIVER, flowing through Tuscany and the cities of Florence and PISA before entering the Ligurian Sea. The largest lakes in Italy are in the Alps and pre-Alps and are of glacial origin. The largest is Lake GARDA, with an area of 370 sq km (142 sq mi); others are Lake MAGGIORE, and Lake COMO. The largest lakes of the peninsula are Lake Trasimeno (Lake of Perugia) and Lake Bolsena, which was formed in an extinct volcanic crater. Vegetation and Animal Life About one-fifth of Italy is forested, with deciduous trees predominating in the North Italian Plain and needle-leaf trees at higher altitudes. The typical lowland Mediterranean woodland is a mixture of holm oaks, cork trees, maritime pines, cypresses, oleasters (wild olive), carobs, laurels, and myrtles. Forests of chestnut and oak are characteristic of cooler areas; they occur at elevations of about 1,000 m (3,300 ft) in the Alps, 1,100 m (3,600 ft) in the northern Apennines, and 1,800 m (5,900 ft) in Sicily. Above these limits are mainly beech trees, pines, and white fir. In the Alps at altitudes above 1,000 m (3,300 ft) forests of larch, spruce, and pine are found. Between the tree line (limit of tree growth) and the snow line stretch extensive alpine pastures. Heath is common on the North Italian Plain. The principal large animals found wild in Italy today are the brown bear, which inhabits the Alps and the Abruzzi mountains; wolves, found in the Apennines; wild boars, found in Sardinia; red deer, chamois, roe deer, and Alpine ibex, in Gran Paradiso National Park; and fallow deer and mouflons, on Sardinia. The most numerous birds are larks, crows, and wrens. Hawks, buzzards, eagles, and other birds of prey can be seen in some upland areas. Gran Paradiso and Circeo national parks are important centers for the conservation of endangered animal species. Resources Except for sulfur and mercury, Italy has only small deposits of minerals needed for industry. Consequently, coal and petroleum are imported in large quantities. Italian voters rejected the development of nuclear power in 1987. Abundant hydroelectric power is produced on rivers flowing from the Alps; this form of power is also increasingly important in the south. Arable land and pasture occupy about 70% of the land area; forests comprise about 20%.
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