Incomparable Italy

Most people are familiar with the shape of Italy. When you look at a map, it looks like a high-heeled boot stretching out into the Mediterranean Sea from Europe's south coast. It's a peninsula that juts out from the mainland and is cut off from the rest of the world by the Alps. Italy also administers seventy islands in the Mediterranean, some of which are large, such as Sicily and Sardinia, and many others that are uninhabited and too small to be visible on most maps. The main regions of Italy are clearly visible on a map that depicts land heights. The Alps, which protect Italy from the harsh climate of Northern Europe and shelter the northern plain, can be seen. The flat fertile plain of the river Po in Lombardy is located south of the Alpine border with France, Switzerland, and Austria. Here you'll find some of Italy's most fertile agricultural land, as well as some of the country's most beautiful cities. Venice, Padua, Mantua, and Milan all owe their existence to the fertile land that surrounds them, while Ravenna, the capital of the Byzantine Empire in Europe, is home to some of the world's most beautiful mosaics. The great Apennine chain stretches down the length of Italy south of the Po delta, with land rising above 30 metres (1,000 feet) above sea level covering the majority of the country. 

The greatest towns of the country, Florence, Rome, and Perugia, are all located in Central Italy and contain some of the most beautiful buildings and paintings in the world, as well as being centres of learning in the Middle Ages and slowly regaining some of their earlier fame today. Except for the soil around the Arno and other river deltas on the west coast, the soil in most of the Apennines is poor. The poorest part of Italy is in the south. The soil is thin and there are few raw materials; the people are poor and rely on fishing and farming for their livelihood. The region continues to lose population as younger people migrate to the north's thriving cities. Rome, Italy's capital and largest city, has a population of nearly three million people. The next largest towns are the north's great industrial centres: Milan, Turin, and Genoa, each with a population of around one million, though Naples, in the south, has a population of one million. Despite the fact that more people are flocking to the cities, Italy remains a country of scattered small towns and villages. The fact that the land covered by Italy was a collection of small states until a hundred years ago is likely the reason why no larger population centres have developed; also important is the fact that Italy's industrial development is relatively recent. 

The first industrial development in Italy occurred during the period between the wars, when Mussolini ruled Italy as a Fascist dictator. The foundations for new roads and train services, which are critical in developing a primarily agricultural country, have been laid, and industrial development has begun. The Second World War thwarted these plans, and the complete devastation of much of Italy's economic and agricultural resources after the war necessitated massive rede- velopment. The development of agriculture was followed by the development of industry in the north. Milan, Turin, and Genoa are all hotbeds of industrial development, attracting large crowds to the new factories. One of Italy's fastest-growing industries is shipbuilding. The importance of shipbuilding in Italy's economy emphasises the importance of the sea as a mode of transportation and a source of food. The main mineral found in Italy is natural gas, which was discovered in the Lombardy plain after the war. However, sulphur and lignite are mined in the south, as well as iron ores, lead, zinc, and aluminium. 

St Peter's in Rome
St Peter's in Rome

In addition, Italy produces a quarter of the world's mercury. The famous coloured marble quarried in Massa Carrara was used extensively during the Renaissance. Out of a total labour force of twenty million people, 20% still work on the land, and the remaining 45% work in various industries. While the development complex in the north around Milan, Genoa, and Turin remains the centre of heavy industry, a new plant in the Puglia district in the south, centred on the large nationalised steelworks at Taranto, is being established. Following the discovery of oil in Sicily, more development in the south is expected. One of Italy's main imports, coal, is controlled by the need for power, but this is steadily decreasing as natural gas fields' products are fully exploited and new hydro-electricity plants come online. Engineering and the production of motor vehicles, textiles, iron and steel and steel products, building materials, and light machinery are the main industries. 

There is also consumer production, which is common in any industrialised country where high industrial wages provide a large market for goods. Italian light engineering products are well-known; typewriters, domestic equipment, and automobiles are among the country's most popular exports. The Fiat automobile and the Olivetti typewriter are well-known throughout Europe. The design and quality of Italian clothing, particularly shoes and knitted garments, is well known. The Italian economy, on the other hand, was severely harmed by the global inflation of the 1970s. Agriculture remains the most important industry, despite employing only one-fifth of the workforce. Cereals, fruit, olives, cheese, and wine are the company's main products. The Apennines' dry sandy soil is ideal for producing wine that is consumed in large quantities and exported in large quantities. The careful terracing of all available land in the Italian countryside to provide soil for growing vines can be seen all over the country. 

Olive trees thrive in poor soil, and few homes in Italy do not have at least one olive tree to produce the oil that is so important in the diet of most Italians. Although the number of dairy cattle is increasing, most of Italy lacks the rich grass required for the best cattle, necessitating the importation of large quantities of beef. Fishing is widely practised from small villages along the coasts and from large ports, but the industry is in decline, necessitating the importation of greater quantities of fish. Sugar beet is the most important crop, providing the majority of Italy's needs as well as employment in sugar refineries. For many years, the disparity in resources and potential between the north and south of Italy has been a source of concern for Italian governments. Southern Italy's soil is too thin to be very productive, and the region lacks the fertile areas provided by the northern river deltas. Water scarcity is a year-round issue for farmers, and a bad summer can be disastrous for those who live on or near the poverty line. 

The Bridge of Sighs in Venice
The Bridge of Sighs in Venice
The south lacks industrial centres, and as the farming industry becomes more mechanised and the population grows, there are fewer jobs available to young people when they graduate from high school. Because of the severe labour shortage, young people are compelled to leave southern Italy in search of work in the prosperous north. The government is attempting to counteract this trend of young people migrating north by encouraging the development of new factories and industries in the south. One of Italy's most important industries, which we have barely mentioned, is based on the country's history. Over 35 million tourists visit Italy each year to see the wonders of Ancient Rome, Medieval Italy, and Renaissance Italy. Catering to this massive tourist trade, whether in the form of camping sites, youth hostels, or luxury hotels, employs a large number of Italians in highly profitable jobs. Italy's historic significance is not her only benefit; she also has a warm, mild climate thanks to the Apennines and Alps, as well as a long, sandy and rocky coastline with virtually unlimited bathing opportunities for visitors. However, Italy's treasure trove of artistic treasures is the main draw. 

The Etruscan tombs at Tarquinia, just outside Rome, are the oldest, with paintings on the walls of underground tombs that are as clear as they were when they were first painted centuries before Rome was great. Many reminders of Greek and Roman civilization can be found in the south, the most famous of which is the city of Pompeii, which was buried in AD 79 by Vesuvius' eruption. It has since been excavated and now stands as one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world. The Colosseum and Forum in Rome preserve a large part of ancient Rome's centre, as well as the Renaissance legacy in masterpieces like Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling and the Vatican Museum's collection. The many beautiful old towns of Umbria, north of Rome, each with its own great church or cathedral and an ancient centre where Italians still gather in the middle of the day to talk as they have for centuries. Florence, arguably the most beautiful of all Italian cities, has so much to offer that many visitors come just to spend their vacation there, visiting the many art galleries and museums the city has to offer, including the Uffizi and Pitti, which are among the world's largest and most famous. Another constant fascination in Italy is architecture, which ranges from early, simple shrines in small towns in the hills to the great masterpieces of St. Peter's in Rome, St. Marco in Venice, and the Duomo in Florence. 

They all exhibit some of the Italian architectural genius that makes nearly every Italian town pleasant and beautiful. The Italian language reveals some of Italy's history. It's a Romance language with roots in Latin. It is so similar to classical Latin, especially in terms of vocabulary, that anyone who is reasonably proficient in classical Latin can learn Italian with relative ease. Italian literature has produced some of Europe's best writers. Dante's work in the fourteenth century was followed by Machiavelli's statecraft writings in the sixteenth century, which became well-known throughout Europe. The great Italian universities of Padua, Perugia, Siena, and Rome have histories that span six centuries, and they were centres of learning in the Middle Ages, attracting scholars from all over Europe.