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Italy is a country in southern Europe.  It is known for its rich cultural heritage and natural beauty.  Its cities have spectacular churches and large central plazas.  Their museums contain some of the world's best-known art.  The countryside has warm, sandy beaches; high, glacier-topped mountain peaks; and rolling hills covered with green fields and vineyards.

Italy occupies a boot-shaped peninsula that extends into the Mediterranean Sea from southern Europe.  The country also includes two large islands, Sicily and Sardinia.  Two independent countries lie within Italy's borders: the tiny Republic of San Marino, in north-central Italy, and Vatican City, which is located completely within the city of Rome.

Italy's landscape is dominated by two mountain ranges--the Alps and the Apennines.  The Alps tower across the northernmost part of Italy.  The Apennines form a backbone that runs nearly the entire length of the peninsula.

Italy got its name from the ancient Romans.  The Romans called the southern part of the peninsula Italia, meaning land of oxen or grazing land.

The country boasts several world-famous cities.  Rome, the capital and largest city of Italy, was the center of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago.  Florence was the home of many artists of the Renaissance, a period of great achievements in the arts.  Venice, with its intricate canal system, attracts tourists from all over the world.

For hundreds of years, the history of Italy dominated the history of Western civilization.  Ancient Rome began its overseas conquests during the 200's B.C., and by the A.D. 100's the Roman Empire controlled all the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea.  The empire influenced the government, the arts, and the architecture of many later groups of people.  After the fall of Rome in the A.D. 400's, the Italian peninsula was divided among many different rulers.

Much of the Italian peninsula was united during the early 1800's, when Napoleon Bonaparte captured the region and made it part of the French Empire.  Most of Italy was united as an independent country for the first time in 1861 under the constitutional monarchy headed by King Victor Emmanuel II.

Benito Mussolini, a Fascist, took control of the Italian government in the early 1920's (see FASCISM).  Mussolini ruled as a dictator until 1943, when he was overthrown as a result of Italy's declining fortunes in World War II (1939-1945).  In 1946, the people of Italy voted to abolish the monarchy.  Italy has had a republican form of government since that time.

Since World War II, Italy has experienced great economic and industrial expansion.  Today, northern Italy is among Europe's wealthiest and most modern regions, but the south of Italy remains considerably poorer.


Italy set up its present form of government in 1946.  That year, the people voted to change their nation from a monarchy ruled by a king to a republic headed by a president.  King Humbert II immediately left the throne.  The voters elected a group of 556 members, called a Constituent Assembly, to write a constitution.  The constitution was approved in 1947 and became effective on Jan. 1, 1948.  The constitution established a governing system made up of a president, a cabinet called the Council of Ministers headed by a prime minister, and a Parliament made up of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies.

President.  The president of Italy is elected to a seven-year term by both houses of Parliament.  The president must be at least 50 years old.  He or she appoints the prime minister, who forms a government.  The president has the power to dissolve Parliament and call new elections.  The president is the commander of the Italian armed forces, and can declare war.

Italy has no vice president.  If the president of Italy becomes ill, the president of the Italian Senate takes over the office.  If the president dies, a presidential election is held.

Prime minister and cabinet.  The prime minister determines national policy and is the most important person in the Italian government.  The prime minister is selected by the president--usually from the members of Parliament--and must be approved by Parliament.  The prime minister has no fixed term of office and can be voted out of office by Parliament at any time.

Members of the Cabinet are chosen by the prime minister, and they are usually selected from the members of Parliament.  They are then appointed by the president and must be approved by Parliament.  The Italian prime minister and the cabinet are officially called the government.

Parliament consists of a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate.  These two houses have equal power in passing laws.  The Chamber of Deputies has 630 members.  The Senate has 315 elected members, and 5 appointed for life by the president.  All former presidents also become senators for life.  Deputies are chosen by the voters from 27 constituencies (voter districts).  The elected senators are chosen from 20 units of local government called regions.  Deputies and senators serve five-year terms.  But the president may dissolve Parliament and call for new elections before the term is up.

Italy's voters directly elect three-fourths of the members of both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.  The other one-fourth of both houses are elected by a complicated system based on proportional representation.  In this system, the percentage of the remaining seats held by each political party is about the same as the percentage of total votes received by the party's candidates.  However, only parties that win at least 4 percent of the total votes will receive seats in Parliament.  A large number of parties are represented in Parliament.  Parties form coalitions (partnerships) in order to have enough power to gain control of the government.

National politics.  Since 1948, Italy has had frequent cabinet changes.  Most cabinets have lasted less than a year.  But many members of one cabinet remain in the next one, thus providing continuity.  In coalition governments, cabinet members are from different political parties.  If some of the parties in the cabinet disagree with its policies, they may withdraw their support and require the formation of a new cabinet.

A number of Italy's important political parties are in the left wing Olive Tree coalition or the right wing Alliance for Freedom coalition.  The Olive Tree coalition is made up of the Democratic Party of the Left, the Italian Renewal, the Greens, the Popular Party, and other political parties.  The Alliance for Freedom coalition includes Forza Italia, the National Alliance, the United Christian Democrats, and the Christian Democratic Centre.

Local government.  Italy has a unitary system of government.  In Italy, this means that the national government possesses most of the power.  The country is divided into large governmental units called regions.  Each region is further divided into provinces, and each province consists of a number of communes.  Each region, province, and commune has an elected one-chamber council called a consiglio, and an executive body called a giunta.

The 1948 Constitution provided for a system of regional governments that was not completed until the 1970's.  Today, there are 20 regional governments in the country.  Each region is governed by an executive elected by the regional council.  Council members are elected by the people.  Italy's Parliament has granted broad administrative and legislative powers to the regional governments.

Each of Italy's provinces takes its name from its principal city, and is governed by the elected council and by an official called a prefect.  The prefects are appointed by the minister of the interior.

The communes are Italy's smallest units of local government.  Each commune has a mayor who is elected by the consiglio from among its own members.

Courts.  All judges of Italian courts are appointed, rather than elected.  Except for the 15 judges of the Constitutional Court, Italian judges earn their appointments through civil service examinations.  Five judges of the Constitutional Court are chosen by the president, five by Parliament, and five by judges of other courts.  All courts operate under the national ministry of justice and a panel of judges called the Superior Council of the Judiciary.  The Constitutional Court, the highest court in Italy, can declare acts of Parliament illegal.

Italy has a number of lower courts.  Appeals from civil and criminal courts are brought before courts of appeals.  Cases involving serious crimes are heard in courts of assizes.  A court called the court of cassation reviews decisions of lower courts.  This court can return cases to the lower courts for new trials.

Armed forces.  All Italian men must serve in the armed forces after they reach the age of 18.  The length of service is 12 months for the army and air force, and 18 months for the navy.  About 340,000 people serve in Italy's armed forces.


Population and ancestry.  Most of Italy's people live in urban areas.  Italy's largest cities, in order of population, are Rome, Milan, and Naples.  Each has more than a million people.  Many of the country's cities are surrounded by large metropolitan areas.

The most densely populated areas of the country are the industrialized regions of Lombardy and Liguria in the northwest and the region of Campania in the south.  The areas with the lowest population density are the mountains of both the north and south.

Since the mid-1980's, Italy's population has shown almost no annual growth.  Fewer families are having more than two children.  Families in southern Italy tend to have more children than those in northern Italy.

About 98 per cent of Italy's people are ethnic Italians.  The only sizable ethnic minorities are Germans who live in the Trentino-Alto Adige region, which borders Austria, and Slovenes who inhabit the Trieste area, along the border of Italy and Slovenia.  A number of ethnic French people live in the Valle D'Aosta region, near Italy's border with France and Switzerland.

Language.  Italian, like French and Spanish, is a Romance language--one of several languages that came from Latin.  Standard Italian evolved from a dialect spoken in Tuscany.  Its use in public schools and on television has helped make it the principal language of most Italians.  Some people still speak regional dialects, which differ greatly from one another.  See ITALIAN LANGUAGE.

There are only a few communities in Italy in which Italian is not spoken as the first language.  German is the first language of many people of the Trentino-Alto Adige region.  French is spoken as a first language in portions of the northwestern part of Italy.  Slovenian, a Slavic language, and Ladin, a language similar to the Romansch of the Swiss, are spoken in northern sections of Venetia.  Southern Italy has a few Greek- and Albanian-speaking communities.

Way of life

Life in northern Italy differs in many ways from that in southern Italy.  The north is richer, more urbanized, and more industrial than the south.  Service industries and manufacturing and construction employ the most people in both areas.  But the percentage of people who work in agriculture is much higher in the south than in the north.  In all parts of Italy, most people live in cities or towns.  Italians are strongly attached to their towns, neighborhoods, and families.  Many people who leave their home in search of greater opportunities hope to return eventually to their old communities.

City life.  More than two-thirds of Italy's people reside in urban areas.  Most live in concrete apartment buildings.  A few wealthy people live in single-family homes.  The oldest sections of an Italian city consist mostly of low buildings that have apartments around a central courtyard.  Newer sections of the city often have large apartment buildings.  Many residents buy rather than rent their apartments.  Poor neighborhoods are usually located on the outskirts of the cities.

Most unmarried children live with their parents.  Parents often help an adult son or daughter purchase an apartment near their own.  Many young women work outside the home, and grandparents often help care for the children of working mothers.  Many urban areas have public child-care centers.

City growth and the increased use of private automobiles have led to serious problems of urban pollution.  In large cities, the air pollution problem poses a health hazard and has damaged priceless architecture.  Bologna and several other cities have eased this problem by banning private cars from the city centers.

Rural life.  In the past, most rural communities in Italy consisted of a compact settlement surrounded by a large area of agricultural land.  Farmers usually lived in town and traveled to their fields each day.  This pattern was especially common in southern Italy.  In the north, many farmers lived on their land.

Most rural townspeople lived in apartment buildings.  Only wealthy people had their own buildings, which were usually in the center of the community.  Today, more and more single-family homes are being built in rural areas, often outside the old community center.

The population has declined in many rural areas of Italy--particularly in the mountains--as people have left to seek jobs in the cities.  But the mountains have become increasingly popular with prosperous Italians as a location for summer homes.  This interest has sparked a housing boom in many remote mountain communities.

Food and drink.  Italians take great pride in the quality of their cooking.  They traditionally eat their main meal at midday.  Large meals usually consist of a pasta course, followed by a main course of meat or fish.  Sometimes a course of antipasto (appetizers) is served before the pasta.  The antipasto may consist of a variety of cold meats and vegetables, such as prosciutto (a type of spiced ham), salami, olives, and artichoke hearts.

Italian foods vary greatly by region.  In the north, flat, ribbon-shaped pastas served with cream sauces are most popular.  In the south, macaroni served with tomato-based sauces is the favorite type of pasta.  Soups of all kinds may substitute for pasta as a first course.  Another popular first-course dish is risotto, a rice dish with vegetables.  The most popular meats are veal and pork.  Cheeses are also important.  They are either eaten alone or used in other dishes.  Pizza is a popular snack and is also eaten as a light meal.  Fresh fruit is a popular dessert.  Traditionally, wine is served with every meal except breakfast.

Recreation.  Italians enjoy a wide variety of sports.  Soccer is the most popular sport in Italy.  Every major city has a professional soccer team.  But soccer is not just a spectator sport--on weekends Italy's parks are filled with children and adults playing the game.  Basketball is also very popular, and some cities have more than one professional basketball team.  Other popular sports include fishing, hunting, cycling, roller skating, and baseball.

Family recreational activities include taking a traditional Sunday passeggiata (family stroll), driving to the seashore or the mountains, and watching television.  Italians enjoy going to the movies, but the growing popularity of TV has led to a decline in movie attendance.

Religion.  About 95 per cent of Italy's people are Roman Catholics.  Most baptisms, weddings, and funeral services are held in church.  But only about 30 per cent of all Italians attend church regularly.  Many others occasionally attend church.  An agreement called the Lateran Pact governs the relationship between Italy and the Roman Catholic Church.  For instance, the pact exempts priests and other members of religious orders from military service and gives tax exemptions to Catholic organizations.

The Roman Catholic Church has had a strong influence on laws in the past, but that influence has weakened.  For example, until 1970, the church was able to block attempts to legalize divorce in Italy.  And in 1978, voters rejected the church's position and voted to allow abortions.

Vatican City, the spiritual and governmental center of the Roman Catholic Church, lies entirely within the city of Rome.  But Vatican City is independent from Italy and has its own diplomatic corps.

There are several small religious groups in Italy.  These groups include Protestants, Muslims, and Jews.

Education.  All children in Italy from age 6 to age 14 must attend school.  More than 90 per cent of them attend public schools.  Through the Ministry of Education in Rome, the national government sets educational policies and selects the school system's curricula and books.  The required schooling is divided into a five-grade elementary school followed by a three-year junior high school.  After graduating from junior high school, students may attend one of many different kinds of senior high schools.  Most of these schools offer four- or five-year programs of study.  The largest group of students attend technical schools.  Other high schools include vocational schools, science schools, classical schools, teacher training schools, and language schools.

Any senior high school graduate may attend a university.  Italy has 47 public universities.  The country also has a few private universities, most of which are run by the Roman Catholic Church.  Together, the universities enroll more than a million students each year.  Most university programs last from four to six years.

University enrollment has been very heavy since the late 1960's.  The University of Rome, with an enrollment of about 170,000, is the largest university in Italy.  The University of Bologna, which dates from about 1100, is one of the world's oldest universities.

Museums and libraries.  Italy is one of the world's greatest centers of architecture, art, and books.  Many of its art museums rank among the most famous in the world.  Several of Italy's museums are the former palaces of kings or the houses of royal families.  These museums include the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi Palace in Florence.  National archaeological museums in Cagliari, Naples, and Palermo contain artifacts from the earliest history of Italy.  Displays in the national galleries in Naples, Palermo, and Urbino include paintings by Italian masters.

All large Italian cities have public libraries.  The largest libraries in the country are the national central libraries in Florence and Rome.  The one in Florence contains about 41/2 million volumes; the one in Rome, about 31/2 million volumes.  In Italy, people visit libraries primarily for serious study.  Local libraries have little in the way of popular books for general readers, and children's libraries are rare.


Italy has made important contributions to the arts since the early Middle Ages.  The country's greatest artistic achievements came during the Renaissance, the cultural movement that began in the early 1300's and ended about 1600.  During that time, Italy produced some of the greatest painters, sculptors, and architects in art history.  Italian painters, sculptors, composers, and architects also dominated the baroque art movement that began near the end of the Renaissance and ended in the 1700's.

Architecture.  Italy achieved its first international importance in architecture.  Old St. Peter's Church (begun about A.D. 330) was probably the first significant early Christian basilica, a style of church architecture that came to dominate the early Middle Ages.  Old St. Peter's stood on the site of the present St. Peter's Church in Rome.  The first significant buildings in the medieval Romanesque style were churches built in Italy during the 800's.  Several outstanding examples of the Byzantine architectural style of the Middle East also were built in Italy.  The most famous Byzantine structure is the Basilica of St. Mark (begun in the mid-1000's) in Venice.

The greatest flowering of Italian architecture took place during the Renaissance.  Filippo Brunelleschi made great contributions to architectural design with his dome for the Cathedral of Florence (completed in 1436).  Leon Battista Alberti was another early Renaissance architect whose theories and designs had an enormous influence on later architects.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Italian Renaissance architecture was St. Peter's Church, originally designed by Donato Bramante in the early 1500's.  Andrea Palladio influenced architects throughout western Europe with the villas and palaces he designed in the middle and late 1500's.

The baroque period produced several outstanding Italian architects in the 1600's especially known for their churches.  The most important architects included Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini.

Modern Italian architects have also gained an international reputation.  The best known is Pier Luigi Nervi, who gained fame for his skillful use of concrete.

For more information on Italian architects and structures, see ARCHITECTURE.

Literature in the Italian language was shaped by three great writers of the 1300's--Dante, Petrarch, and Giovanni Boccaccio.  Their language and their works were imitated by Italian writers for hundreds of years.  Dante's The Divine Comedy is a masterpiece of world poetry.  Boccaccio's Decameron is one of the most popular collections of short stories ever written.  Petrarch's love poetry served as a model for centuries.

Italian Renaissance authors produced a number of important works.  Among the best known is The Prince, a political science essay written by Niccolo Machiavelli in 1513.  Italian drama developed in the 1600's, especially in the style called commedia dell'arte.  These comedies were based on the improvisation of certain characters and became very popular.  In the 1700's, playwright Carlo Goldoni replaced commedia dell'arte with full written plays, many portraying the middle class of his day.

In the 1800's, Alessandro Manzoni wrote The Betrothed (1827, 1840), a famous historical novel.  Manzoni was also an influential playwright.  In the late 1800's, a realistic literary movement called verismo played a major role in Italian literature.  Giovanni Verga was the leading author in this movement.

A movement called futurism, led by poet and novelist Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, influenced Italian writers in the early 1900's.  The movement called for literature that would glorify the modern machine age.  The leading Italian dramatist of the 1900's was Luigi Pirandello, known for his philosophical plays.  Salvatore Quasimodo and Eugenio Montale were leading modern poets.

For more information, including a list of notable Italian authors, see ITALIAN LITERATURE and its listing of Related articles.

Music.  Italian composers have played a major role in music since the Middle Ages.  In the 1000's, Guido d'Arezzo, an Italian monk, developed a revolutionary system of notation and method of sight-singing.

During the Renaissance, Giovanni Palestrina composed masterpieces of choral music for use in church services.  The first operas were composed in Florence in the 1590's.  Opera emerged as an art form during the baroque period.  Claudio Monteverdi was the first great composer of baroque opera in the early 1600's.  Important composers of the late 1600's and early 1700's included Alessandro Scarlatti, his son Domenico, and Antonio Vivaldi.  Alessandro became best known for his operas, Domenico for his keyboard compositions, and Vivaldi for his works for violin.  During the 1800's and early 1900's, popular operas were composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini, Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioacchino Rossini.

For more information, including a list of important Italian composers, see CLASSICAL MUSIC and its listing of Related articles.

Painting and sculpture.  The Italian Renaissance produced many of the greatest painters and sculptors in art history.  They were all influenced by the work of Giotto in the late 1200's.  One of the most influential artists who ever lived, Giotto changed the course of Western art by painting in a new realistic style.

Florence became the center of early Renaissance art.  The great Florentine masters of painting included Masaccio, Fra Angelico, Andrea Mantegna, Sandro Botticelli, and Paolo Uccello.  The greatest artist of the 1400's was probably Leonardo da Vinci.  His portrait Mona Lisa and his religious scene The Last Supper are among the most famous paintings in history.

Early Renaissance sculptors equaled the painters in achievement.  The major sculptors included Donatello, Antonio del Pollaiuollo, and Andrea del Verrocchio.

The later Renaissance was dominated by Raphael and Michelangelo.  Raphael painted balanced, harmonious pictures that expressed a calm, noble way of life.  Michelangelo achieved greatness both as a painter and sculptor.  He even helped design St. Peter's Church.  In Venice, a number of artists were painting richly colored works during the 1500's.  The most famous Venetian masters included Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto.

Italian painters and sculptors dominated the baroque period.  Annibale Caracci and Michelangelo Caravaggio were the most important early baroque painters.  Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the greatest master of European sculpture of the baroque period.

In the 1900's, many Italians played leading roles in the development of modern art.  Umberto Boccioni was a founder and the leading sculptor of the futurism movement.  Giorgio de Chirico gained fame for his haunting paintings of empty city squares.  Amadeo Modigliano won renown with a series of brilliantly painted portraits.

For more information, including lists of important Italian artists, see PAINTING and SCULPTURE and their listings of Related articles.


The land

Italy has eight land regions: (1) the Alpine Slope, (2) the Po Valley, (3) the Adriatic Plain, (4) the Apennines, (5) Apulia and the Southeastern Plains, (6) the Western Uplands and Plains, (7) Sicily, and (8) Sardinia.

The Alpine Slope runs across the northernmost part of Italy.  Its landscape includes huge mountains and deep valleys.  Forests of beech, oak, and chestnut trees grow at the lower levels of the mountains.  Higher levels feature grasslands and conifer forests.  Only low bushes grow at still higher elevations, and the highest mountaintops have only rocks and glaciers.  Melting snow from the Alps feeds many rivers.  Hydroelectric plants along Alpine rivers provide much of Italy's electric power.  The people of the Alpine region live in small, scattered communities, and make their living by farming and herding.  Many tourists visit the Alps to ski.

The Po Valley, also called the North Italian Plain, is a broad plain that stretches between the Alps in the north and the Apennine mountains in the south.  Waterways fed by melting snows from these mountains cross the valley.  They feed into Italy's longest river, the Po, which forms the center of the valley.  The Po floods periodically, but a system of dikes controls the flooding.

The Po Valley is the richest and most modern agricultural region in Italy, and its land is almost totally cultivated.  It is also Italy's most densely populated region, with many cities and a growing number of industrial suburban towns.  Milan and Turin, in the western part of the valley, are at the center of the most heavily industrialized part of Italy.  In the east, the Po River drains into the Adriatic Sea, forming a vast delta region of lagoons, ponds, and marshes.  During the 1800's, much of this land was drained and turned into farmland.

The Adriatic Plain is a small region north of the Adriatic Sea.  Its eastern edge borders Slovenia.  The plain's eastern half is known as the Carso.  It is a limestone plateau and is not good for farming.

The Apennines stretch almost the entire length of Italy.  These mountains have steep inclines of soft rock that are constantly eroding as a result of heavy rains, overgrazing of sheep and goats, and the clearing of forests for wood and cropland.  The lower mountain levels are covered with oak forests, which have been cleared in many places to allow farming.  The middle levels feature beech and conifer forests.  The highest slopes have only wooded scrubland.  The Arno and Tiber rivers flow from the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The northern Apennines have some of the largest forests in the country and much pastureland.  The central part of the range has productive farmland and grazing.  The southern Apennines include the poorest part of Italy, from Molise to Calabria.  This area has plateaus and high mountains, and offers few natural resources.

Apulia and the Southeastern Plains form the "heel" of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula.  This region is composed of plateaus that end as cliffs at the Mediterranean Sea.  It has many large farming estates, and produces more olive oil than any other region of Italy.  Fishing is important along the coast.  Bari and Taranto, two port cities, are the chief industrial centers.

The Western Uplands and Plains stretch along the Tyrrhenian Sea from La Spezia, a port city just south of Genoa, southward past Naples to Salerno.  It is a rich agricultural region, second only to the Po Valley in agricultural production.  The northern portion of the region includes the rich hill country of Tuscany and Umbria.  This area is known especially for its grain crops and livestock.  The southern half of the Western Uplands and Plains includes the cities of Rome and Naples.  The plain along the coast is densely populated.  In the warm climate of the coastal plain, farmers grow apricots, cherries, lemons, peaches, and vegetables.  Vineyards are found throughout the entire region.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.  It is separated from mainland Italy by the Strait of Messina.  The island has mountains and plains.  Mount Etna, one of the largest active volcanoes in the world, dominates the landscape of northeastern Sicily.  Severe erosion, caused in part by the clearing of forests, has hampered agriculture and made travel in many inland areas difficult during the wet season.  Wheat farming and sheep and goat herding are important in the interior of the island.  Sicily has the largest fishing industry in Italy.  Since the end of World War II in 1945, several of Sicily's cities have attracted industrial enterprises.

Sardinia is an island to the west of the Italian peninsula in the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Its landscape is dominated by mountains and high plateaus.  The only good farmland is in the low-lying coastal plains, where cereals, artichokes, and grapes are grown.  The most heavily populated areas of Sardinia are along these coastal plains.


Italy is often called "Sunny Italy," but this description is only partly true.  Spring, summer, and fall are generally sunny, but winter is rainy and cloudy.

In early spring, hot, dry air from the Sahara expands across the Mediterranean Sea northward to the Alps and covers Italy.  The summer climate of much of Italy is dry, with occasional rainstorms.  In fall, the Saharan air mass contracts, and cool moist air from the Atlantic Ocean flows eastward over the country.  Winters are cold and snowy on the upper slopes of the Alps and the Apennines.  Along the Mediterranean Sea, the days are usually warm.  The climate does not vary greatly between the north and the south, except in winter.  Northern Italy is protected from intense cold by the Alps.

The north has enough rain to raise crops, often 30 inches (76 centimeters) or more a year, but dryness increases to the south.  Southern Sicily has only about 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain a year.



Since World War II (1939-1945), Italy has shifted from a predominantly agricultural economy to one based on modern industries.  As recently as 1953, more than a third of all Italians were employed in agriculture.  Today, only about 10 percent of employed Italians work in agriculture.  The transformation has been most complete in northern Italy, which is now one of the most advanced industrial areas of Western Europe.  Southern Italy remains poorer and less industrialized, despite long-term efforts of the Italian government to improve the region's industry and agriculture.

In the 1950's, Italy helped found the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Atomic Energy Community, and the European Economic Community.  These groups became the basis of the European Community (EC), an economic association of European nations.  Italy's economy was strengthened through increased trade with other EC members.  In 1993, Italy and the other EC countries formed the European Union, which works for both economic and political cooperation among its member nations.  The EC was incorporated into the European Union (see EUROPEAN UNION).

The Italian government owns a large portion of many companies, including banks, insurance companies, airlines, mining companies, and automobile manufacturers.  The government controls all energy production.

Italy has few natural resources.  Its most important resource is the rich farmland of the Po Valley.  Other important croplands are the volcanic soils and clays of the south and of Sicily.  Italy also has valuable forestland on the Alpine slopes and on Sardinia.

Service industries are economic activities that provide services rather than produce goods.  In Italy, they account for about two-thirds of the gross domestic product (GDP).  The GDP is the total value of goods and services produced within the country in a year.

Trade, restaurants, and hotels form Italy's leading service industry group.  This category accounts for a larger percentage of the GDP and employs more people than any other service industry group.  Information on international trade appears later in this section.

Government services include the operation of public administration and military activities.  Another service industry group, community, social, and personal services, includes schools, hotels, and law firms.  It also includes health care.  Italy has excellent medical facilities.  The country also has a national health plan that provides low-cost medical care to all people.

Italy's service industries--particularly retail trade and personal services--are greatly aided by tourism.  About 50 million tourists visit Italy each year.  They contribute billions of dollars to the economy annually.

Other service industries, in order of importance, include finance, insurance, and real estate; transportation and communication; and utilities.  Transportation and communication are discussed later in this section.

Manufacturing.  Manufacturing accounts for almost a fourth of Italy's gross domestic product and employs about a fifth of the nation's work force.  Clothing, including shoes, ranks as the leading type of manufactured product in Italy.  Other important manufactured goods, in order of value, include textiles, processed foods, petroleum products, electrical and nonelectrical machinery, automobiles, and chemicals.

Despite government efforts to develop greater industry in the south, most of Italy's manufacturing takes place in the northwestern part of the country, in the triangle formed by Milan, Turin, and Genoa.  The country's large manufacturing firms include IRI, a company that makes a wide variety of products, including automobiles, ships, processed foods, and guided missiles; ENI, a petroleum company; and Fiat, an automobile manufacturer.

The Italian government controls a major share of many large manufacturing companies, including steel mills and shipyards.  It also owns a major share of Alfa Romeo, Italy's second largest automaker.

Agriculture.  About 40 per cent of Italy's land is cultivated.  Most Italian farms are small--about three-fourths of them are less than 12 acres (5 hectares).  Most farmers own their land.  Some of Italy's agriculture has been modernized, but much of it remains poor, especially in the south and in the mountain areas.

Grapes are Italy's most valuable crop.  Most of the country's grapes are used to make wine.  Italian wines are exported throughout the world.  Italy also produces many olives.  Most are used to make olive oil, another valuable export.  Other important fruit and vegetable crops include oranges, peaches, apples, tomatoes, and potatoes.  Italy is also one of the world's largest producers of sugar beets, and more than half the world's artichokes come from Italy.  Important grain crops include wheat, corn, and rice.

Farmers in Italy raise cattle, hogs, chickens, and sheep.  But Italians consume more meat than the country's farmers produce.  Much of Italy's meat is imported from other countries, especially Argentina.

The Po Valley is the richest agricultural region of Italy.  It is Italy's principal area for livestock and dairy farming.  The chief crops of the Po Valley include grains, grapes, olives, and sugar beets.

Mining.  Italy has limited mineral deposits and so it relies on imports for much of its mineral needs.  Most of Italy's mineral deposits are found on the islands of Sicily and Sardinia and in the regions of Tuscany, Lombardy, and Piedmont in the north-central and northwestern parts of the peninsula.  Italy's most valuable mined product is natural gas, which comes from the Po Valley.  The country also produces large quantities of marble and granite.  Other important minerals mined in Italy include feldspar, pumice, and sulfur.

Energy sources.  Italy depends heavily on other countries for its energy supply.  Imported petroleum provides more than half of Italy's energy.  Libya and Iran are Italy's largest suppliers of crude oil.

Italy itself produces only small amounts of petroleum.  Most of the country's petroleum deposits are in Sicily.  The National Hydrocarbon Agency controls the production and distribution of petroleum and natural gas.  Italians rely heavily on natural gas for heating and other needs.  Large amounts of natural gas from the Po Valley are piped into the cities of the north.  Plants that burn oil provide most of Italy's electric power.  Hydroelectric plants, most common in the north, contribute about a quarter of the country's electrical supply.

Trade.  Italy engages in a great deal of international trade, more than half of which is with other members of the European Union.  Italy's principal trading partners, in order, are Germany, France, the United States, and Britain.  The country's main exports include clothing and shoes, motor vehicles, machinery, chemicals, and fruits and vegetables.  Its chief imports are machinery, petroleum, motor vehicles, textile yarns, metals, and food.  Milan is Italy's center of international commerce.

Since the early 1980's, Italy has had an unfavorable balance of trade--that is, the cost of its imports has exceeded the value of its exports.  This imbalance results largely from the high cost of imported petroleum.  Spending by foreign tourists helps balance this deficit.

Transportation.  Italy has an excellent system of roads.  Modern superhighways run the length of the Italian peninsula.  Tunnels through the Alps link the highway system to those of neighboring countries.  Italy has an average of about 1 car for every 3 people.

Railroad lines connect all the major cities of Italy.  A high-speed railway links Rome, Florence, and Milan.  The government owns most of Italy's railroads.

Italy's busiest airport is the Leonardo da Vinci International Airport in Fuimicino, near Rome.  Linate and Malpensa airports in Milan also handle many passengers.  The country's national airline, Alitalia, is owned mostly by the government.

Italy has one of the largest merchant shipping fleets in the world.  The country's major ports include Genoa, Trieste, and Augusta.  Inland shipping is important only in the north, where a network of canals links the Po River with the north lakes.

Communication.  Until 1976, Italy had only three television stations and three radio stations.  All of these stations were part of Radiotelevisione Italiana, a government-owned broadcasting company.  In 1976, the government's monopoly on broadcasting was abolished.  Since then, about 450 privately owned television stations and 1,000 privately owned radio stations have gone into operation.  Italy has an average of about 1 radio per person and 1 television set for every 2 people.

Italy has about 70 daily newspapers, representing many social and political viewpoints.  Many are published by political parties or by the Roman Catholic Church, but most are owned by large companies.  The most widely read newspapers in Italy are Milan's Corriere della Sera, Turin's La Stampa, and Rome's La Repubblica.




End of the Roman Empire.  For nearly 1,500 years, starting about 1000 B.C., the history of Italy was largely the history of the Etruscans and of ancient Rome (see ETRUSCANS; ROME, ANCIENT).  The last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was defeated in Italy in A.D. 476 by a Germanic leader, Odoacer.  His defeat marked the end of the western part of the Roman Empire.  During most of the period from the fall of Rome until the Kingdom of Italy was established in 1861, the peninsula was divided into several smaller states.  These states were frequently conquered by other countries.

The Middle Ages.  Odoacer ruled well for 13 years after gaining control of Italy in 476.  Then he was attacked and defeated by Theodoric, the king of another Germanic tribe, the Ostrogoths.  Theodoric and Odoacer ruled jointly until 493, when Theodoric murdered Odoacer.  Theodoric continued to rule Italy with an army of Ostrogoths and a government that was mostly Italian.  He brought peace to the country, but after his death in 526, the kingdom began to grow weak.  By 553, Justinian I, the Byzantine emperor who ruled the eastern part of the Roman Empire, expelled the Ostrogoths (see BYZANTINE EMPIRE).  The old Roman Empire was united again.  But Byzantine rule in Italy collapsed by 572 as a result of invasions by another Germanic tribe, the Lombards.

During the 400's and 500's, the popes increased their influence in both religious and political matters in Italy.  It was usually the popes who led attempts to protect Italy from invasion or to soften foreign rule.  For about 200 years the popes opposed attempts by the Lombards, who had captured most of Italy, to take over Rome as well.  The popes finally defeated the Lombards with the aid of two Frankish kings, Pepin the Short and Charlemagne (see PEPIN THE SHORT; CHARLEMAGNE).  Using land won for them by Pepin in 756, the popes established political rule in what were called the Papal States in central Italy (see PAPAL STATES).

The Lombards remained a threat to papal power, however, until they were crushed by Charlemagne in 774.  Charlemagne added Lombardy to his vast realm.  In recognition of Charlemagne's power, and to cement the church's alliance with him, Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Romans by Pope Leo III in 800.

After Charlemagne's death in 814, his son Louis I succeeded him.  Louis divided the empire among his sons, who fought each other for territory.  Such battles continued until Otto the Great, the king of Germany, was crowned emperor in 962.  This marked the beginning of what later was called the Holy Roman Empire.

Rise of the city-states.  From the 1000's on, Italian cities began to grow rapidly in independence and importance.  They became centers of political life, banking, and foreign trade.  Some became wealthy, and many, including Florence, Genoa, Milan, Pisa, and Venice, grew into nearly independent city-states.  Each had its own foreign policy and political life.  They all resisted the efforts of noblemen and emperors to control them.

During the 1300's and 1400's, some Italian city-states ranked among the most important powers of Europe.  However, the city-states were often troubled by violent disagreements among their citizens.  The most famous division was between the Guelphs and Ghibellines.  The Guelphs supported supreme rule by the pope, and the Ghibellines favored the emperor.  City-states often took sides and waged war against each other.  This weakened the city-states and resulted in their capture by foreign invaders.  See GUELPHS AND GHIBELLINES.

Life in the city-states contributed to the Renaissance, which developed in Italy after 1300 (see RENAISSANCE).  The cities supported the arts, and artists experimented with new ideas.  Italian thought and Italian styles in art, literature, political theory, religion, and science influenced nearly every area of European activity.

During the Renaissance, Italy became an even more attractive prize to foreign conquerors.  After some city-states asked for outside help in settling disputes with their neighbors, King Charles VIII of France marched into Italy in 1494.  The city-states could not hold back the French army.  Charles soon withdrew, but he had shown that the cities of Italy could be conquered because they were not united.  For many years, France and the Holy Roman Empire fought for control of Italy.

Spanish and Austrian rule.  In 1519, King Charles I of Spain, a member of the Habsburg family, became Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire.  The power of Charles V lay chiefly in the riches of the lands under Spanish control.  In 1521, the first in a series of wars broke out between Charles and Francis I of France over rival claims for territory.  Charles's troops looted Rome in 1527 and later took Milan and Sicily from France.  By 1559, almost all of Italy was under the influence of Spain.  By the late 1500's, however, Spanish power had begun to decline.  Dominance over Italy passed from the Spanish Habsburgs to the Austrian Habsburgs by the early 1700's.  During the 1700's, Austria governed Milan and controlled most of the rest of Italy through local rulers who were loyal to the Austrian king.  Although Italy was still an important center for the arts and sciences and shared in international intellectual movements, it no longer had an active role in European politics.

The French Revolution and Napoleon influenced Italy more deeply than they affected any other country of Europe, except France.  The French Revolution began in 1789 and immediately found supporters among the Italian people.  The local Italian rulers, sensing danger in their own country, drew closer to the European kings who opposed France.  After the French king was overthrown and France became a republic, secret clubs favoring an Italian republic were formed throughout Italy.  The armies of the French Republic began to move across Europe.  In 1796, Napoleon Bonaparte led a French army into northern Italy and drove out the Austrian rulers (see NAPOLEON I).  Once again, Italy was the scene of battle between the Habsburgs and the French.  Wherever France conquered, Italian republics were set up, with constitutions and legal reforms.  Napoleon made himself emperor in 1804, and part of northern Italy became the Kingdom of Italy under his rule.  The rest of northern Italy was added to France.  Only Sicily and Sardinia remained free of French control.

French rule lasted less than 20 years, and it differed from previous foreign control of the Italian peninsula.  In spite of heavy taxation and frequent harshness, the French introduced representative assemblies and new laws that were the same for all parts of the country.  For the first time since the days of ancient Rome, Italians of different regions used the same money and served in the same army.  Many Italians began to see the possibility of a united Italy free of foreign control.

Napoleon abdicated in 1814 after being defeated by the major powers of Europe.  These nations then attempted to establish a new order in Europe.  Their representatives met at the Congress of Vienna and decided to reestablish Italy's former rulers in most cases.  The royal House of Savoy returned to rule the region of Piedmont in the northwest and the island of Sardinia.  These areas together were called the Kingdom of Sardinia.  Because its center of government was in Piedmont, in Turin, the kingdom is often referred to simply as Piedmont.  In the south, Naples and Sicily were placed under the Bourbon royal family, which had ruled the areas earlier.  These regions together were called the kingdom of the Two Sicilies.  Most of the Papal States were returned to the pope.  In the north, several states ruled by dukes loyal to Austria were reestablished.  Lombardy and Venetia were placed under direct Austrian rule.

Austria controlled much of the Italian peninsula more firmly than ever before.  But talk of reform continued, particularly among lawyers, professors, and liberal noblemen.  Piedmont became the center of this movement, and Piedmont's rulers, the kings of the Kingdom of Sardinia, were a focus of Italian political hopes.  Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian patriot, began to work actively for national unity and an independent Italian republic.  During the 1820's and early 1830's, a number of unsuccessful revolts took place against the local rulers.

Italy united.  In 1848, revolutions broke out in Austria, in France, in many of the German states, and in every major Italian city.  The king of the Kingdom of Sardinia and the king of Naples each granted a constitution to his people.  The citizens of Milan drove out the Austrian army.  Venice again declared itself a republic.  Republics were also established in Rome and in Tuscany.  But these governments were too inexperienced and divided to oppose Austria.

In 1849, Austria put down the revolutions.  The Kingdom of Sardinia was defeated and King Charles Albert gave up his throne to his son, Victor Emmanuel II. The king of Naples rejected the constitution he had been forced to grant.  He jailed the revolutionists and governed harshly.  The grand duke returned to his throne in Tuscany.  With aid from the French army, the pope reestablished his control in Rome.  The republics in Tuscany and Rome were thus ended.  After a year of fighting the Venetian Republic, the last of the revolutionary governments, surrendered to Austria.  The revolutions were over, and Austria kept control of much of Italy.

Many Italians now realized that they would have to expel the Austrians to get the reforms they wanted.  The Kingdom of Sardinia had kept its constitution and its tricolor flag, the symbol of Italian patriotism.  Count Cavour, the prime minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia, tried to establish his country as a progressive, independent state.  He sought a place for it in European councils as the spokesperson for Italy against Austria.

Most Italian patriots made national unity under the king of the Kingdom of Sardinia their goal.  In 1858, Cavour arranged a defense agreement with Napoleon III of France.  Austria feared losing its hold on Italy, and declared war on the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1859.  Soldiers from France and Italy pushed the Austrians eastward almost to Venice.  The dukes who had ruled in cooperation with Austria were expelled by local revolts.

In 1859 and 1860, all of northern Italy, except Venetia, down to the Papal States was joined to the Kingdom of Sardinia.  This territory was far more than Napoleon III had wanted the Kingdom of Sardinia to gain, but it was less than the Italians had demanded.  In 1860, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Italy's most popular hero, sailed to Sicily with a thousand volunteers to help fight for Sicily's freedom against its Bourbon rulers.  Garibaldi's small, enthusiastic army, called the "red shirts," defeated the far larger professional army of the kingdom.  Then Garibaldi's troops crossed to the Italian mainland and captured southern Italy and the city of Naples.  Cavour sent an army through the Papal States to join Garibaldi and to keep him from attacking Rome.  Cavour feared that an attack on Rome would make France or Austria come to the aid of the pope.  Cavour also feared Garibaldi might use his popularity to win support for a republic instead of a monarchy.

The Kingdom of Italy.  Supported by a nationwide vote, Victor Emmanuel II declared the formation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.  It included all the peninsula except Venetia, the tiny country of San Marino, and the city of Rome.  Victor Emmanuel II, the king of the Kingdom of Sardinia, became king of Italy.

In 1866, Victor Emmanuel agreed to support Prussia in a war against Austria.  In return for his support, Italy was to receive Venetia if Prussia defeated Austria.  The war began in June 1866, and Austria was defeated by July.  Venetia became part of Italy.  Only Rome and San Marino were not part of the new kingdom.

War between France and Prussia in 1870 led France to withdraw the French troops that were protecting Rome for the pope.  The Italian army moved into Rome, and Italy at last included the entire peninsula.  The pope's territory was reduced to the Vatican and Lateran palaces and the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo.  Rome became the capital of Italy in 1871.

The Kingdom of Italy had many problems.  An enormous debt remained after the wars that were fought to unite the country.  Italy had few resources, and it lagged behind the other major powers in industrialization.  Economic and social differences between the industrial north and the rural south were added problems.  Regional disputes showed that national unity was far from complete.  Many people in other regions did not like being ruled by the Piedmontese leaders of the Kingdom of Sardinia.  The pope was angry about the loss of Rome and the Papal States, and refused to accept the legality of the new nation.  He forbade Roman Catholics from taking part in national elections.  In addition, Parliament did not represent all the people because only the wealthy were allowed to vote.  Socialist and labor movements began to organize in all parts of the country.

From 1870 to 1915, Italy made important progress economically and socially.  Working conditions improved, production of goods increased, and many more people learned to read and write.  In spite of these improvements, the government failed to win the confidence and support of its citizens.

The Italian government also had difficulty with its foreign policy and wanted to increase Italy's influence in world affairs.  In 1882, Italy became part of the Triple Alliance, along with Austria-Hungary and Germany (see TRIPLE ALLIANCE).  Italy hoped to obtain a colonial empire in North Africa to make the government more popular at home.  Between 1887 and 1896, Italy made several unsuccessful attempts to conquer Ethiopia and colonize it.

In 1911, Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire over the rights of Italians living in Libya.  Libya was then a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire in North Africa.  Italy defeated the Ottoman Empire, and in 1912, the Turks signed a treaty that gave Libya and the Dodecanese Islands to Italy.

World War I began in 1914.  Germany and Austria-Hungary were eager to have Italy's support against the Allies--France, Great Britain, and Russia.  But Trieste and Trentino, the territories Italy wanted most, belonged to Austria, and Italy's relations with France were friendly.  Italy stayed out of the fighting for almost a year, even though it belonged to the Triple Alliance.

The war became another source of political division in Italy.  Some Italians favored neutrality, but others wanted to support the Allies.  Finally, in 1915, Italy entered the war on the side of the Allies.  The Allies promised in a secret agreement that if they won the war, they would give Italy Trieste and Trentino, and portions of Albania, Dalmatia, and Istria.  They also promised financial aid and territory in Africa.  For the story of Italy in the war, see WORLD WAR I.

The battles against Austria along Italy's northeast border turned out to be more expensive in men and materials than expected, and they settled little.  In two years of bloody fighting, the Italian army moved only about 10 miles (16 kilometers) into Austrian territory.  Then, in 1917, German and Austrian troops began an attack that forced the Italians to retreat.  With the aid of the Allies, Italy rallied.  The Italian army was reorganized and won some important victories before the war ended in 1918.

The treaties following the end of World War I were unsatisfactory to Italy.  They gave Italy nearly 9,000 square miles (23,000 square kilometers) of important territory that had belonged to Austria-Hungary, including Trentino and Trieste.  But this territory was far less than the Allies had promised.

Italy under Mussolini.  World War I left Italians still more dissatisfied with their government than they had been before.  Thousands of workers had no jobs.  Veterans were bitter that they had gained so little for their sacrifices.  The Italian election of 1919 was the first in which all adult males were allowed to vote.  It produced great victories for two new mass parties, the Popular Party--which was linked to the Roman Catholic Church--and the Socialist Party.  These parties opposed each other and criticized government officials.  Conflicts between the different parties in Parliament prevented the development of effective national leadership.  Workers began to strike, peasants demanded land, and threats of revolution grew.

A new movement called Fascism, led by Benito Mussolini, a former Socialist, grew increasingly popular (see FASCISM).  The Fascists favored strict government control of labor and industry.  They promised to bring order to Italy and to make the nation great.  In October 1922, they marched on Rome, and King Victor Emmanuel III named Mussolini prime minister of Italy.

By 1925, Mussolini ruled Italy as dictator.  Italian Fascism became a model for similar movements in Europe and Latin America.  The Fascists organized young people, workers, and employers into groups pledged to support Mussolini, who was called Il Duce (The Leader).  The Fascists used terror and secret police to prevent opposition.  They controlled the press, radio, and schools and used propaganda skillfully.  Public works projects, the apparent sense of order, and growing military strength impressed many foreigners as well as Italians.

One of Mussolini's best-known achievements was the Lateran Treaty of 1929.  This treaty established normal relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Italian government for the first time since Italy took over Rome in 1870.  See PAPAL STATES.

World War II.  From 1935 to 1945, Italy was at war almost continuously.  In 1936, Mussolini conquered Ethiopia.  In 1936, he sent almost 70,000 men to help the rebels under Francisco Franco win the Spanish Civil War.  Later that year, Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, the German dictator, signed an agreement which outlined a common foreign policy for Germany and Italy.  This agreement became known as the Rome-Berlin Axis to suggest that all Europe rotated around a line between the two capitals.  In 1939, Italian troops seized Albania.

Also in 1939, Italy agreed to fight on Germany's side in case of war.  World War II began on Sept. 1, 1939, when Hitler's troops marched into Poland.  Britain and France immediately declared war on Germany.  But Italy stayed out of the fighting for more than nine months.  On June 10, 1940, less than two weeks before France fell to Germany, Italy entered the war.

Italy was unprepared economically or militarily for modern war, and Mussolini's campaigns went poorly.  The Italian army suffered defeats in North Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Greece.  The Allies invaded Sicily on July 10, 1943.  Under orders from King Victor Emmanuel III, the Italian government overthrew and imprisoned Mussolini.  German commandos rescued Mussolini, and he fled to northern Italy.  The Allies landed on the Italian mainland on September 3, and Italy surrendered that same day.  On October 13, Italy declared war on Germany.  But German forces took control of Italy and installed Mussolini as head of a puppet government.  As the Allies moved northward, civil war broke out between the remaining Fascist forces and the Resistance, a growing movement of anti-Fascist, anti-Nazi Italians.  In 1945, members of the Resistance caught and shot Mussolini when he tried to escape to Switzerland.  A number of these underground fighters, called partisans, were members of the Communist Party.  The partisans became increasingly influential after the war.  See WORLD WAR II.

Allied troops left Italy after a peace treaty was signed in 1947.  Italy lost such possessions as the Dodecanese Islands, Eritrea, and Libya.  In 1949, Italian Somaliland was made a United Nations trust territory for 10 years, and was also placed under Italian administration.

The Italian republic.  Between 1945 and 1948, the outlines of a new Italy began to appear.  Victor Emmanuel III gave up the throne on May 9, 1946, and his son, Humbert II, became king.  On June 2, Italy held its first free election in 20 years.  Italians chose a republic to replace the monarchy, which had been closely associated with Fascism.  They elected a Constituent Assembly to prepare a new democratic constitution.  The Assembly adopted the constitution in 1947.

Three political parties--the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, and the Communists--became the most powerful in the Italian republic.  For many years, the Christian Democrats ruled the country, usually in coalitions with smaller parties.

Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi, head of the Christian Democrats, was the most powerful figure in the government from 1948 to 1953.  De Gasperi held together the various groups in his party and excluded the Communists from the government.  He established programs of industrial growth and agricultural reform.  Under his leadership, Italy formed closer ties with the United States and with other Western European nations.  In the late 1940's and early 1950's, Italy depended heavily on economic aid from the United States.  In 1949, Italy became a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  Italy became a founding member of the European Payments Union (now the European Monetary Agreement) in 1950.

After De Gasperi's death in 1954, divisions among the Christian Democratic majority widened, allowing the other parties greater influence.  Despite its large size, the Communist Party was kept out of positions of power in the government.  Italy became a member of the United Nations in 1955.  Also in the 1950's, Italy helped establish several organizations that eventually became the European Community, an economic association that was incorporated into the European Union in 1993.  During the 1950's, the Italian economy began to grow impressively.  By the 1960's, industrial production had reached more than twice its prewar level, and Italy's rate of economic growth ranked among the highest in Europe.  Italy had quickly been transformed from a nation in which most people worked in agriculture to one in which industry formed the backbone of the economy.

The rapid changes in Italy's economy also brought many problems.  Most of the economic growth occurred in the north.  As a result, the gap between the poor regions of the south and the prosperous regions of the north increased, in spite of government aid to the south.  Housing shortages developed in major cities.  Social questions centering on the condition of the poor and the workers' share in the nation's growing prosperity became increasingly important.

In 1962, rising demands for social reforms in a changing society led to an important shift in Italy's government.  That year, a political agreement called the opening to the left gave the Socialists a role, along with the Christian Democrats, in the governing coalition.  With minor changes, this coalition lasted until the Socialists withdrew in 1976.  During this period, government reforms made the tax system fairer, opened higher education to more students, and established regional governments with increased authority.  The Socialists rejoined the coalition in 1980.

Economic problems and political changes.  In 1969, strikes and protests by labor union members led to increased wages and benefits for workers.  But inflation, caused largely by a worldwide rise in the cost of petroleum, soon became a serious problem.  The price increase hit Italy especially hard because the nation must import most of its petroleum.  Continuing pressure from labor unions for increased wages and benefits added to the inflation problem, as did the government's reluctance or inability to raise taxes.  At the same time, the government increased its own economic burdens by taking over many faltering and unprofitable firms.  As Italy's economic problems grew, the government found it increasingly difficult to win support and pursue consistent policies.  Many Italians accused government agencies of inefficiency and incompetence.

During the 1970's, the Communists significantly increased their voice in Italian politics.  Locally, they won control of many regional and city governments.  They carried out extensive social reforms that the national government was unwilling to attempt.  Nationally, the vote for the Communist Party reached a level only slightly below that for the Christian Democrats.  No other party compared with these two in size and influence.

The Italian Communists became increasingly independent of Soviet and Eastern European Communism.  They insisted that they were loyal to democracy and should have a voice in national policy.  By the mid-1970's, Italy's Christian Democratic government depended on a promise by the Communists not to vote against the government on major issues.  In 1977, the Communists agreed to support the government in return for a role in setting policy.  But the Christian Democrats continued to exclude Communists from the cabinet.  By the 1980's, the Communist vote had begun to decline.

Social problems.  Cooperation with the Communists enabled the government to take stronger measures to limit inflation and strengthen the economy.  But this cooperation was unpopular with many Christian Democrats and with some of Italy's allies, especially the United States.  It also brought a wave of violent opposition led by the Red Brigades, a small group of leftist terrorists who oppose all the Italian political parties.  The Red Brigades created fear and disruption by bombing public places and shooting leading business executives and government officials.

In 1978, the Red Brigades kidnapped Aldo Moro, a former prime minister who was expected to become Italy's next president.  Moro had played a central part in promoting cooperation between the Christian Democrats and the Communists.  The Red Brigades offered to free Moro in exchange for the release of their members who had been arrested for terrorism.  But Italian leaders rejected the terrorists' offer.  After seven weeks of waiting, the terrorists killed Moro.  Reaction to this murder led to a renewed drive against the terrorists, resulting in the arrest and conviction of hundreds of people.

During the late 1960's, the political influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Italy had begun to weaken.  In 1970, the Italian Parliament went against the position of the church and voted to legalize divorce.  In 1978, it voted to allow abortions, resisting intense opposition from the church.  In 1984, the government and the church agreed to end a 1929 provision that had made Roman Catholicism the state religion of Italy.  The agreement won the approval of Parliament in 1985.

Organized crime has long been a problem in Italy.  Organized crime activities range from international drug trafficking to corruption in awarding government construction contracts.  In 1982, General Dalla Chiesa, head of the government's efforts against the Mafia, a criminal organization in Sicily, was assassinated.  In 1986, the government began the mass prosecution of 452 accused Mafia members in Palermo.  As a result of this trial, 338 were convicted.

Political changes.  In 1981, Republican Party leader Giovanni Spadolini became prime minister in a coalition government.  He was the first prime minister of Italy since the end of World War II who was not a Christian Democrat.

Bettino Craxi of the Socialist Party succeeded Spadolini as prime minister in 1983 and served until 1987, when he resigned.  His government lasted longer than any other since the Italian republic was set up in 1946.  Craxi had a record of achievements.  But he could do little to change the government's instability and hesitant responses to problems faced by Italy.  In 1994, Craxi was convicted on charges of corruption, and he appealed the conviction.  During the same period, many other Italian political and business leaders were indicted on corruption charges.

Italy's Communist Party became troubled by problems of policy and leadership.  In 1991, after years of moving slowly away from Communist principles, it changed its name to the Democratic Party of the Left.  Some of the party's members opposed the abandonment of Communist principles and formed a new, small Communist Party called the Communist Refoundation.

Christian Democrats held the office of prime minister from 1987 to 1992.  From 1992 to early 1994, non-Christian Democrats held the office in coalition governments, but Christian Democrats continued to hold the largest number of cabinet posts.  In January 1994, the Christian Democratic Party changed its name to the Popular Party.  In March, the Alliance for Freedom, a right wing coalition of several political parties, won the largest number of seats in Parliament.

Recent developments.  In 1996, Olive Tree, a left-wing coalition led by the Democratic Party of the Left, won the largest number of seats in Parliament.  Olive Tree's victory put former Communists in power for the first time in Italy's history.  In 1998, former Communist Massimo D'Alema became prime minister.  The new government coalition included Communists, former Communists, and a number of other political parties.