Italy i// (Italian: Italia [iˈtaːlja]), officially the Republic of Italy (Italian: Repubblica italiana), is a unitaryparliamentary republic inSouthern Europe. To the north, Italy borders France,Switzerland, Austria, andSlovenia, and is approximately delimited by the Alpine watershed, enclosing the Po Valley and the Venetian Plain. To the south, it consists of the entirety of the Italian Peninsulaand the two Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia, in addition to many smaller islands. The sovereign states of San Marino and the Vatican City areenclaves within Italy, whileCampione d'Italia is an Italianexclave in Switzerland. Italy covers an area of 301,338 km2(116,347 sq mi) and has a largely temperate climate. With 59.7 million inhabitants, it is thefifth most populous country in Europe. Italy is also the fourtheconomic power of the European continent and third in the European Union and eighthof the world.
Italy's capital and largest city,Rome, has for centuries been the leading political and religious centre of Western civilisation, as the capital of the Roman Empireand of Christianity. In the Dark Ages, Italy suffered continual invasions by Germanic tribes, while the Roman heritage was preserved by Christian monks. Beginning from the 11th century, Italian cities rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking (moderncapitalism, indeed, has its roots in Medieval Italy), while culture flourished especially during theRenaissance, with scholars, artists and polymaths such asLeonardo da Vinci, Galileo,Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Nonetheless, Italy remained fragmented into numerous warring states for the rest of theMiddle Ages, so it eventually fell prey to other big Europeannation-states, notably France,Spain and later Austria, entering a long period of decline which lasted until the beginning of the 18th century.
After many unsuccessful attempts, the second and thethird wars of Italian independence resulted in theunification of most of present-day Italy in 1859-1866.Between the late 19th century and the early 1900s, The newKingdom of Italy quickly industrialized and acquired a vast a colonial empire in Africa. However, the South and rural areas in the North remained largely excluded from industrialization, fuelling a large diaspora. Despite victory in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, that favoured the establishment of aFascist dictatorship in 1922. The subsequent participation in World War II at the side of Nazi Germany ended in military catastrophe, economic destruction and civil war. In post-war years, Italy abolished the monarchy, embraced democracy and enjoyed a prolonged economic boom, thus becoming one of the most developed nations in the world.
Italy was a founding member of the European Community in 1957, which became the EU in 1993. It is part of the Schengen Area, and has been a member of the Eurozone since 1999. Italy is considered a middle,regional power and is a member state of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the World Trade Organization, theG8, G20, NATO, the Council of Europe and the United Nations. Italy currently maintains the world's tenth-largest nominal defence budget and is a participant in the NATO nuclear sharing policy.