Italy is located in south-central Europe, and much of the country lies on a large peninsular that extends into the Mediterranean Sea. On land, Italy shares borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, San Marino, and Slovenia, as well as the Vatican City. The islands of Sardinia and Sicily are also part of Italy.
Most of Italy enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with cool wet winters and hot dry summers. In the south, temperatures can reach 35 degrees Celsius, and even higher, during the summer. In the winter, temperatures can range between 10 and -10 degrees Celsius, with lows of -20 degrees in the northern Alps.
Italy is known for many things: ancient wonders such as The Pantheon and the Colosseum; the ruined city of Pompeii; the magical city of Venice, with its canals and stunning architecture; and the sense of history that is steeped in every brick of its two oldest cities, Rome and Florence.
Italy is also famous for the wealth and quality of food, wine, and other beverages that are made here. Italy brought the world iconic foods such as pizza, pasta, and risotto, and a huge range of ingredients, such as olive oil, parmesan and mozzarella, olives, salami, and all manner of other breads, cheeses, and cured meats. Then there are the coffees: espresso and cappuccino, and the wines and liquors, such as limoncello, grappa, and vermouth.
Many diverse cultures living in Italy early in the country’s history, including the Celts, Sabines, and Latins. The latter were instrumental in the development and expansion of the Roman Empire, which flourished for several centuries. The empire declined in the 4th century CE, and early in the 5th century Rome was overrun by Barbarians, and entering into the Dark Ages.
Around the 14th century, Italy’s increasingly prosperous cities began to trade with foreign nations, and the spheres of art, science, and philosophy began to blossom. However, in the 16th century several Italian city-states were conquered by neighbouring countries. Italy was reunified in the 19th century, but after World War I was seized in a military coup by Benito Mussolini, whose dictatorship ruled for two decades. However, after failing his attempts to gain new territory in World War II, Mussolini lost control of the country and was executed. Italy subsequently became a republic and rebuilt its economy, becoming one of Europe’s most prosperous countries.
Modern Italy has relatively few native plants and animals, and many of those that do remain are rare or endangered. This is largely because Italy has been inhabited by humans for so long, that farming practices and human encroachment have wiped out many native plant and animal populations.
Despite the changes brought by human habitation, many of Italy’s native animals are still present in national parks, including small populations of native eagles, chamois, bears, wolves, and ibex. A small number of mammals—including the Corsican Hare and Sardinian Shrew—are found only on their respective islands, and nowhere else in the world.
Native plants include many flowering species, including cyclamen, geranium, oleander and jasmine, and herbs such as rosemary, basil, and oregano, which are staples of Italian cooking.
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