Italy Travel And Tours. Italy Travel And Tours.
Italy (Italian: Italia) is a country in Southern Europe. Together with Greece, it is acknowledged as the birthplace of Western culture. Not surprisingly, it is also home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. High art and monuments are to be found everywhere around the country.
It is also famous worldwide for its delicious cuisine, its trendy fashion industry, luxury sports cars and motorcycles, diverse regional cultures and dialects, as well as for its beautiful coast, alpine lakes and mountain ranges (the Alps and Apennines). No wonder it is often nicknamed the Bel Paese (the Beautiful Country).
Two independent mini-states are surrounded entirely by Italy: San Marino and Vatican City. While technically not part of the European Union, both of these states are also part of the Schengen Area and the European Monetary Union (EMU). Apart from different police uniforms, there is no evident transition from these states and Italy’s territory, and the currency is the same. Italian is also the official language in San Marino and is commonly spoken in Vatican City whose official language is Latin.
Italy is, for the most part, a peninsula situated on the Mediterranean Sea, bordering France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia in the north. Italy, which is boot-shaped, is surrounded by the Ligurian and the Tyrrhenian Seas to the west, the Mediterranean and Ionian Seas to the South, and the Adriatic Sea to the East.
Italian is the official language spoken by the majority of the population, but as you travel throughout the country you will find that there are several distinct Italian languages and dialects depending on the region you’re in, many of which might be completely incomprehensible to each other but practically all native Italians can speak the national standard. French is spoken in the northwest and German in the northeast. Italy has a very diverse landscape, but can be primarily described as mountainous, including the Alps and the Apennines mountain ranges that run through the vast majority of it. Two major islands are part of this country: Sardinia, which is an island off the west coast of Italy, and Sicily, at the southern tip (the “toe”) of the boot.
Certainly, humans inhabited the Italian peninsula for at least 200,000 years; Neolithic civilisations flourished in prehistoric Italy but were either wiped out, or assimilated, around 2000 BC by a group of Indo-European tribes, which are collectively known as the Italic peoples. These were more or less closely related to each other and comprised tribes such as the Latins, Etruscans, Umbrians, Samnites, Sicels, Ligures, Oscans, just to name a few. The Etruscan civilisation was among the first to rise in the 6th century BC and lasted until the late Republican period; it flourished in what are now northern Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC, Greek colonies were established in Sicily and the southern part of Italy: the Etruscan culture rapidly became influenced by that of Greece. This is well illustrated at some excellent Etruscan museums; Etruscan burial sites are also well worth visiting. Rome itself was dominated by Etruscan kings until 509 BC, when the last of them – Tarquinius Superbus – was ousted from power and the Roman Republic was founded. After a series of wars, the Romans sacked the nearby Etruscan city of Veii in 396 BC; this triggered the collapse of the Etruscan confederation and the Etruscan people themselves began to be assimilated.
The Celts settled in what is now Northern Italy, where their civilisation flourished, in the 1st millennium BC and began expanding further south; they made the mistake of sacking Rome in 390 BC and the Romans, hell-bent on revenge, waged wars against them until they were conquered and their people assimilated.
Ancient Rome was at first a small village founded around the 8th century BC. In time, its primitive kingdom grew into a republic – which would later evolve into an empire – covering the whole Mediterranean and expanding as far north as Scotland and as far east as Mesopotamia and Arabia. Its steady decline began in the 2nd century AD, and the empire finally broke into two parts in 285 AD: the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in the East. The western part came under attack from various Germanic tribes; Visigoths sacked Rome in 410AD and their Vandal fellows would follow in 455AD. The Western Roman Empire finally collapsed in 476 AD, and the barbarian chiefs divided the Italian peninsula among themselves; after this, Italy plunged into the so-called Dark Ages.
Following a lengthy, and bloody, reconquest by the Byzantines (the so-called “Gothic Wars”), much of Italy was controlled by the Eastern Roman Empire. Needless to say, this wouldn’t last long – as a Germanic tribe, the Lombards, invaded Italy once more in 572; hence the present-day northern region of Lombardy. Like their predecessors, they divided the land among themselves; however, due to their numerical inferiority, they were eventually assimilated by the native populace. Only parts of southern Italy – which were under Byzantine control – and what would later become the Papal States (that is, Rome and the surrounding region, which were under the authority of the Pope) survived as relatively independent entities: indeed, the Church was so independent that it saw fit to call other barbarians, the Franks, in order to get rid of their (now almost-completely romanised) violent, unstable, nosy Lombard neighbours. These were defeated in 774 by the aforementioned Franks and subsequently lost their kingdom.
Meanwhile, the Veneto was being devastated by the barbarians: a part of its inhabitants thought they’d been safe on the islands in the Venetian lagoon and thus founded a city there: Venice was born. The first evidence of what would become the Italian language dates back to this century and more precisely to 960.
Sicily remained in Byzantine hands until the late 8th century, when it was conquered by the Arabs whose reign, however, was short-lived: in 1092 the Normans – after having kicked out the Byzantines from the rest of Southern Italy – proceeded to invade Sicily. They created the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples (which would later become the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, as a result of the unification of these two realms in 1442, and had its capital in Naples).
In the north, Italy was a collection of small, independent city-states and kingdoms which were under the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor. However, they revolted against the then-Emperor – Frederick Barbarossa – in 1176 and beat the Imperial army at Legnano, thus gaining their independence. The so-called repubbliche marinare (maritime republics) of Genoa, Venice, Pisa and Amalfi remained relativey authonomous and competed against each other for the control of the seas and for that of the lucrative trade routes with the Far East. This was also the era of the comuni, independent city-states which were governed by what must have been a close approximation of democracy (that is, they were what we’d call today a “oligarchies” in which the most powerful, or prestigious, families in town were called to cooperate – at least nominally – for the “public good”). Meanwhile, the Hohenstaufens ruled the south and, under Frederick II – who was a patron of the art – gave birth to a rich culture.
From the 13th century onwards, Florence became the main cultural hotspot of the peninsula: not only it was home to poets such as Dante Alighieri and Petrarch but hosted also writers of the calibre of Boccaccio. Indeed, their works formed the basis of a standard form of the Italian language (which is itself a mixture of Florentine grammar and Roman pronunciation). People looked to strong men who could bring order to the cities and this is how dynasties such as the Medici in Florence developed. In turn, these families became patrons of the arts, allowing Italy to become the birthplace of the Renaissance, with the emergence of men of genius such as Leonardo da Vinci, Bramante, Tiziano, Raffaello, Michelangelo and many others. After the heir of Frederick II was killed in battle in 1268, the French ruled the south; they were however expelled from Sicily in 1282 after a popular uprising, the vespri siciliani, during which thousands of Frenchmen were slain (opera buffs will certainly recognise one of their favourite operas!).
In the late 14th and 15th centuries, Italy was home to some of the richest states in Europe; however, they were often at war with each other and only the diplomatic skills of Lorenzo il Magnifico prevented the many petty kingdoms from warring each other. Predictably, when Lorenzo died in 1492, the Italian states plunged into chaos; the King of France took advantage of the situation, crossed the Alps and reclaimed the Kingdom of Naples for himself. He succeeded, but was forced to return to France. Only then did the Italian majors realise the danger, but it was too late: after a futile victory at the battle of Fornovo, in 1495, the peninsula came to the attention of its European neighbours and suffered a series of invasions from the French and the Spanish. The north eventually became dominated by the Austrians.
The discovery of the New World damaged the already declining Italian economies and most of Italy’s states came under foreign domination: and despite the artistic, architectonic and literary developments, life in post-Reinassance Italy became pretty miserable. The Counter-Reformation, while it did succeed in restraining most of the clergy’s “earthly” excesses, further plunged the peninsula into a not-so-happy era. This situation, further aggravated by the Italian Wars of 1494-59 (during which Rome itself was sacked by the German mercenaries of Emperor Charles V) became even worse in the 17th centuries, when the foreign powers fought each other in a series of mostly useless wars over the dynastic rights on the Italian states. The 18th century, while (relatively) more peaceful than the one that preceded it, was, culturally speaking, not-so-grand; on top of that, the Austrians ruled the North with an iron fist and the once-prosperous South had the misfortune of being governed by a particularly backward and obscurantist ruling class.