Italy, officially the Italian Republic, encompasses an area of roughly 301,225 sq. km. (116,303 sq. mi.), which is about the size of the U.S. states of Georgia and Florida combined. It has a mostly rugged, mountainous terrain and the climate is generally mild Mediterranean with cold northern winters.
In 1861, Italy united as one country under King Victor Emmanuel II. During World War I, Italy renounced its standing alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary and, in 1915, entered the war on the side of the Allies. Under the postwar settlement, Italy received some former Austrian territory along the northeast frontier. An era of parliamentary government came to a close in the early 1920s when Benito Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship. His alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy's defeat in World War II. Under the 1947 peace treaty, minor adjustments were made in Italy's frontier with France and relinquished its overseas territories and certain Mediterranean islands.
Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2, 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum. The constitution was promulgated on January 1, 1948. The Italian state is centralized; in addition to the provinces, the constitution provides for 20 regions with limited governing powers. Five regions (Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto Adige, Valle d'Aosta, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia) function with special autonomy statutes.
Italy has the fifth-highest population density in Europe--about 200 persons per square kilometer (490 per sq. mi.). Minority groups are small, the largest being the German-speaking people of Bolzano Province and the Slovenes around Trieste. There are also small communities of Albanian, Greek, Ladino, and French origin. Immigration has increased in recent years, however the Italian population is declining overall (due to low birth rates). Although Roman Catholicism is the majority religion (85% are nominally Catholic) all religious faiths are provided equal freedom before the law by the constitution.
Italy faces a number of natural hazards: regional landslides, mudflows, avalanches, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, flooding and land subsidence in Venice. On April 6th, at 3:32 AM (local time), Central Italy experienced an earthquake. Read more about earthquakes from the Earthquake Hazards Program in the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
CIA World FactbookU.S. State Department Background Notes, 04/2009; 03/2009