Background: Italy became a nation-state in 1861 when the regional states of the peninsula, along with Sardinia and Sicily, were united under King Victor EMMANUEL II. 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. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946 and economic revival followed. Italy was a charter member of NATO and the European Economic Community (EEC). It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999. Persistent problems include illegal immigration, organized crime, corruption, high unemployment, sluggish economic growth, and the low incomes and technical standards of southern Italy compared with the prosperous north.
Location: Southern Europe, a peninsula extending into the central Mediterranean Sea, northeast of Tunisia
Area land: 294,140 sq km
Area water: 7,200 sq km
Coastline: 7,600 km
Country name conventional long form: Italian Republic
Country name conventional short form: Italy
Country name former: Kingdom of Italy
Population: 61,016,804 (July 2011 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 13.8% (male 4,315,292/female 4,124,624); 15-64 years: 65.9% (male 19,888,901/female 20,330,495); 65 years and over: 20.3% (male 5,248,418/female 7,109,074) (2011 est.);
Population growth rate: 0.42% (2011 est.)
Birth rate: 9.18 births/1,000 population (2011 est.)
Death rate: 9.84 deaths/1,000 population (July 2011 est.)
Net migration rate: 4.86 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2011 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.059 male(s)/female; under 15 years: 1.06 male(s)/female; 15-64 years: 1.03 male(s)/female; 65 years and over: 0.72 male(s)/female; total population: 0.96 male(s)/female (2011 est.);
Infant mortality rate: total: 3.38 deaths/1,000 live births; male: 3.59 deaths/1,000 live births; female: 3.16 deaths/1,000 live births (2011 est.);
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 81.77 years; male: 79.16 years; female: 84.53 years (2011 est.);
Total fertility rate: 1.39 children born/woman (2011 est.);
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.3% (2009 est.);
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: 140,000 (2009 est.);
HIV/AIDS - deaths: fewer than 1,000 (2009 est.);
Nationality: noun: Italian(s); adjective: Italian;
Ethnic groups: Italian (includes small clusters of German-, French-, and Slovene-Italians in the north and Albanian-Italians and Greek-Italians in the south);
Religions: Roman Catholic 90% (approximately; about one-third practicing), other 10% (includes mature Protestant and Jewish communities and a growing Muslim immigrant community);
Languages: Italian (official), German (parts of Trentino-Alto Adige region are predominantly German speaking), French (small French-speaking minority in Valle d'Aosta region), Slovene (Slovene-speaking minority in the Trieste-Gorizia area);
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write; total population: 98.4%; male: 98.8%; female: 98% (2001 census);
GDP (purchasing power parity): $1.782 trillion (2010 est.); $1.763 trillion (2009 est.); $1.857 trillion (2008 est.);
GDP (official exchange rate): $2.037 trillion (2010 est.);
GDP - real growth rate: 1.1% (2010 est.); -5.1% (2009 est.); -1.3% (2008 est.);
GDP - per capita (PPP): $30,700 (2010 est.); $30,300 (2009 est.); $31,900 (2008 est.);
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 1.8%; industry: 24.9%; services: 73.3% (2010 est.);
Population below poverty line: NA%;
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: 2.3%; highest 10%: 26.8% (2000);
Labor force: 25.05 million (2010 est.);
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 4.2%; industry: 30.7%; services: 65.1% (2005);
Unemployment rate: 8.4% (2010 est.); 7.8% (2009 est.);
Budget: revenues: $940.3 billion; expenditures: $1.042 trillion (2010 est.);
Industries: tourism, machinery, iron and steel, chemicals, food processing, textiles, motor vehicles, clothing, footwear, ceramics;
Industrial production growth rate: 0.5% (2010 est.);
Electricity - production: 289.7 billion kWh (2007 est.);
Electricity - consumption: 315 billion kWh (2007 est.);
Electricity - exports: 3.431 billion kWh (2008 est.);
Electricity - imports: 43 billion kWh (2008 est.);
Statistics: CIA World Factbook.
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(Independent daily), Bolzano
(Independent daily), Belluno
(Catholic-oriented, centrist), Rome
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Digging through Italy's rich history, you're sure to uncover some fascinating sites. The World Heritage program is helping to preserve them.
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Sardinia hosts several extraordinary grottos that, hidden since ancient times, have had to wait geological ages before being discovered and explored by man.
Nearly 60 percent of the best museums in the world are located on the European continent, and Italy has its share of the bounty.