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  • History

    Italy’s capital and largest city, Rome, has for centuries been the leading political and religious centre of Western civilization, serving as the capital of both the Roman Empire and Christianity. During the Dark Ages, Italy endured cultural and social decline in the face of repeated invasions by Germanic tribes, with Roman heritage being preserved largely by Christian monks. Beginning around the 11th century, various Italian cities, communes and maritime republics rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking (indeed, modern capitalism has its roots in Medieval Italy);concurrently, Italian culture flourished, especially during the Renaissance, which produced many notable scholars, artists, and polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Meanwhile, Italian explorers such as Marc Polo, Columbus, Vespucci, and Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Nevertheless, Italy would remain fragmented into numerous warring states for the rest of the Middle Ages, subsequently falling prey to larger European powers such as France, Spain, and later Austria. Italy would thus enter a long period of decline that lasted until the beginning of the 18th century.

    After many unsuccessful attempts, the second and the third wars of Italian independence resulted in the unification of most of present-day Italy between 1859 and 1866. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the new Kingdom of Italy rapidly industrialized and acquired a colonial empire in Africa. However, Southern and rural Italy remained largely excluded from industrialization, fuelling a large and influential Diaspora. Despite victory in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, which favored the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship in 1922. The subsequent participation in World War II at the side of Nazi Germany ended in military defeat, economic destruction and civil war. In the years that followed, Italy abolished the monarchy, reinstated democracy, and enjoyed a prolonged economic boom, thus becoming one of the most developed nations in the world with the fifth largest economy by nominal GDP by the early 1990s. Italy was a founding member of the Nato in 1949 and one of the Inner Six 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 to be both a major Middle Power and a major Regional Power with membership in prominent institutions such as the UN, the EU, the NATO, the OECD, the WTO, the Uniting for Consensus, the G7, G8, G20, the Union for the Mediterranean, the Council of Europe and the Central European Initiative. Italy currently maintains the world’s tenth-largest nominal defense budget and is a participant in the NATO nuclear sharing policy.