Italy is located in Southern Europe and comprises the long, boot-shaped Italian Peninsula, the land between the peninsula and the Alps, and a number of islands including Sicily, Sardinia, Elba and about 70 smaller ones. The environmental character of the Italian territories is similar to other Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Greece. Similarities are especially observed for the dry and seasonally hot Mediterranean climate, the north-south gradients in soil characteristics, and the importance of the elevation gradient in determining natural vegetation quality and cover.
Italy’s territorial surface is 301 336 km2. Its territory is characterised by a combination hills covering 41.6 % of the country, and mountains covering 35.2 %, and a relatively long coast line of 8 353 km. This combination ensures highly diversified landscapes and climate conditions.
Italy has a mainly temperate climate with regional variations and continental characteristics especially in the north. In summer the northern parts of Italy are warm with occasional rainfall, the central region is somewhat stifled by humidity and the south scorches under dry heat. In winter, conditions in the main northern cities are dominated by cold, damp and fog; in central regions winter temperatures approach freezing, while temperatures in the south of the country are more favourable averaging 10-20 °C.
The specific location of Italy within the Mediterranean geodynamic setting – the convergence of the European and African plates, the interposition of the Adriatic micro-plate and the opening of the Tyrrhenian basin – makes it one of the countries with the greatest seismic and volcanic risk in the area. The areas with the greatest seismic risk are in the Friuli sector, along the central-southern Apennine range and especially in the sectors of the inter-Apennine basin. The conditions at greatest volcanic risk are naturally tied to the proximity of Italy’s active volcanoes: the Vesuvius and Phlegraean area, the Island of Ischia, the Etna sector, the Aeolian Islands and, in part, the Alban Hills.
In terms of biodiversity, Italy is one of Europe’s richest countries, essentially on account of its favourable geographic position, as well as its extensive geo-morphological, microclimatic and vegetative variety, and the additional influence of its history and culture. Italy possesses fully one half of all the plant species currently found in Europe, together with a third of the animal species.
At the end of 2008, the Italian population surpassed 60 million. As has been the case for a number of years, growth is due almost entirely to immigration.
Within Europe as a whole, Italy is one of the most densely populated countries with an average population density of about 200 per square kilometre.
Compared with the national figure, smaller municipalities are among the most densely populated areas, especially in south Italy and the Islands, where they reach a peak of more than 900 inhabitants per km2. Most of its population lives in the plains. With its long historic urbanisation process, Italy is one of the richest countries in terms of cultural and monumental heritage with 42 cultural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List from 1979 to date.
As for Italy’s production structure, the central regions tend to contain more service enterprises, micro-firms are predominant in the south, and medium-size enterprises are most widespread in the northeast regions. Large-scale industry plays a leading role in the northwest. Within Europe, Italian companies are more focussed on manufacturing activities, specialising mainly in the sectors referred to industrial design, fashion and the textile industry.
[Diversity topics] country introduction
[DIVERSITY] What distinguishes the country?