Italy is a southern European country and its boot-shaped peninsula is surrounded on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea and on the east by the Adriatic Sea, and also by two large islands: Sicily and Sardinia. It shares its northern alpine boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The independent countries of San Marino and the Vatican City are sited within the Italian territory. The Apennine Mountains form the peninsula's backbone; the Alps form its northern boundary.
There is hardly a place in Italy that has remained untouched by the waves of history, art, folklore and culinary tradition. No other country in the world can boast the cultural and artistic treasures of Italy. More than half the world's historical and artistic heritage is in Italy [source: UNESCO]. Evidence can be seen everywhere: you can discover museums, cathedrals, churches and parishes, villas, palaces and castles spread throughout the country, archaeological sites and monuments that adorn small towns and big cities alike. Here you can find the works of artists known as the world's greatest exponents of artistic genius.
Italy - officially the Italian Republic - is a democratic republic: it is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and of what is now the European Union. It is a member of the G8 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Trade Organization (WTO), the Council of Europe, the Western European Union, the Central European Initiative, and a Schengen state.
Italy has officially reached a population of more than 60 million persons and at the moment it has the fifth largest population in the European Union, [source: ISTAT]. The highest density is in the northern part of the country, where the manufacturing outputs are located, and where almost half of the Italian population resides.
In Italy there are a thousand ways to use your free time: practising sports, cultivating hobbies, relaxing, developing your culture, going to a concert, a play, a traditional festival, or watching a sport event. Simply sitting in a bar and enjoying a cappuccino or a glass of good wine, or wandering around the beautiful towns admiring and visiting their churches, palaces, monuments, castles, museums, squares and streets.