The Mediterranean Boot
Italy with 20 official regions, the microstates of San Marino and the Vatican City, and the small island nation of Malta comprise the countries of the Italian (Apennine) Peninsula.
Independent papal state within the city of Rome and seat of the Roman Catholic Church
♦ San Marino
Independent republic enclaved within the northeast side of Italy between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea
Just south of the Italian island of Sicily in the Mediterranean
Photo by Ali Giaudrone
With varied climates and geography, Italia (in Italian) coincides mostly with the Apennine Peninsula, flanked by the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west and the Adriatic Sea to the east, both part of the greater Mediterranean Sea surrounding the peninsula and its islands. Italy’s continental north is bordered by the Alps, while the Apennine Mountains form the peninsula’s central spine.
The Republic of Italy was only established in 1946. Prior to that, in just 1861 separate states had been unified as a monarchy with a period of fascist rule from 1922 until the end of World War II. Each of those, now united, regional cultures are the interwoven pieces of its whole, integral to its considerable history. Long revered for their art and architecture, Italians have an affinity for fresh food, quality cuisine, and a relaxed lifestyle. Italian is the official language, while several distinct regional dialects exist throughout the country. French is spoken in the northwest, particularly in the Aosta Valley near the French Alps; German is common along the Austrian border in the northeast.
Italy is divided into 20 regioni (regions), which (apart from Val d’Aosta) are subdivided into provinces, then further into comuni (municipalities) with the town hall. These cities, which often include small surrounding villages, are further divided into municipal districts or historical neighborhoods.
According to lore, the history of Rome, the capital city in Lazio (Latium), began on Palatine Hill in the 8th century BC. As Rome expanded, the Latins assimilated with the Etruscan people of Tuscany, Umbria, and Marche, creating the Roman Republic, which swelled into the Roman Empire under Augustus in 27 BC. Not long after the empire’s capital moved to Byzantium becoming Constantinople (Istanbul), the Eastern Empire divided from the Western Empire, leaving Rome vulnerable to being sacked by Germanic tribes: the Visigoths in 410 followed by the Ostrogoths late in the 5th century.
The Eastern Empire, known as the Byzantine Empire, regained brief control of the peninsula during the reign of Justinian I in the 6th century. Latium Rome fell once again to the Germanic Lombards in the 7th century, who absorbed into the Frankish Empire of Charlemagne. In the meantime, the Venetians nurtured a profitable relationship with the East and established an independent Republic, which existed for 1100 years through the 18th century.
During the Middle Ages, Rome fell under the influence of the Papacy, which the Franks helped establish, and became the capital of the Papal States from the mid-8th century until 1870. The Italian peninsula was the birthplace of the Renaissance in the 14th century, particularly in Tuscany where art and literature were financially supported by the ruling Medici family of bankers—a movement initially objected to by the Papacy but later supported its artists such as Michelangelo; then the Baroque style developed here in the 17th century, a style exemplified by Bernini, was embraced by the Roman Catholic Church.
After 14th-century conquests, Sardinia was incorporated into Spain following the merged Crowns of Aragon and Castile. In 1720, the island passed to the Savoy King of Sardinia and Piedmont. Control of land shifted over the next century until the conglomeration of city-states was finally unified in 1861 by King Emmanuel II of Sardinia into the Kingdom of Italy, at which point Savoy was ceded to France.
In 1922, the kingdom came under totalitarian Fascist rule led by Benito Mussolini until the Italian Resistance of 1943 during World War II captured and killed Mussolini in 1945. At this point, Italians abandoned the monarchy to form the Italian Republic as we know the country today with its green, white, and red vertical-striped flag.
Today’s 20 regions each have their own history, culture, food, style, and often languages. People tend to identify with their region, city, town, village, or even their “quartiere” (a district within a town), each still connected to their identity prior to unity. In 1861, the separate states were:
- the Grand Duchy of Tuscany with its capital in Florence;
- the Duchy of Parma included Piacenza and Guastalla (within today’s Emilia-Romagna);
- the Duchy of Modena and Reggio (within today’s Emilia-Romagna);
- the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom (once the Duchy of Milan and the Republic of Venice) with its capital in Milano was part of the Austrian Empire;
- the Kingdom of Sardinia—once under Spanish Hapsburg control—with its capital in Torino (Turin) included Piemonte, Liguria (once the Republic of Genoa), Savoy (once the Duchy of Savoy), Nice, the Principality of Monaco, and Sardinia;
- the Kingdom of Sicily (became Two Sicilies to include the Kingdom of Naples) with its capital in Napoli (Naples) included the southern peninsula including southern Lazio and Abruzzo;
- the Papal States with their capital in Rome included most of Lazio, Umbria, Marche, Romagna, and southern Emilia.
See the official Italy Tourism pages.
St. Peter’s Basilica
Photo by Ali Giaudrone
Rome was the capital of the Papal States from the 8th century until 1870 when it fell under the control of the Kingdom of Italy. A 109-acre enclave within the city of Rome, the Vatican City State became independent from Italy in 1929 under the Lateran Treaty as a distinct territory of the Holy See. Saint Peter’s Basilica was designed in 1506 during the Renaissance primarily by Michelangelo, along with the Sistine Chapel, and was completed in 1615 during the Baroque architecture era with notable works by Bernini.
See the official Vatican City Tourism pages.
Photo by Lorenzo Castagnone on Unsplash
A land-locked enclave within the Italian Apennine Mountains, San Marino is a 24-square-mile microstate that was founded on September 3, 301 AD when stonemason Saint Marinus escaped persecution during the Roman reign of Diocletian and built a chapel and monastery on Mount Titano. The country’s borders have remained unchanged since 1463 when the final surrounding communities joined San Marino.
See the official San Marino Tourism pages.
Malta on the Mediterranean
Photo by Ludovica Dri on Unsplash
South of Sicily with a strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea, Malta is a small island nation that has been of great importance for millennia. Valletta is the capital. Maltese is the official language.
The island has evidence of eight thousand years of inhabitation. Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans each colonized the island followed by the Arabs, the Normans, the Crown of Aragon, Napoleonic France, and the British Empire until Malta achieved independence in 1964.
See the official Malta Tourism pages.
Explore the Italian Peninsula