Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world with 44 million visitors, and has some the world’s most famous landmarks. The Colosseum in Rome received 4million visitors per year, while the ruins of Pompeii get 2.5 million visitors. As with many other destinations, the expansion of low cost airlines has facilitated growth in Italian tourism.

We all know that the Romans came from Italy but evidence has shown that the country was inhabited for many thousands of years beforehand. What grew from a small farming community in the 8th century BC went on to become one of the most powerful and influential the world has known, the legacies of which remain to this day.

The Roman Empire went into a slow decline until 395AD when it broke in two parts, the Eastern and Western Empires. The western half dissolved, but the Eastern part went on to become the Byzantine Empire. Charlemagne conquered Italy in the 8th century. During the middle-ages Italy was dominated by a series of Maritime Republics, including Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi, which became important trading posts during the crusades.

Florence was the bedrock of the Renaissance in the 14th century with its many painters, poets and writers. Historians claim it may have started in Florence due to the prevailing cultural conditions of the time and the patronage of the Medici family, a rich banking family who commissioned many works. Great men of the Renaissance like Da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo were all born in Tuscany.

Italy saw long periods of peace under the Habsburg Dynasties, until the Napoleonic Wars when the North was hailed as the Kingdom of Italy, while the south was administered separately. The process of Italian unification was interrupted by the Great War, and what followed was a period of anarchy which gave rise to Fascism led by Benito Mussolini. In the following years he banned all political parties and turned Italy into a Fascist Dictatorship. In 1935 Mussolini’s forces invaded Ethiopia which alienated him from the International community, making him side with Hitler’s Germany and General Franco of Spain.

Italy was invaded by the allies in 1943 which led to the fall of Mussolini and the eventual surrender of Italy by 1945. 500,000 Italians died during WWII. Italy became a republic in 1946, was a founding member of the EEC in 1957 and has since been leading members of the European project.

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