Official name: Italian Republic

Area: 301,230 square kilometers (116,305 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mont Blanc (4,807 meters/15,772 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 1 P.M. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 381 kilometers (237 miles) from northeast to southwest; 1,185 kilometers (736 miles) from northwest to southeast

Land boundaries: 1,932 kilometers (1,201 miles) total boundary length; Austria 430 kilometers (267 miles); France 488 kilometers (303 miles); Holy See (Vatican City) 3 kilometers (2 miles); San Marino 39 kilometers (24 miles); Slovenia 232 kilometers (144 miles); Switzerland 740 kilometers (460 miles)

Coastline: 7,600 kilometers (4,723 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


The southern European nation of Italy occupies a long, slender peninsula shaped like a high-heeled boot that extends southeastward into the Mediterranean Sea. The country also fans out in all directions onto the European continent, toward the neighboring countries of France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. The major islands of Sicily and Sardinia, as well as many smaller islands and archipelagos, also form part of Italy's territory. Italy has twenty administrative divisions. The tiny independent republic of San Marino is a self-contained enclave about two-thirds of the way up the eastern coast of Italy. Vatican City in Rome is another independent entity within Italian territory. Italy covers an area of 301,230 square kilometers (116,305 square miles), or slightly more than the state of Arizona.


Italy has no territories or dependencies.


Italy has considerable climatic variation, from subtropical conditions in Sicily to year-round snowcaps in parts of the Alpine region. The northern part of the country has a continental climate, with cold winters and warm summers. Farther south, the climate becomes Mediterranean, with cool winters; hot, dry summers; and less variation between seasons. Average January temperatures range from 2°C (35°F) in Milan (northern Po basin), to 7°C (45°F) in Rome (central part of the peninsula), to 11°C (52°F) in the Sicilian city of Taormina. Average July readings for the same cities are Milan, 24°C (75°F), Rome, 25°C (77°F), and Taormina, 26°C (79°F). Rainfall is lower in the south and higher in the north. Average annual rainfall ranges from about 50 centimeters (20 inches) in Sicily, Sardinia, and the southeast coast of the Italian peninsula to 200 centimeters (80 inches) in the Alpine regions. Rainfall is highest in the upper regions of the Alps and Apennines.


Although Italy has many different subregions, it can be divided into the following four major regions: the territory north of the peninsula; the peninsula as far south as Campagnia and Apulia; the southernmost part of the peninsula (commonly called the Mezzogiorno); and the islands. Traditionally, a broader distinction has been made between the more industrialized and "European" north region of Italy and the more rural, "Mediterranean" south.


Four seas surround the Italian peninsula: the Adriatic, Ionian, Ligurian, and Tyrrhenian Seas. There is almost no spot in Italy that lies farther than 120 kilometers (75 miles) from a coastline. At its deepest point, the Ionian Sea reaches a depth of 4.4 kilometers (2.75 miles), the greatest depth recorded in Mediterranean waters.

Seacoast and Undersea Features

There are 7,600 km (4, 720 miles) of coastline in Italy.

Sea Inlets and Straits

At the northern end of the Adriatic Sea is the Gulf of Venice; to the south the Strait of Otranto connects it with the Ionian Sea. The large Gulf of Taranto in the Ionian Sea is located between the "toe" and "heel" of the Italian "boot." The narrow, funnel-shaped Strait of Messina connects the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas, separating Sicily from the Calabria region, at the tip of the Italian peninsula. The Malta Channel separates Sicily from Malta, and the Sicilian Channel lies between Sicily and the Tunisian coast.

Islands and Archipelagos

With an area of 25,708 square kilometers (9,926 square miles), Sicily, located just west of the "toe" of the Italian "boot," is both Italy's largest island and the largest island in the Mediterranean. The second-largest island, Sardinia, located northwest of Sicily, is close to Sicily in size, with an area of 24,090 square kilometers (9,300 square miles). Among Italy's smaller islands are those of the Tuscan Archipelago, whose largest island is Elba, where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled in 1814 and 1815. Other islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea include the Ponza group and the islands of Ischia and Capri off the coast of Naples. The volcanic Lipari Islands at the southern edge of the Tyrrhenian Sea are the site of Stromboli, one of Italy's three active volcanoes.

Coastal Features

The shoreline in Liguria includes both rocky areas and level stretches of gravel. Farther south, between Tuscany and Campagnia, promontories separate expanses covered by sandy beach and dunes. The coast of Calabria, the "toe" of the Italian boot, is mostly elevated. The Salentine Peninsula, which forms the boot's "heel," is part of the lowland Apulia region. Most of the Adriatic coast is flat, with a complex system of lagoons shaping the shoreline in the area around the Po delta and the Gulf of Venice. The Venetian lagoon is Italy's largest, covering 55,039 hectares (136,000 acres).


Italy has some 1,500 lakes—it has more lakes than rivers. Most are found in the Alpine foothills at the edge of the Po Valley. The largest are the Garda, Maggiore, Como, Iseo, and Lugano. In the peninsula, volcanic lakes fill the craters of extinct volcanoes. The best-known of these is Lake Bolsena, which has two islands. Other volcanic lakes include Bracciano, Vico, Albano, and Nemi. The third type of lake found in Italy is the coastal lake. This category includes Lakes Orbetello, Massaciuccoli, Fondi, Lesina, Varano, and Salpi.


Since most of Italy's many rivers flow across the narrow Italian peninsula and into the sea, most of them are short. The longest rivers are in the northern part of the country. The longest and most important is the Po River, which also has the largest basin. It traverses the northern regions nearly all the way from the French border to the Gulf of Venice. Most of its tributaries flow from the Alpine lakes of the north. Italy's second-longest river, also in the north, is the Adige, which rises in the Alps and flows south to empty into the Gulf of Venice. In the peninsula, a number of rivers cross the Marche, Abruzzi, and Molise regions, including the Reno, the most important river flowing into the Adriatic. On the western side of the peninsula, the Arno and its tributaries flow through Tuscany; the Tiber is among the rivers that flow through Latium and Campagnia. The principal river draining the southern end of the peninsula is the Bradano.


There are no notable deserts in Italy.


Plains account for around 20 percent of Italy's terrain. The most extensive plains region is the Po Basin, which covers over 44,030 square kilometers (17,000 square miles) and has an average elevation of less than 101 meters (330 feet). At the opposite end of northern Italy, on the Ligurian coast, is the narrow coastal plain of the Gulf of Genoa.

Venice is Italy's largest wetland area. The Italian peninsula includes the Tuscan plains and the Maremma marshlands farther to the south; the Roman countryside, or Campagna, on both banks of the Tiber, and its coastal extension in the form of the reclaimed Pontine Marshes; the fertile plains of the Campagnia region; and the lowlands of Apulia.


The currents that blow across the Strait of Messina, between the Ionian and Tyrrhenean Seas, were personified as the monsters Scylla and Charybdis in Homer's Odyssey. Scylla was located on the Calabrian coast and Charybdis was situated on the coast of Sicily.

Italy is a hilly country—hills cover roughly as much of its terrain as mountains do (about 40 percent in each case). The majority of Italy's hills are in the peninsula, in uplands that flank the Apennines on both sides. To the west, this terrain, called the Anti-Apennines, or sub-Apennines, forms a broad band across Tuscany. In the east, hills are found in the regions of Emília-Romagna and Marche. The mountain chains that continue the Apennine system on the island of Sicily also descend to hills in the eastern part of the island.


The two principal mountain ranges are the Alps and the Apennines. The Alps, a series of roughly parallel mountain chains and massifs, are commonly divided into three ranges. The Western Alps begin a short distance west of Genoa (Genova) and sweep in a great arc to Lake Maggiore. This range includes over fifty peaks with elevations over 3,048 meters (10,000 feet): two examples are, Mont Blanc (Monte Blanco), the highest peak in both Italy and France; and Gran Paradiso (13,323 feet/4,061 meters), the highest peak entirely within Italy. The Central Alps, extending from Lake Maggiore to the Adige River, also possess more than fifty peaks over 3,048 meters (10,000 feet); in contrast to the Western Alps, however, there are valleys between the mountain ranges. The Central Alps also cover a larger area than the Western Alps and have large glaciers. The Eastern Alps cover the area from the Adige River to the Tarvis Pass on the Serbia and Montenegro border. Also called the Venetian Alps, they are subdivided into the Dolomites, the Carnic Alps, and the Julian Alps. The Dolomites have eighteen peaks over 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) high.

The Apennine system is formed not by consecutive chains, like the Alps, but by staggered sections joined by passes. They are more rounded and less elevated than the Alps. The highest summit, at Monte Corno in the Gran Sasso range, is only 2,895 meters (9,500 feet). From Liguria to Palermo, the chain forms an arc that resembles a giant, narrow, inverted letter C .

There are three active volcanoes in Italy: Mount Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands, Mount Vesuvius near Naples, and Mount Etna on the island of Sicily. Mount Etna erupted during October and November 2002. Italy also has experienced devastating earthquakes, the most recent occurring in 1997.


There are a few small caves of interest to explorers in Italy.


Italy does not have major plateau areas. In places where tablelands are found, such as in the sub-Apennines that border the Apen-nine chain, they are broken up by hills and mountains.


A network of canals crossed by bridges crisscrosses the city of Venice, which is surrounded by a shallow lagoon in the Adriatic Sea.



Altman, Jack, and Jason Best. Discover Italy . Oxford, England: Berlitz, 1993.

Cahill, Susan, ed. Desiring Italy . New York: Fawcett Columbia, 1997.

Casserly, Jack. Once Upon a Time in Italy: The Vita Italiana of an American Journalist. Niwot, CO: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1995.

Web Sites

In Italy Online. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Windows on Italy. (accessed April 24, 2003).

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