Shaped like a boot that stretches from the Alps down into the heart of the Mediterranean, Italy is split down the middle by the Apennine Mountain range. It is also split, economically at least, between the rich industrial north and the poorer agricultural south. The invisible dividing line is somewhere between Rome and Naples.

The Etruscans were Italy’s first major civilization, followed by the Romans, who not only subdued other local tribes, but all of the lands around the Mediterranean, and beyond as well. The end of the Roman Empire saw the country we know as Italy today revert back to a collection of independent states, and it wasn’t until 1861 that the country became unified as a nation, with the islands of Sicily and Sardinia also being added.

Rome is the country’s capital city with an estimated population of 4.8 million out of around 60 million nationwide. Rome has also played an important part in religious affairs since it became head of the Roman Catholic Church, but although religion still plays a significant part of everyday life for some people, it would seem that the younger generation are just as fanatical about food, fashion and football.

The country still has strong regional cultural differences, and in some ways, this is one of the country’s greatest assets, but in others it has had the opposite effect. Politics for example has a history of being unstable, and it seems as though the country has limped along from one coalition government to another on a regular basis.

Italy and culture are often used in the same sentence, and for a very good reason. The Renaissance may well have been the apogee of Italian art in all its forms, but culture has always drawn visitors from far and wide to marvel at places like Florence, Ravenna and Siena.

Visitors also come to see its natural environment too, whether it be the azure waters of the Adriatic coast or the countryside of Tuscany. In between are any number of undiscovered towns and villages that have a way of life that we all yearn for but rarely find. No wonder so many visitors come to a country that may not be perfect, but in some ways is part of its appeal. Viva Italia!