Italy's distinctive boot-shape covers 301,300 sq km, with its capital in the beautiful city of Rome. The islands of Sardinia and Sicily are part of the country, and the mountainous terrain includes Europe's only active volcanoes: Vesuvius, Etna, and Stromboli.
Italy has a very long history, its disparate peoples uniting under the Romans in the 4th-3rd centuries BC. The Roman Empire finally fell in 476 AD, and the country suffered barbarian attacks before coming under the rule of first the Ostrogoths and then the Lombards.
Charlemagne annexed the Lombard kingdom and was crowned as emperor of the West in 800. A struggle between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire then ensued, lasting until about 1250. By 1300, Italy was split between five major powers: the city-republics of Milan, Florence, and Venice; the papal states; and the kindom of Naples. Their warring and rivalry left them open to invasion by France, Spain, and Austria. French rule briefly united Italy between 1796 and 1814, but Napoleon's fall led again to its break-up. Italy was eventually unified under Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia with the occupation of Rome in 1870.
In 1922 Mussolini established a Fascist dictatorship, which conquered Ethiopia in 1935-36 and Albania in 1939. Italy allied itself with Germany in World War II, and the country became a republic in 1946.
Rome is home to the Vatican City, the sovereign territory of the pope, the head of the Roman Catholic church. Catholicism was the state religion of Italy between 1947 and 1985.
The following E2 nodes may prove of interest. /Msg me with any additions.
Roman and Italian history
The Roman Catholic Church
Food and drink
The Hutchinson Encyclopedia, 1997 ed., Helicon Publishing Ltd, 1996