Italy (/ˈɪtəli/; Italian: Italia[iˈtaːlja]), officially the Italian Republic (Italian: Repubblica Italiana), is a unitary parliamentary republic in Europe. Italy covers an area of 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and has a largely temperate climate; due to its shape, it is often referred to in Italy as lo Stivale (the Boot). With 61 million inhabitants, it is the 4th most populous EU member state. Located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, San Marino and Vatican City.
Since ancient times, Greek, Etruscan, Celtic and other cultures have flourished in the territory of present-day Italy. Rome eventually emerged as the dominant power on the peninsula, conquering most of the "known world" as the leading political and religious centre of Western civilisation. During the Dark Ages, the Italian Peninsula faced calamitous invasions by barbarian tribes, but beginning around the 11th century, numerous Italian city-states rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking (indeed, modern capitalism has its roots in medieval Italy). Especially during The Renaissance, Italian culture thrived, producing scholars, artists, and polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Italian explorers such as Polo, Columbus, Vespucci, and Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Nevertheless, Italy would remain fragmented into many warring states, subsequently falling prey to larger European powers such as France, Spain, and later Austria. Italy would thus enter a long period of decline that lasted until the mid 19th century.
After various unsuccessful attempts, the second and the third wars for Italian independence resulted in the unification of most of present-day Italy between 1859–66. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the new Kingdom of Italy rapidly industrialised and acquired a colonial empire becoming a Great Power. However, Southern and rural Italy remained largely excluded from industrialisation, fuelling a large and influential diaspora. Despite being one of the main victors in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, which favoured the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship in 1922. The subsequent participation in World War II at the Axis side ended in military defeat, economic destruction and civil war. In the years that followed, Italy abolished the monarchy, reinstated democracy, and enjoyed a prolonged economic boom, thus becoming one of the most developed nations.
Italy has the third largest economy in the Eurozone (the eighth-largest in the world) and the highest life expectancy in the EU, due to a very high human development index. Italy plays a prominent role in global military, cultural and diplomatic affairs and is also considered to be a major regional power. Italy is a founding and leading member of the European Union. The country is a member of numerous international institutions, including the UN, NATO, the OECD, the OSCE, the DAC, the WTO, the G6, G7, G8, G10, G20, the Union for the Mediterranean, the Latin Union, the Council of Europe, the Central European Initiative, the ASEM, the MEF and the Uniting for Consensus. Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites (51).