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Italy

The central one of three peninsulas stretching into the Mediterranean Sea, in the S. of Europe, has the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas respectively on the E. and W., and is separated from France, Switzerland, and Austria in the N. by the various ranges of the Alps. Between the Alps and the Apennines lies the extensive, fertile plain of Lombardy, watered by the river Po, and containing several large lakes, such as Garda, Como, and Maggiore. The Apennines form a very picturesque chain of mountains 5000 ft. high down the centre of the country. The climate varies in different districts, but is mostly warm. Malaria curses many parts in autumn. Agriculture is extensive, but primitive in manner, and the peasantry are very poor. The most important crops are cereals, including rice and maize, grapes, olives, and chestnuts, and in the S. oranges and lemons. Italian wines are of indifferent quality. Coal and iron are scarce; sulphur is produced in large quantities in Sicily. There are large quarries of marble and alabaster. The most important industries are silk, glass, and porcelain. There is an extensive foreign trade, chiefly with France and Great Britain; the exports consist of silk, sulphur, marble, fruit, and wine; the imports of coal, iron, and textile goods. The religion is Roman Catholic; education is now compulsory. The Gothic kingdom of Italy was founded on the ruins of the Roman Empire, A.D. 489. In succession the country was conquered by the forces of the Byzantine Empire, by the Lombards, and by the Franks. From the 11th century onwards its history has been one of constant internal strife and confusion. The presence of the papal power in Rome, the rise of such rich trading republics as the cities of Milan, Florence, Naples, Genoa, and Venice, the pretensions of French kings and German emperors, and factions like those of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, produced endless complications and ruinous wars. In the 16th century the influence of the Austro-Spanish house of Charles V. became dominant; his son, Philip II., was king of Milan and Naples. In more recent times the small states of Italy were continually involved in the wars which devastated Europe, and passed in alliance or in subordination into the hands of Austria, France, and Spain alternately. The last 50 years have seen the unification of the kingdom. After the abortive movement of Mazzini came Cavour and Garibaldi, who, after severe struggles against the Austrians in the North and the despots of Southern Italy, proclaimed Victor Emmanuel king of Italy in 1861. By various steps the whole of the peninsula, with the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, have been brought into the kingdom. The temporal power of the Pope ceased in 1870. The Government is a constitutional monarchy. Franchise is exercised by every citizen who can read and write. Conscription is in force for army and navy. These are both strong, the navy one of the best in Europe. Finances are bad; the debt amounts to £520,000,000, and taxation is ruinous.

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