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Travel & Tourism . Tourist Guide to the Country

Italy History and Culture


While Italy's status as a single political entity is relatively recent (1861), its strategic Mediterranean position made it a target for colonisers and opportunists fairly early on in human history.
The Etruscans were the first people to rule the peninsula, arriving anywhere between the 12th and 8th centuries BC. They were eventually subsumed within the mighty Roman empire, leaving little cultural evidence, other than the odd tomb.

The Ancient Greeks, their contemporaries, set up a few colonies along the southern coast, which became known as Magna Graecia and developed into independent city states. Thus the greater glory which was Rome was itself the offspring of Etruscan and Greek cultures.

The first Roman Republic was founded in 509 BC, setting in motion the dogma of democracy, the linguistic nightmare of Latin and one of the largest empires the world has ever seen.
The Republic's defeat of Carthage (near present-day Tunis) and Hellenic Macedonia during the three Punic Wars cleared the way for ultimate expansion into Spain, Britain, North Africa and present-day Iraq. Meanwhile, relative peace at home enabled the infrastructure of civilisation to spread - roads, aqueducts, cites.

A slave-driven lifestyle and economy triumphed over the concept of people power, and the reins of the Republic were increasingly in the hands of the military and, ultimately, dictators. The empire grew so large, it had to be divided into eastern and western sectors just to be administered.
Even so, the bloodthirsty theatrics of regicide and intrigue were planting the seeds of its eventual destruction. Christianity was embraced by Constantine in 313, and the empire's capital was moved from Rome to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul).

The western arm of the empire was undone by plague, famine and tribal incursions from the north, and was officially declared null and void in 476 when Odovacar, a German warrior, dubbed himself ruler. The Eastern Roman Empire clung on, and prospered, until overrun by the Turks in 1453. Italy entered a period peopled by Goths and forever ostracised as the 'Dark Ages'.
Successive waves of Lombards, Franks, Saracens, Germans and Normans invaded the peninsula and claimed in various degrees the lost title of empire and emperor, culminating in Frankish Charlemagne's crowning as emperor in 800.

The south was dominated by Muslim Arabs until usurped by Normans. This ethnic cocktail began to settle in the 12th century, when the next big chapter in textbook history was about to begin.
Powerfully combative and competitive city states arose in the north, supporting either the pope (power within the peninsula vested in the papal states) or the emperor (usually a foreign power). The rise of cities and a merchant class led directly to cultural adulthood, culminating in the Renaissance of the 15th century.

Dubbed the world's 'living art gallery', Italy has more 'culture' than you can shake a baton, paintbrush, quill or chisel at. Whether it's a broken pillar rising up through the linoleum floor of a train station or a baroque church overlooking a cracked antique pediment in the forum, history and culture surround you.
Outside there are Etruscan tombs, Greek temples, cat-infested Roman ruins, Moorish architecture and statue-filled baroque fountains to gawp at; inside you can swoon to Roman copies of Hellenic sculptures, Byzantine mosaics, beatific Madonnas from Giotto to Titian, gargantuan baroque tombs and trompe l'oeil ceilings.


Acknowledgements: ASIATRAVELMART.COM

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