Italy (Italian: Italia [iˈtaːlja] ( listen)), officially the Italian Republic (Italian: Repubblica Italiana [reˈpubblika itaˈljaːna]), is a unitary parliamentary republic in Europe . Located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea , Italy shares open land borders with France , Switzerland , Austria , Slovenia , San Marino , and Vatican City . Italy covers an area of 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate . With around 61 million inhabitants it is the fourth most populous EU member state.
Since classical times, ancient Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks established settlements in the south of Italy, with Etruscans and Celts inhabiting the centre and the north of Italy respectively and various ancient Italian tribes and Italic peoples dispersed throughout the Italian peninsula and insular Italy. The Italic tribe known as the Latins formed the Roman Kingdom, which eventually became a republic that conquered and assimilated its neighbors. Ultimately the Roman Empire emerged as the dominant power in the Mediterranean basin and became the leading cultural, political and religious centre of Western civilisation. The legacy of the Roman Empire is widespread and can be observed in the global distribution of civilian law , republican governments, Christianity and the Latin script.
During the Early Middle Ages , Italy suffered sociopolitical collapse amid calamitous barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century, numerous rival city -states and maritime republics, mainly in the northern and central regions of Italy, rose to great prosperity through shipping , commerce and banking, laying the groundwork for modern capitalism. These mostly independent statelets, acting as Europe 's main spice trade hubs with Asia and the Near East, often enjoyed a greater degree of democracy than the larger feudal monarchies that were consolidating throughout Europe ; however, part of central Italy was under the control of the theocratic Papal States, while Southern Italy remained largely feudal until the 19th century , partially as a result of a succession of Byzantine, Arab , Norman, Angevin and Spanish conquests of the region .