*** Italian regions

Italian Regions

children in central Italy
Figure 1.--The 1963 photo was taken in Suio, a little village near Rome. It shows Angelo Pompeo, Felice Pompeo and Antonia Di Marco. The boys are carrying wine bottles. They are on the way to buy the wine for the family with an older relative (perhaps a cousin). The boys are wearing shorts and t-shirts and go barefoot. Unlike earlier times, by this time probably out of preference.

Italy like many European countries is a country of regions. This was the case before Rome united the peninsula and continued to be the came even during the Roman Imperium. After the fall of Rome, the peninsula was divided into city states and fierce local loyalties and rivalries became accentuated. Italy can be divided geographically into three major areas: north, central (dominated by Rome), and south. The climate and historical experience of these different regions is quite different because Italy was only united in the 1860s and some areas in the north were added even later. There are also some island territories. There are substantial diffrences between these regions. Northern Italy is the most industrialized area. The south is more agricultural and until after World War II, almost feudal. Naples and the south have historically often been associated with Sicily. Sardinia is another important island making up Italy. We have some limited on the island. Corsica was once part of Italy. It was seized from Carthage in the Punic Wars. Only relatively recently has it become a French territory. We do not yet have much information on the various Italian regions. Hopefully our Italian readers will tell us more about the different regions of their country.

Major Regions

Italy was finally unified (1860s) for the first time snce the fll of Rome. Wjiole lrgely unified, it was like two separate countries. The north was industrilized and prosperous more like the westen European mauinstream. The south was agriucultural and poor, almost medievl. More akin to backward Portugal and Spain whicvh s understndable becuse southern Italy and Sicly was for centuries controlled by Spain. Much of the emifrtion to meica would come from this southern area. The two regions were divided by a central reas, dominated by Rome, much of wehich for ovr milennium nhad been diminted by the Papacy which for most of that time was not just a religious foirce, but a territorial state as well. And running up the penisula from north to south is the he Apennines a mountain range consisting of parallel smaller chains extending some 1,200 km (750 mi) along the entire length of Italian boot.

The North

Northern Iraly is the most diverse of the four major Itlian regions. It is referred to as Padania. It is a tourists' delight withbthe added bonus of wonderful wines to savor along with the unforgetable local cuisine. There is so much to take in as one travels the north. Piedmont has truffle forests and Barolo vineyards. There are lovely lakeside resorts in Lombardy (Lombardia). Tourists love the arcaded walkways in Turin. Milan is an industrial ciy with a fascinating history anbd art. There are mountains, broad river vallies, and beautiful beaches. The mounaines incluse the Alpine South Tyrol. The main River valley is the Po which flows into the Adriatic. The Po Valley makes up the larger portion of Northern Italy. It includes a broad plain extending from the foot of the Apennines to that of the southern Alps. There are valleys and slopes on both sides all along the course of the Po. The Po rises at Monte Viso and empties in the Adriatic Sea. And along the Adriatic coast we find Venice and the Veneto, one of the most engaging cities in the world. A little to the south is Florence, the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany. Many Italian cities played an immportant riler in the development of Western art. None are more important than Florence. The beaches include the Mediterranean Rivierra. Northern Italy is also the most industrialized area. One reader has provided us some interesting information about San Giorgio della Richinvelda, a small village in northeastern Italy.

Central Italy

Central Italy is of course dominated by the Latium abd Rome. The area around Rome is known as Latium . This is an area of undulating hills extending from the western foothills of the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Mediterranean. Latium is the cradle from which Rome grew. It originally consisted of the coastal plain from the mouth of the Tiber to the Circeian promontory and its adjacent foothills. only a short distance from Rome in any direction are enumeral villages. Some are quite famous. To the east is Ostia Antica--a Roman town and seaport. To the east is Tivoli, famous for Hadrian's villa and the Villa d'Este. Others are only known locally. Suio seen here is a good example (figure 1). The Appian Way (Via Appia) is the famous road leading south from Rome. It was one of the first and perhaps most strategically important Roman roads. It passes through the Pontine Marshes (Agro Pontino) south of Rome has an interesting history. Latium also has four very ancient volcanos and the craters have formed beautiful lakes (Bolsena, Vico, Bracciano, Albano and Nemi). Latium is the cradle of Roman civilization and by extension Western Civilization. The remains of both the Roman civilization as well as earlier and later civilizations makr it a fascinating area. The visitor can see the remains of the Etruscan civilization You can also see the remsins of the medieval era and Renaussance with its incredible artidtic treasures. The presence of the Church is everywhere, of course with all the great churches of Rome, including St. Peter's and the Vatican. Rome is a huge city and of course one of the most famous in the world. Rome has to be one of the most fascinating cities in the world. It was at the center of Western civilization for centuries. Few cities have a more extensive literature. Ironically what first comes to mind when most people think about Rome is the titilating excesses of the Empire. Only rarely does what makes Rome central to Western civilization emerge in public discourse--the rule of law. Latium is the mest known areas of central area, but of course the area is much more extensice than just Latium.

The South

Southern Italy is referred to as the the Mezzogiorno in Italy. It is not as familar to many as the north where more tourists visit. The cultural influences in southern Italy are somewhat different than in the north. The Greek influence is strongest in the south and there are several important Greek ruins. Naples was founded as a Greek colony. There are also northern African influences. The south is more agricultural than northern and even central Italy and until after World War II, was almost feudal. Southern Italy has historically lagged behind the northern in literacy, income, economic development, and other indicators. The eography of the south gives the Italian peninsula its well-known boot image. Naples and the south have historically been associated with Sicily and for many years organized into the Kingdom of the Two Siclies. The best known and most populous region of southern Italy is Campania. The modern region has a population of around 6 million people. Thus it is the second-most-populous region of Italy and the most densely populated region in the country. It is located around Naples along southwesern coast of Italian Peninsula. The Tyrrhenian Sea off shoot of the Mediterrannean is located to the west. The Flegrean Islands and Capri are administratively part of the region.


The two most important Italian islands are Sicily and Sardinia. Sicily is a large island and dominates the central Mediterranean. For this reason it has been one of the most fought over island in the world. Sicily is especially important in Italian history. With the Roman conquest it became thorougly italianized. Both as well as Corsica were acuired by the Romans in the Punic Wars. Another famous but smaller island is Elba where Napoleon was exioled. Sardinia is another important island making up Italy. We have some limited on the island. An Italian reader tells us about the festival of Saint Salvatore at Cabras, a village on the eastern coast of Sardinia. Corsica is now French, but for much of its history was Roman or Italian. It was seized by France in the 18th century before the French Revolution. Thus the young Napoleon grew up as a French subject.


Istria is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, located in the far north east of Triesre. It is today an area largely controlled by Croatia. Istria has an interesting history. The deprivatiions pf the Pirate Queen Teuta resulted in Roman interventioin (3rd century BC). Venice became a major power in the Medieval era and seized control of Istria (1267). This introduced a strong Italian imprint. The Austrian Hapsburgs seized Istria as the wars associated with the French Revolution engulfed Europe (1797). And except for a brief period in which Napoleon seized the area (1805-13) the Hapsburgs controlled the area until their rule colapsed in the wake of World War I (1918). Istria became Itlalian territory as part of the World War I settlement. After World War II it was mostly transferred to Yugoslavia (1945). After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Istria was split between Croatia and Slovenia except for a small Italian section. Istria was under the Hapsburgs a multi-cultural region populated by Italians, Croats, Slovenes and smaller numbers of other ethnic communities. Relations among these communities was geneally harmonious until after the Napoleonic Wars when nationalist sentiment grew throughout Europe. Istria was affected by both Italian irredentism and Slovenian and Croatian nationalism. The result was the development of ethnic conflict. Rising nationalism was exacerbated by social class differences. The town populations were mostly Italian and the rural population mostly ethnic Croats or Slovenes. Fascist Italy after World War I persued a policy of Italianization and suppression of non-Italian culture. The brief NAZI occupation (1943) also affected community relations. After Yugoslavia achieved possession of Istria at the end of World War II, the Italians had to leave Istria. We note a First Comminion held by the Italian community in Istria before World War I. Just east of the Istrian Peninsuka, but part of the region is medieval city of Rijeka, formerally under Italian control known as Fiume. Rijeka has its own fascinating history and for a short period after World War I was a free city--the Free City of Fiume.

African Colonies

Italy as part of the scramble for Africa obtained colonies in East Africa. The Kingdom of Italy itself was declared in 1861, after Kingdom of Piedmont and Sardinia had annexed Kingdom of Lombardy and Venice (this Kingdom was not independent, but controlled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and Kingdom of Naples (including all South Italy and Sicily). Rome became Italian only in 1870. Italy was a poor country. Many Italians emigrated to North and South America. The colonial effort was a attempt to share in the partition of Africa. This was both a matter of national pride as well the result of the widly held opinion that colonies were needed for a healthy economy. The colonies also provided new territory on which Italy's growing population could be settled.


The major regions of Itasly has more than geographic interest. The geography affects the country in various ways, including the culture, economy, eduction, ethnicity, and language. What anyone studying Italy must understand is incredably diversity peavalent in Italy until after World War II. This was not just the case of Italy, although, espdecially true of gthe country, but geneally the case pf European countries. Europeans are aware of thid, but not well understood in America. Italian as we understand it today was not all that common in Italy. Modern Italian cmne from Florence nd was spoken by Italy educzted elite. Nu ar tghe time of World War II, a villager from northern Italy ewould have had trounle speaking with a peasant from southern Italy. One American-Italian describes the situation pointing out that northern Italy had the strongest economy with most of the country's industry. It was haeavily influenced by Western Europe (France and Austria/Germany). Central Italy was domnated bt Rome a case by it self. Anruzzo just south of Rome had little economic activity. Italy's largest national park was located there, in part because much of the land was not suitable for agriculture. The south was the poorest region, in some areas almost feudal. The ecomomy was krgely agricultural and the overworked field reporting poor yields. One observer describes the sititaion at the time of World War II. "In the 1930s and 40s about 80 percent pr 70-80 percent of Italians fell ino the class of perasants and common labirors. Education was very low. Literacy rates in the 20s and 30s and World ar II was the lowest in Western Europe. Outside the major cities, people do not have electricity. Outside the major cities ans even in them people in some neignorhoods do not have inside pluming." [Dimarco] This author goes on to nsecribe ba country with apiopularion of mostly peasants and unskilled workers estraigned from a well-educated urban middle-class. They were separated by culture and even language. The uneuducated peasent class spoke a range of local dialects that ewere not mutually understandable. Unlike Germany, the Italy that Mussolini took to war was a deeply divided country with no common sence of natiioal purpose.


Dimarco, Louis A. "The Italian Home Front in World War II," Presentation at the Dole Institute (September 6, 2018). Dimarco goes in to describe Italy's the poor infrastruture.


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Created: 5:07 AM 11/14/2005
Last updated: 5:00 AM 9/6/2022