Geography and population
Area: 301 278 km2. Mainland Italy is a long and
mostly mountainous peninsula, extending southeast from the Alps to the Adriatic
and separating the Tyrrehenian and Adriatic Seas. Italy includes the large
islands of Sicily to the southwest and Sardinia to the west. There are two
independent states within peninsular Italy: the Vatican City in Rome, and
the Republic of San Marino
The Italian Republic, located in southern
Europe, is bounded on the north by Switzerland and Austria; on the east by
Slovenia and the Adriatic Sea; on the south by the Ionian Sea and the Mediterranean
Sea; on the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Ligurian Sea, and the Mediterranean
Sea; and on the north-west by France. In addition to the mainland, it includes
the Mediterranean islands of Elba, Sardinia, and Sicily and many smaller islands.
Located within Italy are two tiny independent countries, San Marino and the
papal state of Vatican City. The area of Italy is 301 323 km2.
The most northernmost region of Italy
is mountainous. The Alps extend in an arc along the northern border, reaching
elevations of over well over 4 000 m (4 807 m at the highest point in the
country, near Mont Blanc). Its landscape includes huge mountains and deep
valleys. Glaciers or permanent snow covers the higher elevations, while the
lower elevations have forests, farms, and beautiful lakes in glaciated valleys.
To the south, between the Alps and
the Apennine Mountains, lies the broad The Po Valley, Italy's richest agricultural
region. The Po drains to the east into the Adriatic Sea. North-east of Venice
lies the smaller Adriatic Plain, a limestone plateau with poor soil.
The Apennines stretch almost the entire
length of Italy. Lower than the Alps (the maximum elevations is Monte Corno
at 2 912 m), the slopes are covered by thin soil or have been heavily eroded.
The Arno and Tiber rivers flow from the Apennines to the Tyrrhenian Sea.
The Apulia and the South-eastern Plains
lie in the far south-east. This region is composed of plateaus that end as
cliffs at the Mediterranean Sea. The south-eastern coast is deeply indented
by the Gulf of Taranto, between the heel and toe of the Italian "boot".
Uplands and plains stretch along the
west coast between the Apennines and the Tyrrhenian Sea. This is a rich agricultural
region and includes a number of major cities, including Rome and Naples. A
number of bays provide Italy's major harbours.
The Strait of Messina separates Sicily,
the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, from mainland Italy. Much of
the northern portion of the island is mountainous, while the southern portion
has lower hills and plains. Mount Etna (3 323 m), one of the largest active
volcanoes in the world, is located north-eastern Sicily.
Mountains and high plateaus with little
good farmland dominate the island of Sardinia, west of mainland Italy and
south of Corsica. Most farming is carried out on the narrow coastal plains.
Alps form the northern boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
The Apennines are the backbone of the peninsula, running from the Maritime
Alps in the north-west and forming a broad irregular mountain system with
generally narrow coastal plains on both sides. Within the curve formed between
the Alps and the Apennines lies a fertile plain consisting mainly of the River
Po basin. The majority of the rivers south of the Po basin are short and unsuitable
for navigation, the most important being the Arno and the Tiber.
is subject to earthquakes, which are generally minor, and usually in the centre
or the south of the country. There are three active volcanoes: Etna in Sicily,
Vesuvius near Naples and Stromboli on a small island off the coast of Sicily.
The population in Italy was 57.5 million in 1998. Negative growth of -0.1
was predicted in 1999, and there is a looming and serious demographic problem
(see above). Italy is one of the most urbanised European countries after the
UK, Germany and Belgium with heavy concentrations within and outside the main
cities in the Po Valley, Veneto, Campania and Valdarno plains. There are still
some parts of Italy which are under-populated. The drift of people from rural
areas to the industrial centres and towns continues.
Climate and water resources
The climate and above all the precipitation pattern
are largely responsible for the physical decline of some zones of the country.
The precipitation pattern is not uniform: in continental Italy, precipitation
is nearly evenly divided into four quarters, while in the peninsular part
patterns are irre g u l a r, with torrential rainfall with sometimes-disastrous
effects. In the southern zones there is a significant coinciding of warm and
dry seasons, with negative effects on agriculture. Italy’s geographical and
morphological characterist ics , though falling within the so-called “Mediterranean”
and “temperate” climate, lead to d i ff e rent local climatic conditions,
thus enhancing the country’s vulnerability to the combined action of human
and climatic agents. On the basis of the dynamic and static characteristics
of the climate, various authors have identified classifications as a basis
for the subdivision of Italian terr i t o ry into districts. The South and
the islands are characterised by a w a rm, dry climate while the North is
colder and wetter. The main factors affecting temperature and rainfall patterns
are the distance from the sea and orography,
Because of its varied topography, Italy's
climate is extremely diverse. It ranges from frigid alpine regions in the
north to semitropical climes in the south. In general, though, the climate
can be characterised as Mediterranean, with hot, dry summers and cool rainy
winters (cold and snowy in the Alps). Northern Italy is protected from intense
cold by the barrier of the Alps but also, because it is isolated by mountain
ranges, has a more continental climate with greater extremes of temperature
than southern Italy. Average annual temperatures range from about 13° C in
the Po Valley, about 18° C in Sicily, and about 14.5° C in the coastal lowlands.
The lowest mean annual rainfall, about
460 mm, occurs in the Apulia in the south-east and in southern Sicily (380
mm); the highest, about 1 520 mm, occurs in the province of Udine in the north-east.
Water in Italy is relatively abundant, since yearly
net average rainfall per head is around 5 200 m3, corresponding
to a mean per-capita availability of 2 700 m3. Yet available water
resources are much lower, since a great variability should accounted for:
the yearly, seasonal and regional distribution of rainfall is very high, like
in all Mediterrenean Countries. Given the irregular outflow paths and the
technical and natural constraints, true availability is far lower: 2 000 m3
taking into account potentially usable resources; and only 928 m3
taking into account just the amount of water that can actually be used, given
the available infrastructure and storage capacity.
The mountaineous nature of the largest part of
the Italian territory reduces the scope and technical feasibility of internal
water transfers, forcing thereby many Regions to rely on their own rsources
only, unless very high costs are incurred into. There are important differences
throughout the Country. Northern Italy, thanks to the Alps and to the natural
storage capacity provided by glaciers and lakes, enjoys regular and abundant
per-capita endowment. In central and Southern Italy and in the islands available
resources are much lower, seasonal variability of runoffs is at the highest.
While the outflow from the Alpine rivers is well distributed during the year
(9%, 24%, 41% and 26% respectively for winter, spring, summer and autumn),
in the rest of the Country a share between 60 and 90% of total outflow is
concentrated in winter and spring.
The map below shows the ecological zones, as shown on the
FAO global map of ecological zones produced as part of the FRA 2000. Please refer
to FRA Working Paper 20 for
further information on the Global Ecological Zone map.