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Map of Italy

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.

The 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.

Italy 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 resources

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.

Ecological zones

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.

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