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Moving to Italy?
The most complex of countries, Italy has a certain something that the rest of the
world longs to emulate. The country that has made corruption into an art form is
also the birthplace of the Renaissance, the home of the Catholic Church and the
inventor of most of the world’s favourite fast foods. Rome was founded 2,800 years
ago; the Roman Empire quickly spread, first to the rest of Italia, then over Europe
and beyond. At its most powerful, the Empire controlled 6,500,000 km² of territory
extending from what is now Morocco to Iraq, its law, philosophy and arts forming
the basis of Western civilisation. After the fall of the Empire, Italy broke into
city-states dominated by the Catholic Church; their infighting would dominate the
next fourteen centuries. Each had its own special sphere: Venice and Genoa were
Europe's gateways to trade with the East; Florence was the capital of silk, banks
In the fifteenth century, the Renaissance saw a flowering of art, architecture and
literature, and the chance for the cities to break free of the Holy Roman Empire.
This was brought to an abrupt end by the Sack of Rome by Spanish and German troops
in 1527. The next three hundred years were characterized by foreign domination,
until the country was finally unified in 1861. The fascist dictator Benito Mussolini
built a police state in the 1920s, joining the Second World War on Hitler’s side.
Since the end of the war, Italy has seen more than fifty governments but despite
political instability, the country has grown economically to become the sixth richest
in the world. It seems that Italians thrive on chaos.
Italians often identify more with their region than their country and there is certainly
wide disparity between the rich, slightly cooler north and the poor, baking south.
Rome is the place to start, an epic, bubbling-over metropolis where everyone sports
big sunglasses and every moment has potential for drama. The Vatican City counts
wonderful museums, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Square among its
glories; across the river the centro storico is a labyrinth of medieval churches
and shady piazzas; while to the south is Ancient Rome, home of the Colosseum and
In the north, Venice, la Serenissima, is unmissable, a magical city on water where
every corner offers a new perspective on beauty. Today, Milan is the world capital
of fashion but it’s also an ancient city where Leonardo da Vinci painted his last
supper. Florence is world-famous for its art galleries, museums and churches: highlights
include the Duomo and the Uffizi gallery. Tuscany, holiday spot for the rich and
famous, has undulating hills punctuated with campanile-spiked hill towns between
the vineyards. In Lombardy, Mantua has been called the most romantic city in the
world, site of countless operatic plots inspired by the Arabian nights skyline rising
above its three encircling lakes. In the south, Pompeii is one of the best preserved
Roman towns, destroyed by Vesuvius erupting in 79 AD. Nearby Naples encapsulates
all the stereotypes; loud, frenetic, overcrowded, with rubbish piling high in the
streets, The Amalfi Coast has been immortalised in numerous films and lays claim
to being Europe's most beautiful stretch of coast. Sicily is the home of the mafia,
a dramatic island that looks more north African than Italian, with wonderful crumbling
towns, incredible mosaics at Agrimento and brooding Mount Etna dominating it all.
Whatever you do, make sure you eat. The inventors of pizza and pasta have an incredibly
varied and subtle cuisine, from the pumpkin risottos of Venice to the bean stews
of Tuscany and sweet Sicilian pastries stuffed with cream. All is washed down with
delicious wines – again varying around the country.