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Regions and Cities for Expats in Italy

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: April 2014

Physical Features

Northernmost Italy is dominated by the Alps, which rise up to Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco in Italian) on the French border, the highest mountain in Western Europe. In the mountain valleys are several large lakes, which are popular with tourists and expats alike. South of the mountains, the River Po and its many tributaries form a wide, fertile plain. Peninsular Italy is divided by a central spine, the Apennine Mountains. On either side of these mountains are small, arable areas, becoming more arid the further south you travel.

Political Divisions

Italy is politically divided into 20 regions, of which five are politically autonomous. However, all Italy’s regions are distinctive, and the strong sense of identity goes even deeper than that, all the way to town level, where it is known as campanilismo.

For the purposes of statistics and the European Parliament, the Italian regions are grouped together into five larger regions. Basic information for these can be found below:

Region Area (km2) Population Density (per km2) Largest City
North-west 57,931 16,110,000 278.1 Milan
North-east 62,310 11,640,000 186.8 Bologna
Central 58,051 11,945,000 205.8 Rome
South 73,224 14,185,000 193.7 Naples
Insular 49,801 6,725,000 135.0 Palermo

North-west Italy (Lombardy, Piedmont and Liguria and Valle d’Aosta) is the most populous and economically successful of these five supra-regions. The land descends sharply into the Po Valley, where most of the people live. Lombardy is especially densely populated. The capital, Milan, as well as being one of the world’s fashion and design capitals, is Italy’s main financial and commercial centre.

Piedmont lies in the shadow of the Alps (indeed, the name Piedmont, or Piemonte in Italian, means ‘foothills’), and is tinged with French influence. The regional capital, Turin, is probably best known for its industries, particularly car manufacture. The people of tiny Valle d’Aosta speak a southern French dialect and learn Italian as a second language. Liguria is a coastal region that corresponds to the Italian Riviera, which has many celebrated seaside resorts. Genoa, Liguria’s capital, is the port for Milan, Turin and the surrounding cities and controls around a third of Italy’s trade.

North-east Italy contains Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, and the autonomous regions of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige. Venice, capital of the Veneto, is one of the most famous and distinctive cities on earth, and is a major tourist magnet. Other culturally important cities in the Veneto include Verona and Padua. The city of Bologna in Emilio-Romagna is the major industrial city in north-east Italy. Alto Adige, the northernmost province in Italy, is known to its German-speaking inhabitants as Südtirol (South Tyrol); it used to be part of Austria and retains its distinctive identity. Friuli-Venezia-Giulia is also distinct, and the main local language, Friulian, is officially recognised.

Central Italy (Tuscany, Lazio, Umbria and Le Marche), is rather less wealthy and industrialised than the north. Tuscany is known for both its pleasant landscapes and the cultural riches of cities such as Florence, Pisa and Siena. Lazio, corresponding to the ancient region of Latium, contains the Eternal City of Rome, one of the most historically important cities in the world. Tourism is very important in the Italian capital, though Rome is also the second most important commercial city in Italy.

South Italy is comprised of Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Apulia (Italian Puglia), Basilicata and Calabria. This area is known as the Mezzogiorno, and the midday sun is very hot in summer. Economically and culturally there is a strong north-south divide across the country. The north has more industry and wealth, while the south is more agricultural and has a greater sense of community. Naples is the largest city in this area and is an important port for the southern half of Italy.

Insular Italy consists of the island regions of Sardinia and Sicily. Both islands have a distinct identity: Sicily has the famous volcano of Mt Etna and others, and is important for wine production and fishing. Sardinia has a somewhat untamed landscape and is sparsely populated. Locals here speak Sardinian and are fiercely proud of their separate identity.



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