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The pleasures and passions of life — art and architecture, food and wine — will tempt, delight, and elate both the soul and the stomach in Italy. From penne to pizza, the Renaissance and the Romans, Italy is a delicious and delightful destination. Italy became a nation-state belatedly - in 1861 when the city-states of the peninsula, along with Sardinia and Sicily, were united under King Victor EMMANUEL. An era of parliamentary government came to a close in the early 1920s when Benito MUSSOLINI established a Fascist dictatorship. His disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany led to Italy's defeat in World War II. A democratic republic replaced the monarchy in 1946 and economic revival followed. Italy was a charter member of NATO and the European Economic Community (EEC). It has been at the forefront of European economic and political unification, joining the European Monetary Union in 1999. Persistent problems include illegal immigration, the ravages of organized crime, corruption, high unemployment, and the low incomes and technical standards of southern Italy compared with the more prosperous north.

Italy is truly one of the cradles of Western civilization, with one of the longest histories and richest cultures in Europe. Rome was the capital of the ancient Roman Empire.  The capital Rome is said to have been founded in 753 BC, when Romulus, son of the god Mars, yoked a bullock and a heifer to a plowshare, marked out a boundary, and built a wall. Be that as it may, the city has at least 2,500 years of unparalleled cultural accomplishment. The Vatican, the Colosseo, (Colosseum) and the Spanish Steps are just the beginning of the treasures preserved here. Florence, home to Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, was one of the greatest centers of the Renaissance, and is filled with beautiful art and wondrous architecture. Venice, whose wealth was built on trade with the East, rose on a series of islands; canals became its streets, linking piazzas, palaces, and fabulous churches.

However, modern Italy is much more than a museum of its past glories. The mountains of the southern Alps, particularly the Dolomites, and the peaks and valleys of the Apennines lend Italy a rugged natural beauty. With thousands of miles of coastline, Italy is also a major resort destination; its islands—Sicily, Sardinia, and more remote archipelagoes like the Aeolian Islands—have become popular getaways for those seeking summer sand and sun.

In spite of its imposing history and its natural beauty, perhaps Italy's most enduring attractions are its people and contemporary culture. While the stereotype of the typical Italian is no more accurate than any other, Italians in general live life with passion and a vibrant sense of style. Quality food, wine, and design reach heights in Italy rarely approached elsewhere in the world. Plan on spending at least a few days in an Italian city—full of cafés, open-air piazzas, and the hustle and bustle of people going about their lives amidst ancient landmarks—and take in the flavor of modern Italian culture.

Built around the river Arno, Florence has remained a relatively small, compact city with narrow, cobbled streets making up most of the central area. The Renaissance movement is clear for all to see, from the design of the buildings to the art and sculpture galleries. Medieval Florence is a work of art in its own right. Everybody should see the Uffizi Gallery at least once- leave it until late afternoon when it's quieter. In the meantime brush up on Michaelaneglo at the Galleria dell'Accademia, Donatello at the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Titian, Raphael and Veronese at the Palazzo Pitti. The Duomo is masterpiece in its own right- climb up inside the dome itself for a fabulous view of the city. Spend an evening at the Teatro Comunale at one of the concert performances, otherwise there is a wonderful music festival held between May and July each year.

Set in what was considered by the Romans to be one of their country's most beautiful areas, the city of Naples spreads out like a fan across the bay. At the foot of Mount Vesuvius, it boasts a wealth of architecture, art treasures and some of the world's finest archeological remains, making it an interesting base to celebrate the millennium year. A visit to the ancient remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum is also possible from here as well as boat trips to the beautiful island of Capri and Ischia.

The Italian Riviera is a nature-lover's paradise, famed for its temperate climate and luxuriant vegetation of silver olive trees, vines, cypresses, pines and array of beautiful flowers, all of which can be seen in the superb botanical gardens of La Mortola. The Italian Riviera is a constant delight with azure seas, green mountains and pretty little villages and towns. Its history can be traced back hundreds of years to ancient cave-dwellers. A proud seafaring region with along history of trade and commerce, it not only attracted the ancient Romans but also the unwelcome attention of marauding pirates.

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