Italy is considered one of the birthplaces of Western civilization and a cultural superpower. Italian culture is the culture of the Italians, a Romance ethnic group, and is incredibly diverse spanning the entirety of the Italian peninsula and the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Italy has been the starting point of phenomena of international impact such as the Roman Republic, Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church, the Maritime republics, Romanesque art, Scholasticism, the Renaissance, the Age of Discovery, Mannerism, the Scientific revolution, the Baroque, Neoclassicism, the Risorgimento, Fascism, and European integration.
Italy was home to many well-known and influential civilizations, including Italic peoples such as the Etruscans, the Samnites and the Romans, while also hosting colonies from important foreign civilizations like the Phoenicians and the Greeks. Etruscan and Samnite cultures flourished in Italy before the emergence of the Roman Republic, which conquered and incorporated them. Phoenicians and Greeks established settlements in Italy beginning several centuries before the birth of Christ, and the Greek settlements in particular developed into thriving classical civilizations, for example the cities of Magna Graecia.
For many centuries Italy experienced migrations and invasions and was divided into numerous independent states until 1861 when it became a nation-state. Due to this comparatively late unification, and the historical autonomy of the regions that comprise the Italian peninsula, many traditions and customs that are now recognized as distinctly Italian can be identified by their regions of origin. Despite the political and social isolation of these regions, Italy's contributions to the cultural and historical heritage of Europe and the world remain immense.
The famous elements of Italian culture are its art, music, cinema, style, and iconic food. Italy was the birthplace of opera, and for generations the language of opera was Italian, irrespective of the nationality of the composer. Italy had a huge presence in the development of Classical music, birthing Baroque music, many forms of musical composition such as the Symphony, the Sonata and the Concerto, as well as many important composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Antonio Vivaldi, Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, Vincenzo Bellini, Giuseppe Verdi, and Giacomo Puccini. Italy is known for its lively folk dances. The most worldwide recognized folk dance is the Tarantella, a dance originating in the Province of Taranto, Apulia, as well as its many variations across Italy such as the Calabrian Tarantella, the Pizzica, and the Tammurriata. Italy has a vibrant electronic dance music scene consisting of Italian-born genres such as Italo disco, lento violento, and dream trance as well as foreign genres such as hardstyle. Before being exported to France, the famous Ballet dance genre also originated in Italy. Popular tastes in drama in Italy have long favored comedy; the improvisational style known as the Commedia dell'arte began in Italy in the mid-16th century and is still performed today. Italian cinema is revered throughout the world. The art film has its origins in Italy. Spaghetti Westerns emerged with the release of Sergio Leone's, A Fistful of Dollars, a genre consisting of films mostly produced and directed by Italians. Both the internal and external faces of Western culture were born on the Italian peninsula, whether one looks at the history of the Christian faith, civil institutions (such as the Senate), philosophy, law, art, science, or social customs and culture.
The country boasts several world-famous cities. Rome was the ancient capital of the Roman Empire, seat of the Pope of the Catholic Church, capital of reunified Italy and artistic, cultural and cinematographic centre of world relevance. Florence was the heart of the Renaissance, a period of great achievements in the arts at the end of the Middle Ages. Other important cities include Turin, which used to be the capital of Italy, and is now one of the world's great centers of automobile engineering. Milan is the industrial and financial capital of Italy and one of the world's fashion capitals. Venice, former capital of a major financial and maritime power from the Middle Ages to the early modern period, with its intricate canal system attracts tourists from all over the world especially during the Venetian Carnival and the Biennale. Naples, with the largest historic city centre in Europe and the oldest continuously active public opera house in the world (Teatro di San Carlo). Bologna is the main transport hub of the country, as well as the home of the oldest university in the world and of a worldwide famous cuisine.Italy is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (58) to date, and according to one estimate the country is home to half the world's great art treasures. Overall, the nation has an estimated 100,000 monuments of any sort (churches, cathedrals, archaeological sites, houses and statues). During its history, the nation has given birth to an enormous number of notable people who have made major contributions to the world.
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