The country of Italy is famed for being shaped like a boot and covers an area of just over 300,000 square kilometers. The country has a huge amount of coastline onto the Adriatic, Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas totaling 7,600 kilometers. The seas are all part of the Mediterranean and the country finds itself right in the centre of this large sea. Italy also consists of two large Islands, Sicily and Sardinia, plus many smaller Islands. The country consists of a wide variety of landscapes and climates and its geography has played a huge part in Italy’s history. Italy is a beautiful country and is the fifth most visited country in the world. The North of the country is dominated by the mountains of the Alps. In fact 40% of the country’s total land area is in mountainous regions.
The highest point of the country is Mont Blanc at 4,808 metres, which is also the highest point in Europe. It is situated in the Graian Alps and borders Italy from France and close to the Aosta Valley. The area is so large that it can be divided between the Eastern Alps and the Western Alps. On the eastern side lie the ranges of the Dolomites, the Bernina and the Stelvio. The west includes the Matterhorn, the Monte Rosa and the Gran Paridiso.
These mountain areas produce huge lakes that have been formed in the mountain’s U shaped valleys. The largest in Italy is Lake Garda which is 52 km long and in places it is 16km wide. There are other large lakes such as Maggiore, Como and Idro and the region is a popular tourist destination. Just to the south of the Alps is the drainage basin of the Po River. The vast plain that has resulted is the site of many of Italy’s most affluent cities. Milan, Bergamo, Turin, Parma and Piacenza are all located in the region.
The Po is the longest river Italy. From its source in the Cottian Alps, it flows eastward for 650 km until emptying through its delta into the Adriatic Sea close to Venice. While the northern part of the country is dominated by the River Po, the centre of Italy’s most important rivers are the Tiber and the Arno. The Arno originates on Mount Falterono in the Apennines and flows for 240 km before emptying into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Along its course it passes through Florence and Pisa and its flood plain provides the region of Tuscany its rich agricultural soils.
Just to the south of the Arno flows the River Tiber, which starts on Mount Fumaiolo, in the Apennines, and flows in a south west direction for 400km before entering the Tyrrhenian Sea. Along its course it flows through the capital city Rome and over the centuries has provided its citizen’s its drinking water. Italy is at the boundary of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates. Over time the coming together of these huge plates has resulted in the land being lifted explaining the formation of the mountainous regions in the Northern areas of the country.
As well as raising the land this active tectonic zone has also produced volcanoes. The volcanoes at Vulcano, Stromboli and Vesuvius are the only active ones on mainland Europe, and Mount Etna on the Island of Sicily is larger than any of them. Many of Italy’s Islands have been created as a result of volcanic activity and eruptions in the past have led to catastrophic results. In AD 79 the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, 9km to the east of Naples, buried the Roman Cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. It is estimated that 13,000 lives were lost and today archaeologists have unearthed the remains of both cities which are now major tourist attractions.
The climate of southern Italy is a hot one and with its extensive coastline is a summer destination for many visitors. The country has a wide ranging and interesting geography.