Encyclopedia Britannica describes Italy as "less a single nation than a collection of culturally related points in an uncommonly pleasing setting." However concise, this description provides a good starting point for the difficult job of defining Italy, a complex nation wrapped in as much myth and romance as its own long-documented history. The uncommonly pleasant setting is clear: the territory on a boot-shaped peninsula in the Mediterranean, both mountainous and blessed with 4,600 miles of coast. The culturally related points include many of the fountains of Western culture: the Roman Empire, the Catholic church, the Renaissance (not to mention pasta and pizza).

But Italy, united fully only in 1870, has long struggled not so much with its identity as with the concept of itself as a single unit working toward common goals. It has been central to the formation of the European Union, and after the destruction of World War II, built itself with uncommon energy to regain a place in the global economy. But distrustful of authority after centuries of decentralized and often arbitrary rule, Italians tend to feel loyalty locally: to region or town or, most commonly, to the family itself.

Fonte: New York Times