A wetland is a distinct ecosystem, inundated by water, either permanently or seasonally, where oxygen-free processes prevail. The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation of aquatic plants, adapted to the unique hydric soil. Wetlands play a number of functions, including water purification, water storage, processing of carbon and other nutrients, stabilization of shorelines, support of plants and animals. Wetlands are considered the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems, serving as home to a wide range of plant and animal life. Whether any individual wetland performs these functions, the degree to which it performs them, depends on characteristics of that wetland and the lands and waters near it. Methods for assessing these functions, wetland ecological health, general wetland condition have been developed in many regions and have contributed to wetland conservation by raising public awareness of the functions and the ecosystem services some wetlands provide.
Wetlands occur on every continent. The main wetland types are swamp, marsh and fen. Many peatlands are wetlands; the water in wetlands is either brackish, or saltwater. Wetlands can be non-tidal; the largest wetlands include the Amazon River basin, the West Siberian Plain, the Pantanal in South America, the Sundarbans in the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta. The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment determined that environmental degradation is more prominent within wetland systems than any other ecosystem on Earth. Constructed wetlands are used to treat municipal and industrial wastewater as well as stormwater runoff, they may play a role in water-sensitive urban design. A patch of land that develops pools of water after a rain storm would not be considered a "wetland" though the land is wet. Wetlands have unique characteristics: they are distinguished from other water bodies or landforms based on their water level and on the types of plants that live within them. Wetlands are characterized as having a water table that stands at or near the land surface for a long enough period each year to support aquatic plants.
A more concise definition is a community composed of hydric soil and hydrophytes. Wetlands have been described as ecotones, providing a transition between dry land and water bodies. Mitsch and Gosselink write that wetlands exist "...at the interface between terrestrial ecosystems and aquatic systems, making them inherently different from each other, yet dependent on both."In environmental decision-making, there are subsets of definitions that are agreed upon to make regulatory and policy decisions. A wetland is "an ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic and aerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota rooted plants, to adapt to flooding." There are four main kinds of wetlands – marsh, swamp and fen. Some experts recognize wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types; the largest wetlands in the world include the swamp forests of the Amazon and the peatlands of Siberia. Under the Ramsar international wetland conservation treaty, wetlands are defined as follows: Article 1.1: "...wetlands are areas of marsh, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water, static or flowing, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres."
Article 2.1: " may incorporate riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands." Although the general definition given above applies around the world, each county and region tends to have its own definition for legal purposes. In the United States, wetlands are defined as "those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands include swamps, marshes and similar areas"; this definition has been used in the enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Some US states, such as Massachusetts and New York, have separate definitions that may differ from the federal government's. In the United States Code, the term wetland is defined "as land that has a predominance of hydric soils, is inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support a prevalence of hydrophytic vegetation adapted for life in saturated soil conditions and under normal circumstances supports a prevalence of such vegetation."
Related to this legal definitions, the term "normal circumstances" are conditions expected to occur during the wet portion of the growing season under normal climatic conditions, in the absence of significant disturbance. It is not uncommon for a wetland to be dry for long portions of the growing season. Wetlands can be dry during the dry season and abnormally dry periods during the wet season, but under normal environmental conditions the soils in a wetland will be saturated to the surface or inundated such that the soils become anaerobic, those conditions will persist through the wet portion of the growing season; the most important factor producing wetlands is flooding. The duration of flooding or prolonged soil saturation by groundwater determines whether the resulting wetland has aquatic, marsh or swamp vegetation
An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock, rock fractures or unconsolidated materials. Groundwater can be extracted using a water well; the study of water flow in aquifers and the characterization of aquifers is called hydrogeology. Related terms include aquitard, a bed of low permeability along an aquifer, aquiclude, a solid, impermeable area underlying or overlying an aquifer. If the impermeable area overlies the aquifer, pressure could cause it to become a confined aquifer. Aquifers may occur at various depths; those closer to the surface are not only more to be used for water supply and irrigation, but are more to be topped up by the local rainfall. Many desert areas have limestone hills or mountains within them or close to them that can be exploited as groundwater resources. Part of the Atlas Mountains in North Africa, the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges between Syria and Lebanon, the Jebel Akhdar in Oman, parts of the Sierra Nevada and neighboring ranges in the United States' Southwest, have shallow aquifers that are exploited for their water.
Overexploitation can lead to the exceeding of the practical sustained yield. Along the coastlines of certain countries, such as Libya and Israel, increased water usage associated with population growth has caused a lowering of the water table and the subsequent contamination of the groundwater with saltwater from the sea. A beach provides a model to help visualize an aquifer. If a hole is dug into the sand wet or saturated sand will be located at a shallow depth; this hole is a crude well, the wet sand represents an aquifer, the level to which the water rises in this hole represents the water table. In 2013 large freshwater aquifers were discovered under continental shelves off Australia, North America and South Africa, they contain an estimated half a million cubic kilometers of "low salinity" water that could be economically processed into potable water. The reserves formed when ocean levels were lower and rainwater made its way into the ground in land areas that were not submerged until the ice age ended 20,000 years ago.
The volume is estimated to be 100 times the amount of water extracted from other aquifers since 1900. The system shows two aquifers with one aquitard between them, surrounded by the bedrock aquiclude, in contact with a gaining stream; the water table and unsaturated zone are illustrated. An aquitard is a zone within the Earth that restricts the flow of groundwater from one aquifer to another. An aquitard can sometimes, if impermeable, be called an aquiclude or aquifuge. Aquitards are composed of layers of either clay or non-porous rock with low hydraulic conductivity. Groundwater can be found at nearly every point in the Earth's shallow subsurface to some degree, although aquifers do not contain fresh water; the Earth's crust can be divided into two regions: the saturated zone or phreatic zone, where all available spaces are filled with water, the unsaturated zone, where there are still pockets of air that contain some water, but can be filled with more water. Saturated means; the definition of the water table is the surface where the pressure head is equal to atmospheric pressure.
Unsaturated conditions occur above the water table where the pressure head is negative and the water that incompletely fills the pores of the aquifer material is under suction. The water content in the unsaturated zone is held in place by surface adhesive forces and it rises above the water table by capillary action to saturate a small zone above the phreatic surface at less than atmospheric pressure; this is not the same as saturation on a water-content basis. Water content in a capillary fringe decreases with increasing distance from the phreatic surface; the capillary head depends on soil pore size. In sandy soils with larger pores, the head will be less than in clay soils with small pores; the normal capillary rise in a clayey soil can range between 0.3 and 10 m. The capillary rise of water in a small-diameter tube involves the same physical process; the water table is the level to which water will rise in a large-diameter pipe that goes down into the aquifer and is open to the atmosphere.
Aquifers are saturated regions of the subsurface that produce an economically feasible quantity of water to a well or spring. An aquitard is a zone within the Earth that restricts the flow of groundwater from one aquifer to another. A impermeable aquitard is called an aquiclude or aquifuge. Aquitards comprise layers of either clay or non-porous rock with low hydraulic conductivity. In mountainous areas, the main aquifers are unconsolidated alluvium, composed of horizontal layers of materials deposited by water processes, which in cross-section appear to be layers of alternating coarse and fine materials. Coarse materials, because of the high energy needed to move them, tend to be found nearer the source, whereas the fine-grained material will make it farther from the source (to the flatter parts of the basin or overbank areas—somet
The Po is a river that flows eastward across northern Italy. The Po flows either 682 km -- considering the length of the Maira, a right bank tributary; the headwaters of the Po are a spring seeping from a stony hillside at Pian del Re, a flat place at the head of the Val Po under the northwest face of Monviso. The Po ends at a delta projecting into the Adriatic Sea near Venice, it has a drainage area of 74,000 km² in all, 70,000 in Italy, of which 41,000 is in montane environments and 29,000 on the plain. The Po is the longest river in Italy; the Po extends along the 45th parallel north. The river flows through many important Italian cities, including Turin and Ferrara, it is connected to Milan through a net of channels called navigli, which Leonardo da Vinci helped design. Near the end of its course, it creates a wide delta at the southern part of, Comacchio, an area famous for eels; the Po valley was the territory of the Roman Cisalpine Gaul, divided into Cispadane Gaul and Transpadane Gaul. The Po begins in the Alps, is in Italy, flows eastward.
The river is subject to heavy flooding. Over half its length is controlled with argini, or dikes; the slope of the valley decreases from 0.35 % in the west to 0.14 % in a low gradient. There are 450 standing lakes, it is characterized by its large discharge. The vast valley around the Po is called the Po Po Valley. In 2002, more than 16 million people lived there, at the time nearly ⅓ of the population of Italy; the two main economic uses of the valley are for agriculture, both major uses. The industrial centres, such as Turin and Milan, are located on higher terrain, away from the river, they rely for power on the numerous hydroelectric stations in or on the flanks of the Alps, on the coal/oil power stations which use the water of the Po basin as coolant. Drainage from the north is mediated through several scenic lakes; the streams are now controlled by so many dams as to slow the river's sedimentation rate, causing geologic problems. The expansive and fertile flood plain is reserved for agriculture and is subject to flash floods though the overall quantity of water is lower than in the past and lower than demand.
The main products of the farms around the river are cereals including – unusually for Europe – rice, which requires heavy irrigation. The latter method is the chief consumer of surface water, while industrial and human consumption use underground water; the Po Delta wetlands have been protected by the institution of two regional parks in the regions in which it is situated: Veneto and Emilia-Romagna. The Po Delta Regional Park in Emilia-Romagna, the largest, consists of four parcels of land on the right bank of the Po and to the south. Created by law in 1988, it is managed by a consortium, the Consorzio per la gestione de Parco, to which Ferrara and Ravenna provinces belong as well as nine comuni: Comacchio, Ostellato, Mesola, Ravenna and Cervia. Executive authority resides in an assembly of the presidents of the provinces, the mayors of the comuni and the board of directors, they employ a Park Council to carry out directives. In 1999 the park was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and was added to "Ferrara, City of the Renaissance, its Po Delta."
The 53,653 ha of the park contain wetlands, forest and salt pans. It has a high biodiversity, with 1000–1100 plant species and 374 vertebrate species, of which 300 are birds; the most recent part of the delta, which projects into the Adriatic between Chioggia and Comacchio, contains channels that connect to the Adriatic and on that account is called the active delta by the park authorities, as opposed to the fossil delta, which contains channels that no longer connect the Po to the Adriatic. The active delta was created in 1604 when the city of Venice diverted the main stream, the Po grande or Po di Venezia, from its channel north of Porto Viro to the south of Porto Viro in a channel called the Taglio di Porto Viro, "Porto Viro cut-off", their intent was to stop the gradual migration of the Po toward the lagoon of Venice, which would have filled up with sediment had contact been made. The subsequent town of Taglio di Po grew around the diversionary works; the lock of Volta Grimana blocked the old channel, now the Po di Levante, which flows to the Adriatic through Porto Levante.
Below Taglio di Po the Parco Regionale Veneto, one of the tracts under the authority of the Parco Delta del Po, contains the latest branches of the Po. The Po di Gnocca branches to the south followed by the Po di Maestra to the north at Porto Tolle. At Tolle downstream the Po di Venezia divides into the Po delle Tolle to the south and the Po della Pila to the north; the former exits at Bonelli. The latter divides again at Pila into the Busa di Tramontana to the north and the Busa di Scirocco to the south, while the mainstream, the Busa Dritta, enters Punta Maistra and exits past Pila lighthouse. Despite the park administration's definition of the active delta as beginning at Porto Viro, there is another active channel upstream from it at Santa Maria in Punta, where the Fiume Po d
Lido di Venezia
The Lido, or Venice Lido, is an 11-kilometre-long sandbar in Venice, northern Italy. The Venice Film Festival takes place at the Lido every September; the island is home to three settlements. The Lido itself, in the north, is home to the Film Festival, the Grand Hotel des Bains, the Venice Casino and the Hotel Excelsior Venice Lido. Malamocco, in the centre, was the first and, for a long time, the only settlement, it was at one time home to the Doge of Venice. Alberoni at the southern end is home to the golf course. Frequent public buses run the length of the island along the main street. At least half the Adriatic side of the island is a sandy beach, much of it belonging to the various hotels that house the summer tourists; these include the renowned Hotel Excelsior and the Grand Hotel des Bains, setting for Thomas Mann's classic novel Death in Venice undergoing major renovation. These beaches are private, though towards the northern and southern ends of the island there are two enormous public beaches.
The Adriatic Sea is clean and warm, ideal for children, with only the occasional jellyfish to disturb swimming. The heart of the island is the Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, a wide street 700 m long that leads from the lagoon and vaporetto stop on one side across to the sea on the other, it houses hotels and tourist-centric restaurants. Venezia Lido, a public airport suitable for smaller aircraft, is found on the NE end of Lido di Venezia, it has a 1000 m grass runway. In 1177, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and Pope Alexander III signed the Treaty of Venice here following Frederick's defeat at the Battle of Legnano in 1176. In 1202, at the beginning of the Fourth Crusade, it was used as a camp by tens of thousands of crusaders, who were blockaded there by the Venetians when they could not pay for the Venetian ships they needed for transport. In 1857, the first sea bathing facility was set up; this was the first time that anything like it had been seen in Europe and soon, the lido became "The Lido", a byword for a beach resort.
The Lido's success and the fascination of Venice nearby made the Lido famous worldwide. Lido was famous for its brothels in the first half of the 20th century. Major beach facilities and private summer villas have remained the heart of an island, still known as the "Golden Island". In the 1960s, the improving post-war Italian economy created a real-estate boom in the island, many Venetians moved to Lido to benefit from its modern infrastructure; the Lido di Venezia is home to the Venice International Film Festival. The fifth festival established its home. Designed and completed in 1937, the Palazzo del Cinema di Venezia was built on the Lido and has since been the Festival’s official site except for a three year exception from 1940 to 1942 when the festival was moved away from Venice for fear of bombing. Coincidentally, the city received no damage; the Lido has hosted numerous film shoots such as the 1971 Italian-French drama film Death in Venice directed by Luchino Visconti and starring Dirk Bogarde and Björn Andrésen, based on the eponymous novella by German author Thomas Mann.
The term Lido coming from this island, is used to refer to certain types of outdoor swimming pools in Great Britain, the "Lido deck" on a cruise ship. It forms the first part of many place names in coastal locations throughout Italy; the British travel writer Robin Saikia has written a literary history, The Venice Lido, charting the island's story from its early beginnings to the present day, published by Blue Guides. In art List of islands of Italy Satellite image of the Venetian Lido from Google Maps Venice Lido Beaches Lido di Venezia The Venice Lido by Robin Saikia
Canals, or navigations, are human-made channels, or artificial waterways, for water conveyance, or to service water transport vehicles. In most cases, the engineered works will have a series of dams and locks that create reservoirs of low speed current flow; these reservoirs are referred to as slack water levels just called levels. A canal is known as a navigation when it parallels a river and shares part of its waters and drainage basin, leverages its resources by building dams and locks to increase and lengthen its stretches of slack water levels while staying in its valley. In contrast, a canal cuts across a drainage divide atop a ridge requiring an external water source above the highest elevation. Many canals have been built at elevations towering over valleys and other water ways crossing far below. Canals with sources of water at a higher level can deliver water to a destination such as a city where water is needed; the Roman Empire's aqueducts were such water supply canals. A navigation is a series of channels that run parallel to the valley and stream bed of an unimproved river.
A navigation always shares the drainage basin of the river. A vessel uses the calm parts of the river itself as well as improvements, traversing the same changes in height. A true canal is a channel that cuts across a drainage divide, making a navigable channel connecting two different drainage basins. Most commercially important canals of the first half of the 19th century were a little of each, using rivers in long stretches, divide crossing canals in others; this is true for many canals still in use. Both navigations and canals use engineered structures to improve navigation: weirs and dams to raise river water levels to usable depths. Since they cut across drainage divides, canals are more difficult to construct and need additional improvements, like viaducts and aqueducts to bridge waters over streams and roads, ways to keep water in the channel. There are two broad types of canal: Waterways: canals and navigations used for carrying vessels transporting goods and people; these can be subdivided into two kinds:Those connecting existing lakes, other canals or seas and oceans.
Those connected in a city network: such as the Canal Grande and others of Venice Italy. Aqueducts: water supply canals that are used for the conveyance and delivery of potable water for human consumption, municipal uses, hydro power canals and agriculture irrigation. Canals were of immense importance to commerce and the development and vitality of a civilization. In 1855 the Lehigh Canal carried over 1.2 million tons of anthracite coal. The few canals still in operation in our modern age are a fraction of the numbers that once fueled and enabled economic growth, indeed were a prerequisite to further urbanization and industrialization – for the movement of bulk raw materials such as coal and ores are difficult and marginally affordable without water transport; such raw materials fueled the industrial developments and new metallurgy resulting of the spiral of increasing mechanization during 17th–20th century, leading to new research disciplines, new industries and economies of scale, raising the standard of living for any industrialized society.
The surviving canals, including most ship canals, today service bulk cargo and large ship transportation industries, whereas the once critical smaller inland waterways conceived and engineered as boat and barge canals have been supplanted and filled in, abandoned and left to deteriorate, or kept in service and staffed by state employees, where dams and locks are maintained for flood control or pleasure boating. Their replacement was gradual, beginning first in the United States in the mid-1850s where canal shipping was first augmented by began being replaced by using much faster, less geographically constrained & limited, cheaper to maintain railways. By the early 1880s, canals which had little ability to economically compete with rail transport, were off the map. In the next couple of decades, coal was diminished as the heating fuel of choice by oil, growth of coal shipments leveled off. After World War I when motor-trucks came into their own, the last small U. S. barge canals saw a steady decline in cargo ton-miles alongside many railways, the flexibility and steep slope climbing capability of lorries taking over cargo hauling as road networks were improved, which had the freedom to make deliveries well away from rail lined road beds or ditches in the dirt which couldn't operate in the winter.
Canals are built in one of three ways, or a combination of the three, depending on available water and available path: Human made streamsA canal can be created where no stream presently exists. Either the body of the canal is dug or the sides of the canal are created by making dykes or levees by piling dirt, concrete or other building materials; the finished shape of the canal as seen in cross section is known as the canal prism. The water for the canal must be provided like streams or reservoirs. Where the new waterway must change elevation engineering works like locks, lifts or elevators are constructed to raise and lower vessels. Examples include canals that connect valleys over a higher body of land, like Canal du Midi, Canal de Briare and the Panama Canal. A canal can be constructed by dredging a channel in the bottom of an existing lake; when the channel is complete, the lake is drained and the channel becom
Venice is a city in northeastern Italy and the capital of the Veneto region. It is situated on a group of 118 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by over 400 bridges; the islands are located in the shallow Venetian Lagoon, an enclosed bay that lies between the mouths of the Po and the Piave rivers. In 2018, 260,897 people resided in the Comune di Venezia, of whom around 55,000 live in the historical city of Venice. Together with Padua and Treviso, the city is included in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area, considered a statistical metropolitan area, with a total population of 2.6 million. The name is derived from the ancient Veneti people who inhabited the region by the 10th century BC; the city was the capital of the Republic of Venice. The 697–1797 Republic of Venice was a major financial and maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, a staging area for the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto, as well as an important center of commerce and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century.
The city-state of Venice is considered to have been the first real international financial center, emerging in the 9th century and reaching its greatest prominence in the 14th century. This made Venice a wealthy city throughout most of its history. After the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, the Republic was annexed by the Austrian Empire, until it became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1866, following a referendum held as a result of the Third Italian War of Independence. Venice has been known as "La Dominante", "La Serenissima", "Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", "The Floating City", "City of Canals"; the lagoon and a part of the city are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Parts of Venice are renowned for the beauty of their settings, their architecture, artwork. Venice is known for several important artistic movements—especially during the Renaissance period—has played an important role in the history of symphonic and operatic music, is the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi.
Although the city is facing some major challenges, Venice remains a popular tourist destination, an iconic Italian city, has been ranked the most beautiful city in the world. The name of the city, deriving from Latin forms Venetia and Venetiae, is most taken from "Venetia et Histria", the Roman name of Regio X of Roman Italy, but applied to the coastal part of the region that remained under Roman Empire outside of Gothic and Frankish control; the name Venetia, derives from the Roman name for the people known as the Veneti, called by the Greeks Enetoi. The meaning of the word is uncertain, although there are other Indo-European tribes with similar-sounding names, such as the Celtic Veneti and the Slavic Vistula Veneti. Linguists suggest that the name is based on an Indo-European root *wen, so that *wenetoi would mean "beloved", "lovable", or "friendly". A connection with the Latin word venetus, meaning the color'sea-blue', is possible. Supposed connections of Venetia with the Latin verb venire, such as Marin Sanudo's veni etiam, the supposed cry of the first refugees to the Venetian lagoon from the mainland, or with venia are fanciful.
The alternative obsolete form is Vinegia. Although no surviving historical records deal directly with the founding of Venice and the available evidence have led several historians to agree that the original population of Venice consisted of refugees—from nearby Roman cities such as Padua, Treviso and Concordia, as well as from the undefended countryside—who were fleeing successive waves of Germanic and Hun invasions; this is further supported by the documentation on the so-called "apostolic families", the twelve founding families of Venice who elected the first doge, who in most cases trace their lineage back to Roman families. Some late Roman sources reveal the existence of fishermen, on the islands in the original marshy lagoons, who were referred to as incolae lacunae; the traditional founding is identified with the dedication of the first church, that of San Giacomo on the islet of Rialto —said to have taken place at the stroke of noon on 25 March 421. Beginning as early as AD 166–168, the Quadi and Marcomanni destroyed the main Roman town in the area, present-day Oderzo.
This part of Roman Italy was again overrun in the early 5th century by the Visigoths and, some 50 years by the Huns led by Attila. The last and most enduring immigration into the north of the Italian peninsula, that of the Lombards in 568, left the Eastern Roman Empire only a small strip of coastline in the current Veneto, including Venice; the Roman/Byzantine territory was organized as the Exarchate of Ravenna, administered from that ancient port and overseen by a viceroy appointed by the Emperor in Constantinople. Ravenna and Venice were connected only by sea routes, with the Venetians' isolated position came increasing autonomy. New ports were built, including those at Torcello in the Venetian lagoon; the tribuni maiores formed the earliest central standing governing committee of the islands in the lagoon, dating from c. 568. The traditional first doge of Venice, Paolo Lucio A
Italy the Italian Republic, is a country in Southern Europe. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Austria and the enclaved microstates San Marino and Vatican City. Italy covers an area of 301,340 km2 and has a temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. With around 61 million inhabitants, it is the fourth-most populous EU member state and the most populous country in Southern Europe. Due to its central geographic location in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean, Italy has been home to a myriad of peoples and cultures. In addition to the various ancient peoples dispersed throughout modern-day Italy, the most famous of which being the Indo-European Italics who gave the peninsula its name, beginning from the classical era and Carthaginians founded colonies in insular Italy and Genoa, Greeks established settlements in the so-called Magna Graecia, while Etruscans and Celts inhabited central and northern Italy respectively; the Italic tribe known as the Latins formed the Roman Kingdom in the 8th century BC, which became a republic with a government of the Senate and the People.
The Roman Republic conquered and assimilated its neighbours on the peninsula, in some cases through the establishment of federations, the Republic expanded and conquered parts of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. By the first century BC, the Roman Empire emerged as the dominant power in the Mediterranean Basin and became the leading cultural and religious centre of Western civilisation, inaugurating the Pax Romana, a period of more than 200 years during which Italy's technology, economy and literature flourished. Italy remained the metropole of the Roman Empire; the legacy of the Roman Empire endured its fall and can be observed in the global distribution of culture, governments and the Latin script. During the Early Middle Ages, Italy endured sociopolitical collapse and barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century, numerous rival city-states and maritime republics in the northern and central regions of Italy, rose to great prosperity through shipping and banking, laying the groundwork for modern capitalism.
These independent statelets served as Europe's main trading hubs with Asia and the Near East enjoying a greater degree of democracy than the larger feudal monarchies that were consolidating throughout Europe. The Renaissance began in Italy and spread to the rest of Europe, bringing a renewed interest in humanism, science and art. Italian culture flourished, producing famous scholars and polymaths such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Machiavelli. During the Middle Ages, Italian explorers such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, John Cabot and Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Italy's commercial and political power waned with the opening of trade routes that bypassed the Mediterranean. Centuries of infighting between the Italian city-states, such as the Italian Wars of the 15th and 16th centuries, left the region fragmented, it was subsequently conquered and further divided by European powers such as France and Austria.
By the mid-19th century, rising Italian nationalism and calls for independence from foreign control led to a period of revolutionary political upheaval. After centuries of foreign domination and political division, Italy was entirely unified in 1871, establishing the Kingdom of Italy as a great power. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, Italy industrialised, namely in the north, acquired a colonial empire, while the south remained impoverished and excluded from industrialisation, fuelling a large and influential diaspora. Despite being one of the main victors in World War I, Italy entered a period of economic crisis and social turmoil, leading to the rise of a fascist dictatorship in 1922. Participation in World War II on the Axis side ended in military defeat, economic destruction and the Italian Civil War. Following the liberation of Italy and the rise of the resistance, the country abolished the monarchy, reinstated democracy, enjoyed a prolonged economic boom and, despite periods of sociopolitical turmoil became a developed country.
Today, Italy is considered to be one of the world's most culturally and economically advanced countries, with the sixth-largest worldwide national wealth. Its advanced economy ranks eighth-largest in the world and third in the Eurozone by nominal GDP. Italy owns the third-largest central bank gold reserve, it has a high level of human development, it stands among the top countries for life expectancy. The country plays a prominent role in regional and global economic, military and diplomatic affairs. Italy is a founding and leading member of the European Union and a member of numerous international institutions, including the UN, NATO, the OECD, the OSCE, the WTO, the G7, the G20, the Union for the Mediterranean, the Council of Europe, Uniting for Consensus, the Schengen Area and many more; as a reflection