Italy Geography and Territory
Italy's national territory covers a total of 301,333 square kilometres. Its only land border consists of the Alpine arc stretching from the Varo river (in Nice) and the Vrata Pass (at Fiume) and, along this arc Italy borders France to the west, Switzerland and Austria to the north, and Slovenia to the east.
Italy is a peninsula extending into the Mediterranean Sea with a wide variety of geographical, climatic and cultural environments.
The peninsula is surrounded by the Ligurian Sea, the Tyrhennian Sea, the Ionian Sea and the Adriatic Sea and, in addition to its continental territory, Italy also includes a series of islands: Sicily and Sardinia, the largest islands in the Mediterranean, as well as numerous minor archipelagos brimming with natural beauty.
However, Italy's national territory does not encompass all the areas within its physical reach: the Maltese archipelago, Corsica, Istria, the part of Venezia Giulia in Istria, the Italian-speaking section of Switzerland, the Republic of San Marino, Vatican City, the Nice area (including Monaco) and some parts of the French Alps.
The Italian territory is characterised by a predominance of high altitude areas with 39.7% hilly terrain and 38.7% mountainous, while only 21.6% is plains land.
The Italian part of the Alps can be divided into three sections: the large external crystalline massifs of the Western Alps; the Apennines and the Austro-Alpine area; and the Southern Alps that form a sort of broad arcade enclosing the Padana Plain.
The Alps are crowned by the pre-Alps formations, and the Cadibona Pass (Liguria) links the Alps to the Appennines, stretching lengthwise for 1,350 kilometres along the northeast side of peninsula, where peaks reach 2,795 metres (Maiella) and 2,914 metres (Gran Sasso). The Appennine chain with its mountains and plateaus forms the Italian peninsula's backbone.
The rich and fertile Padana Plain lies between the Alpine spurs and the Apennines. It is well irrigated thanks to a large network of rivers that include the Po, which, at 652 km, is Italy's longest river. Comacchio, the largest wetlands area in the country, lies at the mouths of the Adige and Po rivers.
Further north, the coast is characterised by the lagoons of Venice, Marano and Grado. In addition to the Padana Plain, other principal plains areas include the extremely fertile Felix plain (the area around Vesuvius and Naples, with its very rich soil) and the Appulian plain.
The Italian peninsula has a great variety of climates. Proceeding from north to south, an Alpine climate, with a broad temperature range throughout the day and in the various seasons, and a high average rainfall), is followed by the Padana Plain with a sub-continental climate (cold winters, hot summers, mist and fog).
The Apennine chain stretching from northwest to southeast acts as a barrier to the weather systems coming off the Atlantic; therefore, there is a great deal more rainfall on the Tyrhennian side than on the Adriatic. The Centre and South have hot summers and mild winters. The islands enjoy a Mediterranean climate.