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The sovereign states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italy, while Campione d'Italia is an Italian exclavein Switzerland. Italy covers an area of 301,338 km2 (116,347 sq mi) and has a largely temperate climate. With 61 million inhabitants, it is the 5th most populous country in Europe. Among the world's most developed countries, Italy has the 4th-largest economy in the European Union, 3rd in the Eurozone and 8th in the world by GDP (IMF, 2014).

After the development of the Nuragic, Etruscan and Magna Graecia cultures among others, Italy's capital and largest comune,Rome, has for centuries been the leading political and religious centre of Western civilisation, serving as the capital of both theRoman Empire and Christianity. During the Dark Ages, Italy endured cultural and social decline in the face of repeated invasions by Germanic tribes, Byzantines, Muslims and Normans, with Greco-Roman heritage being preserved largely by Christian monks. Beginning around the 11th century, various Italian cities, communes and maritime republics rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking (indeed, modern capitalism has its roots in Medieval Italy);[11]concurrently, Italian culture flourished, especially during the Renaissance, which produced many notable scholars, artists, andpolymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Meanwhile, Italian explorers such as Polo,Columbus, Vespucci, and Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Nevertheless, Italy would remain fragmented into many warring states for the rest of the Middle Ages, subsequently falling prey to larger European powers such as the Holy Roman Empire, France, Spain, and later Austria. Italy would thus enter a long period of decline that lasted until the beginning of the 18th century.

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