Sea and Nature: jewels of Italy
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Italy is a land of total, startling extremes. In geographical terms alone, it is one of Europe's most disaster-prone countries. Italy's Civil Protection service works in a constant state of readiness to cope with the country's active volcanoes, earthquakes, floods, avalanches, forest fires...
A large proportion of the country is hilly, and modern Italy is shaped by its natural geography as well as by millennia of turbulent history. Over the last three thousand years, Italy has had a consistently rich culture, producing fine buildings, works of art, and a mythologised history with timeless appeal.
From the jewels of the Italian Riviera to the high slopes of the Abruzzo, the more time you spend in Italy, the more faces you will discover. Italy, and the Italians, are at times cultured and barbaric, modern and surreally old-fashioned, lazy and vibrant, in thrall of the past, and neglectful of it.
This is a country where cities have been at war with each other for centuries.. now this masquerades as football rivalry or civic pride, but really it's a continuation of the peninsula's city-state culture. Italians all feel they 'belong' primarily to their town (this may be their parents' birthplace, where they have never lived), secondly perhaps to Europe. 'Italy' is a concept which is still being worked at, and Mameli's national anthem a tool which is wielded not for custom but for political ends. If you want to please an Italian, firstly praise the beauty of their city. Secondly compare it favourably with other Italian cities.
Italy means something different to every tourist. Pizza, ruins, great works of art, hot beaches, handsome youths, good wine... The country is an obliging one, and few visitors leave disappointed. If you're looking for one aspect of Italy, you'll find it served on plate, even richer than you expected. And if you are open and receptive, the chances are you'll find much more than you dreamed of.
History is everywhere in Italy, steeped into the surroundings and the consciousness of the country to a degree that can amaze those from other lands.