Maps of Italy and its Regions

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Look around you. The architecture you see, the artwork you admire, the names of bordering cities, and the coffee you enjoy may all have profound Italian influences, depending on the region of Italy they come from. To appreciate what the Italian culture has to offer, we have to know how Italy became a country with so many impactful diversities.

There are 20 different regions of Italy, and each of these regions have specific cultural, spiritual, and geographical elements that shaped Italy into the country we know today. 

Quick Facts:

  • Population = 60.5 million
  • Languages Spoken = Italian (97%), English (14%), French (8%), Spanish (7%), German (2%)
  • Ethnicities = Italian (95% majority); Romanian, Albanian, Ukrainian, other European, and African (5% minority)
  • Capital = Rome

The History of Italy

The early middle ages of Italy began in the 5th Century. This time period began after the fall of the Roman Empire. When Rome fell in 476, the eastern half of Italy survived and transformed into the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire took features of the Roman Empire and incorporated them into their own, which is one of the reasons why the Byzantine Empire, and future empires to come, were so successful. 

By the late middle ages, northern Italy had grown more wealthy than central and southern Italy. Still, by the mid-1300s, the Black Plague (Great Plague or Bubonic Plague) had begun to ravage Europe, leaving a trail of destruction in its path. During this time period, Italy was divided into many of the same regions we know today: Milan, Florence, Pisa, Venice, and Genoa, just to name a few. 

In the 15th Century, during 1494 to be exact, the Italian Wars began. The Italian Wars are also known as The Great Wars of Italy. During this time, a series of wars in Italy took place over approximately 65 years. France invaded the Kingdom of Naples in 1494, which is how the Italian Wars began. For 65 years, alliances were formed between Italy, Spain, and Austria to combat France and Papacy (the authority of the Pope). Many battles took place during The Italian Wars, with most of the battles taking place throughout the peninsula. The Italian Wars finally ceased in 1559 when the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis was signed due to financial distress between both parties.

Early Modern Italy soon followed. From 1805 to 1814, Napoleon had control over Italy as the king. Finally, in 1814, Napoleon relinquished the power of the throne and was exiled to Elba, an island off the coast of Italy. Italy was finally released from the control of France.

This time period proved difficult for Italy as trade shifted from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. Maps of Italy show that Italy was divided into many different states during this time. The northern region of Italy was ruled by Austria, while the southern region of the peninsula was ruled by Spain. This caused Italy to lose much of its power. 

Spain maintained control over Sicily, Naples, Sardinia, and Milan; however, once Spain began to weaken, so did these regions of Italy. These regions of Italy were drastically different from one another. Naples became a city that was unruly and unsanitary, while Sicily was peaceful and thriving.  

In 1848, the Italian Revolution began. The Italian Revolution is also known as the Italian Unification. Italians wanted to be their own governing authority and out from under the control of outside influences like Austria and Spain. During this time, Italians joined forces to unify the states and drive out the outside forces. 

From 1848 until early 1865, Italy fought for freedom and was unsuccessful against the powerful Austrian armies. In 1866, the Italian armies joined forces with Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War and were successful. Italy had finally seized its first region, which was Venetia. France still maintained control over Rome but had become involved in the Franco-Prussian War, which left Rome exposed and vulnerable. 

Therefore, in 1870, the Italian armies took advantage and moved into Rome. The Italian armies took control of Rome and were able to unify Rome with Venetia and the Papal States. In 1871, the capital of Italy moved from Florence to Rome, signifying a shift in power, momentum, and authority.

In 1940, Italy joined Germany’s side in World War II as a member of the Axis powers which consisted of Italy, Germany, and Japan. 

The Allies (United States, Britain, France, and Russia) invaded Sicily in 1943, which ultimately resulted in its collapse. During the collapse, Benito Mussolini also relinquished his power, which led to the Italian Civil War. During the Italian Civil War, which lasted from 1943 until 1945, northern and southern Italy engaged in a battle for the Italian territory. Because northern Italy had joined forces with Germany, southern Italy formed a coalition called the Italian Resistance, which had assistance from the Allies. 

The Italian Resistance opposed Nazi-Germany and wanted Germany to lessen its presence in Italy so that Italy could become its own governing territory again. The Allied powers wanted to put a stop to Nazi-Germany, so the two joined forces. Throughout 1943 and 1944, the Allied powers continued their invasion of Italy. On May 7, 1945, Germany finally surrendered to the Allies, and on June 2, 1946, Italy abolished the monarchy and became a republic. Each year, Republic Day is celebrated in Italy on June 2.

Languages of Italy

97% of the population speaks Italian, making it the dominant language of Italy. English is the most dominant language in the world, with over 1.3 billion people who speak the language; therefore, it is no surprise that English is spoken by 14% of the population.

With such deep historical ties to France, Spain, and Germany, these three languages are also spoken in Italy; however, it is Italian that is the dominant language of the country.

Religion of Italy

Roman Catholicism is the major religion of Italy. The Vatican is located in Rome, which is where the Pope resides. The Pope is the head of the Catholic church and ruler of the Vatican City State. 

Roman Catholicism and Christianity make up the majority of the religion in Italy at 80%. The remaining 20% of the population in Italy is Muslim, agnostic, or atheist.

Geography of Italy

Italy is made up of diverse geography because it is a vast, elongated country that stretches over a total distance of approximately 1,185 kilometers (736 miles). There are rolling mountains in the north and sandy beaches surrounding the three sides of the boot-shaped peninsula. 

If you were to look at a map of Italy with regions, you could see that each region of Italy has geographical features that are specific to that area. There are 20 total regions in Italy. Some regions of Italy are more rural than others. The rural regions of Italy include Abruzzo, Basilicata, and Marches. These rural regions were historically known for farming and agriculture, which continues today.  

Farming and agriculture were successful in these regions because of their location, topography, and climate. These regions used farming and agriculture to their advantage and produced a large number of crops to trade for metal, engineering parts, and minerals, which also continues today. 

The urban and metropolitan regions of Italy include the cities of Rome, Milan, Naples, and Venice. These cities were known for hosting sites for commerce and trade. Milan was considered the economic center of Italy. With its geographical position in northern Italy, Milan was perfectly positioned to be the center of Italy’s trade market, acting as the location for both imports and exports between Italy and Europe. 

Culture of Italy

The Italian culture has deep historical roots embedded in culinary, the arts, architecture, and religion. Some of the most famous architectural landmarks of the world are located in Italy, such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Roman Colosseum, and the Vatican. Within the Vatican is the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michelangelo, which has become one of the most iconic paintings in history. 

Gondoliers would navigate long, narrow boats called gondolas through the canals of Venice by standing on the back of the boat and using a wooden paddle or oar to steer. Gondoliers have become an icon of Italian culture because of this, and you can take a gondola ride throughout the canals of Venice still today.

In architecture, Italy has played a major role throughout history. Whether it’s the design or the application, you can likely see the inspiration that Italian architecture has had on structures all around us. Italian stucco is a common application used on both interior and exterior walls. Not only does it add a dimensional finish, but it can help protect the exterior of the home in tropical or moist climates, similar to the climate that is found on the coasts of Italy.

Immigration to Italy

The Kingdom of Italy was a territory that was constantly under siege. Because of this, there were many French, Spanish, and German descendants that lived in the region. The population was high until the Italian Plague, also known as the Great Plague of Milan, killed approximately one million Italians between 1629 and 1631, reducing the Italian population by about 25%. 

Not only did the Plague reduce the population of Italy, but the disease crippled Italy’s major cities. Residents were quarantined; thus trade was reduced and the economy declined. Immigration to Italy was not only inexistent during this time, but the entire Italian population was suffering during the Plague.   

In the 1860s, there was a mass exodus of emigrants that fled to the western hemisphere and other countries looking for work. Out of the near 13 million emigrants that fled, roughly half of them returned to Italy after they had made money in other countries. This caused the migration pattern to shift in the direction to show that more immigrants were officially entering Italy than were leaving.

Since then, Italy began seeing a steady rise in immigrants entering the country. The number of documented immigrants that are currently in Italy is between 5 and 6 million, which equates to nearly 10%. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine how many undocumented immigrants are living in Italy, as there is no documentation they can use to calculate the correct total number. 

Italy began seeing a rise in illegal immigration in the early 2000s. Because of the global location of Italy’s peninsula, immigrants across the Mediterranean Sea can quickly and easily gain access to Italy without following proper migration procedures. This has caused the number of Algerian, Libyan, and Albanian populations to increase. The Italian government has had to implement additional patrols on the maritime boundaries against these invasions. 

Immigrants from the African countries of Tunisia and Libya have built rafts that cannot withstand the 925-kilometer (575-mile) journey from Tunisia to Italy, resulting in many search-and-rescue operations within the Mediterranean Sea. With additional Italian presence in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Libya, the Libyan government has retaliated by threatening to attack the Italian boats off the coast of Libya, increasing the tensions between Libya and Italy.

Migration Patterns To, From, and Within Italy

To understand the migration patterns both to and within Italy, we have to look at history. 

Emigration is when a person leaves their native country to pursue a life in another country for work or other reasons. In the 1860s, when the Italian Civil War was at its peak, an estimated 12 to 13 million Italians traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to help the United States with skilled trades, such as farming, artistry, and mercantilism. 

Italians were looking for a better life to escape poverty and war. This time period between the 1860s and 1910s had a large emigration of Italians who left the country for a better life in the western hemisphere, making it the largest voluntary emigration recorded in history. 

By the 1920s, the United States had begun implementing strict immigration laws, which resulted in a decline in the number of Italians that emigrated from Italy. Because of this, emigration had come to a near halt by the World War II era in the 1940s, trending the migration pattern in Italy in the opposite direction. 

Emigrants continued to leave Italy during the World War II era, however, they were less likely to emigrate to the western hemisphere because of the immigration laws that had been put into place. 

In the 1970s, the migration pattern officially shifted. There were more immigrants entering Italy than emigrants were leaving Italy. Some of these newly registered citizens of Italy were actually emigrants that had returned to Italy, in addition to the immigrants from other countries who were seeking a new life. Regardless if they were emigrants or immigrants, one thing is the same: more people were entering Italy than were leaving.

Since then, this trend has continued. Each year, the foreign population of Italy increases by about 8%, which is approximately 5 million people. 

Genealogy of Italy

The genealogy of Italians does not consist of one major characteristic, ethnicity, or feature. The genealogy found within the people of Italy will likely have French, Spanish, Austrian, Greek, and/or German lineage because of Italy’s history. 

These countries had control over Italy for many years. Because of this, the appearance of an Italian can change drastically from person-to-person. German and Austrian genealogy contains genes that are likely to produce blonde hair and blue or green eyes. As Northern Italy was once controlled by Germany and Austria, it would not be uncommon for a native northern Italian to have light-colored hair and eyes.  

This same concept applies to Italians who live in southern Italy. During World War II, southern Italy was invaded by the Allied Powers, which included Britain, the United States, France, and Russia. This means that the Italian genealogy of southern Italy can possess traits from these countries. 

In addition, Italians who had emigrated from Italy to neighboring countries and eventually repatriated with a spouse from that country are likely to introduce the genealogy from their spouse into future generations. 

Therefore, it would not be uncommon for Italians in the southern regions of Sicily, Calabria, Apulia, Campania, and Basilicata to have a genealogy that is related to Britain, France, Russia, the United States, or other neighboring European countries in which emigrants may have sought refuge.

The Italian genealogy also extends to other parts of the world. Because so many Italians emigrated from Italy to the western hemisphere during the 1860s, it is likely that many North and South Americans possess some form of Italian lineage. This is especially true for Italian-Americans that entered the United States through Ellis Island. 

Descendants of Italian-Americans with ancestors who arrived on Ellis Island will possess genes that can be traced back to some of the most emigrated regions of Italy. Regions of Italy that saw the largest amount of emigration were rural areas that struggled with poverty and war. 

These regions of Italy were predominantly the central and southern regions, as they suffered from poverty, economic depression, and overpopulation. These regions include Sicily, Calabria, Apulia, Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, and Basilicata. 

Italy: From Then to Now

Italy has played a significant role throughout history, and its influences are continuing today. If you could take two bookends and have one bookend represent Roman mythology and the other bookend represent present-day Italy, you would find that what lies between these two bookends is an active role that Italy has played in religion, art, war, peace, architecture, and colonization. 

Italy played a part in World War II. Italian artist Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel inside the Vatican. Italian emigrants helped the United States with skilled trades. Without these monumental roles that the Italian civilization played, the world would not be how we know it today. 

While Italy, as a whole, has so much to offer, you need to look at each region of Italy to be able to fully appreciate the geography, history, and genealogy that each region of Italy has to offer. By looking at each region individually, you can learn more about Italy as a whole and understand how this country became the way we know it today.

The Regions of Italy

Today, there are 20 different regions of Italy. The map of Italy with regions will show you where these regions are located within Italy. Each region of Italy contains a city, landmark, or structure that relates to the region. For example, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is an architectural structure that is located in the Tuscany region of Italy. Knowing these regions of Italy will help you better understand Italy as a whole, both historically and for travel destinations.

List of Itlay Regions

Caleb Pike
About the author

Caleb Pike is an avid hiker and nature lover, with a passion for exploring the great outdoors. He's a writer, photographer, and adventurer, always seeking new trails to blaze and peaks to conquer.