Italy, officially the Italian Republic is a unitary parliamentary republic in Europe. Due to its shape, it is often referred to in Italy as lo Stivale (the boot). Located in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, Italy shares open land borders with France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, San Marino and Vatican City.
Since ancient times, Greek, Etruscan, Celtic, and other cultures have thrived on the Italian Peninsula. Rome ultimately emerged as the dominant power, conquering much of the ancient world and becoming the leading cultural, political, and religious centre of Western civilisation. During the Dark Ages, the region suffered sociopolitical collapse amid calamitous barbarian invasions, but by the 11th century, numerous Italian city-states rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking, and even laid the groundwork for capitalism. The Renaissance led to a flourishing of Italian culture, producing famous scholars, artists, and polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Italian explorers such as Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, and Giovanni da Verrazzano discovered new routes to the Far East and the New World, helping to usher in the European Age of Discovery. Nevertheless, Italy remained politically fragmented and fell prey to European powers such as France, Spain, and later Austria, subsequently entering a long period of decline that lasted until the mid-19th century.