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Italy (Italian: Italia), is a country located on the Italian Peninsula in Southern Europe and on the two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia. Italy shares its northern, Alpine boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia. The independent states of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within the Italian Peninsula, and Campione d'Italia is an Italian exclave in Switzerland.The land known as Italy today has been the cradle of many European cultures and peoples, such as the Etruscans and the Romans. Later it was the birthplace of the Renaissance that began in Tuscany and spread all over Europe. It also played a major role in the development of modern science and astronomy, particularly heliocentrism, as well as the University, and opera. Italy's capital, Rome, was for centuries the center of Western civilization. Italy possessed a colonial empire from the second half of the nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.
The history of Italian cinema began a few months after the Lumière brothers began motion picture exhibitions. The first Italian film was a few seconds long, showing Pope Leo XIII giving a blessing to the camera. The Italian film industry was born between 1903 and 1908 with three companies: the Roman Cines, the Ambrosio of Turin and the Itala Film. Other companies soon followed in Milan and in Naples. In a short time these first companies reached a fair producing quality, and films were soon sold outside Italy. The cinema was later used by Benito Mussolini as a form of propaganda until the World War II.After the war, Italian film was widely recognised and exported until an artistic decline around the 1980s. World-famous Italian film directors from this period include Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Dario Argento. Movies include world cinema treasures such as La dolce vita, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo and Ladri di biciclette. In recent years, the Italian scene has received only occasional international attention, with movies like La vita è bella directed by Roberto Benigni and Il postino with Massimo Troisi.
Popular sports include football, basketball, volleyball, waterpolo, fencing, rugby, cycling, ice hockey (mainly in Milan, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto), roller hockey and motor racing. Winter sports are most popular in the northern regions, with Italians competing in international games and Olympic venues. Turin hosted the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. Sports are incorporated into Italian festivities like Palio (see also Palio di Siena), and the gondola race (regatta) that takes place in Venice on the first Sunday of September. Sports venues have extended from the gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome in the Colosseum to the Stadio Olimpico of contemporary Rome, where football clubs compete.The most popular sport in Italy is football, the Serie A being one of the most famous competitions in the world. Italy's national football team is the second-most-successful team in the world, with four World Cup victories, the first one of which was in 1934. Italy is also the current (2006) FIFA world champion. Cricket is also slowly gaining popularity; the Italian national cricket team is administered by the Federazione Cricket Italiana? (Italian Cricket Federation). They are currently ranked 27th in the world by the International Cricket Council and are ranked fifth amongst European non-Test teams.
The modern Italian cuisine has evolved through centuries of social and political changes, with its roots reaching back to the 4th century BC. Significant change occurred with the discovery of the New World, when vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and maize became available. However, these central ingredients of modern Italian cuisine were not introduced in scale before the 18th century.Ingredients and dishes vary by region. However, many dishes that were once regional have proliferated in different variations across the country. Cheese and wine are major parts of the cuisine, playing different roles both regionally and nationally with their many variations and Denominazione di origine controllata (regulated appellation) laws. Coffee, and more specifically espresso, has become highly important to the cultural cuisine of Italy.