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Italy is a Southern European country. It comprises the Italian Peninsula, the Po River valley, and two large islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily and Sardinia, and shares its northern alpine boundary with France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. The country also shares a sea border with Croatia and France. The independent countries of San Marino and the Vatican City are enclaves within Italian territory. It is shaped like a boot, and for this reason Italians commonly call it lo stivale (Italian for the boot).
Italy was home to many well-known and influential European civilizations, including the Etruscans, Greeks and the Romans. For more than 3,000 years Italy experienced migrations and invasions from Germanic, Celtic, Frankish, Byzantine Greek, Saracen, Norman, and the French Angevin, and Lombard peoples, and was divided into many independent states until 1861 when Italy became a nation-state.
Italy is called 'il Belpaese' (Italian for beautiful country) by its inhabitants, due to the beauty and variety of its landscapes and for having the world's largest artistic patrimony; the country is home to the greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (41 as of July 13, 2006).