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Northern Italy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Northern Italy

Italia settentrionale
Map of Italy, highlighting Northern Italy
 • Total120,260 km2 (46,430 sq mi)
 • Estimate 
(2014 est.)
 – Official languageItalian
 – Historical linguistic minorities
 – Regional languages

Northern Italy (Italian: Italia settentrionale or just Nord) is a geographical and cultural region in the northern part of Italy.[2] Non-administrative, it consists of eight administrative Regions in northern Italy: Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol.[3] As of 2014, its population was 27,801,460. Rhaeto-Romance and Gallo-Italic languages are spoken in the region, as opposed to the Italo-Dalmatian languages spoken in the rest of Italy.

For statistic purposes, the Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (ISTAT) uses the terms Northwest Italy and Northeast Italy for two of Italy's five statistical regions in its reporting. These same subdivisions are used to demarcate first-level Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) regions ("NUTS 1 regions") within the European Union, and the Italian constituencies for the European Parliament.

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  • ✪ Italy: Northern Italy – Rick Steves Travel Talks
  • ✪ Discover The Wines Of Northern Italy in HD


This video is an excerpt from a much longer Italy Travel Talk. To view other topics, or to watch my Italy Talk in its entirety, visit, or check out my Rick Steves YouTube channel. Enjoy. "Buongiorno," I'm Rick Steves, thank you for tuning in, thank you for joining us, I'm tellin' ya' Italy is my favorite country. It's about two-thirds the size of California, sixty million people, and we can think of it in terms of regions. And, often overlooked, are the charms of Northern Italy. In the north of Italy, we've got beautiful Riviera ports, we've got romantic lakes, we've got the most important big city to see, in the sense of today's energy of Italy, that would be Milano, and we've got the mountains, the Alps of Italy, the Dolomites. We'll start with the Cinque Terre, because a lot of people are dreaming of the Italian Riviera when dream about Italy. I love the Cinque Terre. I think, if there's any place that I had an impact on, more than other places in my travel writing, is the Cinque Terre. I discovered that back when I was a college kid, and I just have done my very best to ruin it. I mean, there are so many tourists there now, and when I discovered it, there was no economy there, it was very poor, it was probably one of the poorest parts of Italy, and since then, it has developed, it has welcomed the tourists, and I was joking about me, I think everybody is getting on board, and people are recognizing the charm of these little villages. And today, you've got five incredible little towns, all within easy walking distance of each other. Just an hour or two away from big places like Genoa, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Florence. When you go to the Cinque Terre, there's five towns. that's what it means, Cinque Terre, the five lands, and Monterosso Al Mare is the town that is the best resort town of the region. That's where you'll find the most hotels, the nicest beaches, and so on, and when we go to Monterosso Al Mare, you've got that rent- an-umbrella kind of ambiance on the beach, and the only really good beach on the Cinque Terre. And I'll remind, you in the evening, that's when the crowds go home, and that's where the charm comes out. The Cinque Terre used to be the classic "back door." There's nothing really back door about it now, it is mobbed with visitors in the middle of the day. They're not only the tourists like you and me, there the cruisers that come in, and there are the people side dripping in from the big city, Genoa. Genoa's huge city, and there's a lot of people there, they just want to scoot over to the beaches for a little fun. Consequently, during the day, the towns are just inundated, but at night, everybody's away. There's not enough comfortable hotels in these areas to keep mass tourism happy, so people do not spend the night. It's all yours at night, that's the good news. My favorite town is Vernazza, and Vernazza is the most exotic town, it's the most romantic town, it's the most kind of dramatic town, Vernazza, and you get beautiful views coming in from either direction, is what I would try to stay at, but it's hard to get a room there, you need to book in advance, and you pay a little extra money I think, to stay in Vernazza. But look at Vernazza, it's perfectly preserved, nobody has any modern buildings there, it hasn't changed a bit, it's a national park, the whole area is a national park. This is frustrating if you're a local landowner, 'cause you can't meet the demand by upgrading your funky little "pensione" into a fancy hotel, and charge more money. There are no comfortable hotels in this town, because nobody can build a comfortable hotel, and that's really good news because it keeps away the most obnoxious slice of the traveling public; people who insist on good hotels. They're all in Portofino, nearby, or Porto Venere, complaining about the prices and the traffic jams. What I like about the Cinque Terren part is, it is Fiat-free Italy. There's sixty million people in Italy, and just as many Fiat, and I find my favorite places are places that are, essentially, traffic-free. It's hard to get a car to these little chunks of the Riviera Coast. I've seen a lot of the riviera, this is my favorite little bit of the Mediterranean coast, anywhere. Vernazza. At night, all the restaurants are busy, and anybody who's spending the night in the region is enjoying some beautiful fresh seafood. That people are proud of their cooking, there's a lot of local traditions there, pesto and trofie. Trofie is a special kind of pasta made for the pesto, this beautiful basil sauce, and is it is harvested right there, and it is famous for that region. It's called Liguria. And of course, the seafood is a big deal in the Cinque Terre. You get some beautiful seafood, some beautiful pasta, and some delightful memories when you're eating in the romantic evening hours, with a good perch with a view of the sea. When you are in Cinque Terre, Vernazza is a beautiful place to call home. Now you can walk from town, to town, to town, here you can see the kind of coastline, and you can imagine what the trails are like. The only town of the five that's not on the water is Cornelia, and to get to Cornelia, you gotta walk up from the water, and there's switchbacks from the train station, it's part of the Cinque Terre Trail, and after Cornelia, you'll come to a town called Manarola. And Manarola is a secondary town, it's got a lot of charm, but it doesn't have the exotic beauty of Vernazza. Still, it's a great stop. This is a view of Manarola from the boat out at sea. And the big town of the Cinque Terra is Riomaggiore. And, Riomaggiore is a nice place that would be a little less touristy than Vernazza, and still have the magic of the Cinque Terre. Here we have another view of Riomaggiore. Now the trains lace together each of these towns, and the trains didn't come in until about a century ago after the unification of Italy. So that's one reason they're so remote, and so exotic, and distant feeling, is the modern world was not able to get there until the last century. In fact, the towns originated as groups of people kind of hiding out from marauding pirates. People chose the most rugged part of the Italian coast line, and each of these towns has castle where they would have a look out, and they would holler if the pirates were coming. Today, of course, the trains are tunneling through, and the trains are in the tunnels, and then they just blink open for each of the dazzling, colorful parts, and then you're back in the darkness, and it's the way you connect the towns. Every hour there is a train, and about every hour in the summer, when the weather is good and it's not too windy, there's a boat. And the boats go from town to town, and they always feel like they're injecting economy into the town's when they take their little bows there, and all the people empty into the town, and they scurry around, do their shopping, and then get back onto the boat and go to the next stop. It's easy to get from town to town, but in the Cinque Terre, a departure in the hand is worth two around the corner. So if you've got a train leaving right now, if you've got a boat leaving right now, and you gotta get somewhere, it's best to get on that because you never know when the trains are gonna just stop running, or the boats are gonna incur too much wind to be able to stop the in little ports. The cruise industry is really causing a problem in the Cinque Terre. In the last few years, Livorno, which is the cruise port for Florence, has realized-the cruise ships have realized-that a real attraction for their cruisers, for people who've already been to Florence, is to send them over to the Cinque Terre. Consequently, busloads of people, and I'm talking thousands, are coming in at the same time, making the trails at the Cinque Terre almost impassable. If you are on a cruise ship, I think it's-I don't think it's right to add to this scary problem of physically too many human beings in the Cinque Terre. But that, coupled with normal weekend crowds, and normal summer crowds, and all of this, it's making midday, on certain times when you get a perfect storm of cruise ships, almost unlivable for the Cinque Terre. Remember, in the early morning, in the evening, it's relatively empty. In the middle of the day it can be absolutely ridiculous, so take advantage of those beautiful quieter hours when you're on the Cinque Terre, and enjoy the trails. The trails are a beautiful way to just get a dose of that kind of riviera wonder. A lot of times, when using the trail, you'll come around the corner and see just the view of a lifetime, and photographers just gobble it up. It's easy to hike from town to town, it just feels good, and when you get into town, the food, which is already delicious, tastes even better. Now, when you're planning a trip to the Cinque Terre, for a lot of travelers, there's a lot of stress relating to trail closures. And you'll hear people say, no, the trails are closed, there is a flood, there was a landslide, there's no more trails, well I've been going to the Cinque Terre for 30 years and I've never been there when the trails aren't closed, you know, there's always a trail here and there that's closed. Basically, most of the trail closures are to cover their legal exposure. They have to say, "it's closed, proceed at your own risk," and then people step over the little barrier and make the walk. If one trail is absolutely closed, and that does happen, and probably right now there's one or two trails that just are impassable physically, there's still a handful of other trails that are wide open. So don't worry about trail closures in advance, go there regardless, you will have trails. And ask locally, not to the tourist board because they're going to tell you the party line, ask somebody who's not in the tourist board, "really, what trails are open and where can I hike?" And then make your plans from there. You'll find the main kind of accommodations in the Cinque Terre is private accommodations. The older people have moved to the big city, and they've hired east Europeans to live there, in a little corner of their apartment, and rent out the rest of the apartment to travelers. And it's quite handy, it's quite reasonably priced, and you're right there in that little town wonder. There are pebbly beaches in most of the Cinque Terre towns, if you want a serious beach, you gotta go to resort to nearby, but frankly I wouldn't go to Italy for great beaches. I would go to Italy for great coastal culture and so on, but leave the great beaches to the Italians. They thrive on crowds, and traffic jam, and noise, they actually like that, and for us it's just stressful, we don't speak the language, we don't really know the ropes. I would stay away from the famous beach resorts in Italy, and I would focus on the rustic charm of the Italian Riviera and the Cinque Terre. In the north of Italy are a bunch of lakes. It's almost like the peninsula of Italy is welded to the Alps right around these lakes, there's Lago di Garda, Lake Maggiore, and also Lake Como. My favorite of the lakes, without any doubt, is Lake Como, and that's what I stress. Lago Di Como. This is called "honeymoon country" in Italy, "luna di miele," honeymoon country. And my favorite stop in Lago Di Como is Varenna. And Varenna, not to be confused with Vernazza in the Cinque Terre, Varenna is like the Vernazza of the lakes in the north of Italy. The neat thing about Varenna is it's a one hour train ride from Milano. You can fly into Milano, catch the train one hour north, and not deal with the big city, and get over jet lag in Varenna. If I'm ever just fried, and that happens to me when I'm working sometimes, I need a place to convalesce, this is it, Varenna. It is so beautiful. Get a little hotel right on the waterfront. You get a pass and you can use the ferries all over the lake. You'll find all sorts of people just having anniversaries, or having honeymoons, or having romantic getaways. There's something really romantic about Varenna on Lago Di Como. The lake is full of traditional steamers, and these steamers will connect the towns. Bellagio, you may have heard of Bellagio. This is the actual Bellagio, right here, and it is the resort of the region. It's bigger than Varenna, this is where well-dressed people with their little poodles go for vacation, and it's fun to drop by, although I would hang out in Varenna. An hour to the south is Milano, and if you're going to see one big city, one no nonsense powerful city in Italy, I'd make it Milano. They say for every church in Rome, there's a bank in Milano, and Milano is where you feel the energy of Italy. Recently, Italy surpassed England in per capita income, and Italy is making more money per capita than in England, not because of San Gimignano, Siena, and the Cinque Terre, I can promise you that. It's because of the no nonsense, powerful, industrial cities of the north. Torino, Genoa, Milano, and so on. Milano is the city for me. To feel the reality of Italy, you owe it to yourself to have one day, or a couple of days in a great, no nonsense city. It's a great place to fly into, it's a great place for sightseeing, you've got this incredible "duomo." When you hear the word "duomo" in Italy, that means cathedral, the "duomo." And this would be the Duomo of Milano. Milano, is like so many Italian cities, going traffic-free. Look at this beautiful bike street here, and pedestrian street. Just a few years ago it was full of cars, and now it is all for the people. This is the main square, the Piazza Del Duomo, looking at the cathedral, and when I'm here I'm always thinking about the Risorgimento. Remember, in 1850, there was no Italy, and there was no Germany. There was just a bunch of little countries that spoke those languages, that dreamed of one day being united. The established countries in Europe wanted nothing to do with that, and it took some pretty impressive political finagling for the great George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons of modern Italy to get that country together. I would highly recommend learning about the Risorgimento before you go to Italy, because when you go to Italy everywhere you look it's, Cavor that, Mazzini this, and Garibaldi that. Those are all the heroes of the 1860s when Italy was defying the big powers of Europe, and becoming united. And the hotbed of that Risorgimento spirit was Milano, and when you go to Milano it's everywhere. I mean, this is the Victor Emmanuel Gallery, a big gallery named after the first king of Italy. And there there was energy in Italy after 1870 when Italy united, they're building trains, and lacing together the country, they're building a wonderful, state-of-the-art, futuristic, you know, industrial age malls, and they just were embracing this whole idea of Italy. The fathers of Italy famously said, "we've created Italy, now we need to create Italians," alright, because there was that, what they call "campanilismo." In Italy, "campanilismo" is loyalty to your own bell tower, the "campanile." Right here in my town in Edmonds, right outside my office, there's a cute little bell tower and it rings a bell, and I've got a little bit of that "campanilismo" right here. Can you imagine, a hundred loyalties like that all around Italy, and suddenly you've got a unified political entity with sixty million people, or whatever, and now that challenge is to teach these people, "you're Italian." So, it's a wonderful story, and it's just 150 years old, and it's worth checking out. Across the street from that Victor Emmanuel Gallery, you've got the La Scala Opera House, the greatest opera house in a lot of ways in Europe, and when you go there, and you step inside you, go to the museum, you get a look at the Opera Hall, you learn about Verdi. Verdi, the great opera composer, what's his name, V-E-R-D-I. It was a political slogan. Victor Emmanuel, "re d'Italia," Victor Emmanuel, the first king of Italy. People would stand on their chairs in the opera, and they'd sing the arias, knowing they were waving the Italian flag, which was forbidden, because Austria and France wouldn't allow it, but they all work together in these wonderful, wonderful, trouble-causing, patriotic ways, to somehow bring Italy to unity. To learn about that is really exciting, and you can do that when you go to Milano. We got-a lot of people are interested in Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper. I'll warn you, you need a reservation. Ever sent the appearance of the DaVinci Code, there have been long lines to get in to see Leonardo's Last Supper, and you need to book it a month in advance. So get your guidebook out, get online, and make a reservation, and it's very straightforward. But if you go to Milano, and you don't have a reservation for the Last Supper, it's going to be very complicated, and very expensive for you to actually get a chance to see it. It's one of the great masterpieces of European art. It's interesting to note that Leonardo chose to finish his career, the meat of his career, in Milano. It was a very important city that rivaled Florence, and oftentimes, under-appreciated. Beautiful districts to go out to eat in Milano, there's a place in the canal, kind of port district, called the Naviglio Grande, which is where I like to go for a characteristic meal, and that would all be discussed in the Rick Steves Italy guidebook. Now when you go to Italy, if you want the complete story of Italy, part of that is the Alps. We think of Alps being France, and Switzerland, and Austria, but the Dolomites, or the Dolomites, are the Italian Alps, and they really are quite impressive. Now I want to remind you, this part of Italy was Austrian, until WWI. Austria started and lost WWI, they lost their international holdings, becomes a relatively insignificant little landlocked country, and its port on the Mediterranean, Trieste, and all that area around there, became part of Italy. When you go to Dolomite area now, you'll find signs in both languages, because it's just been 100 years that people have been part of Italy, and they still speak German. Here we see the two names of the regions, "Sudtirol," if you happen to be from Vienna, and "Alto Adige," if you're from Rome, okay. The South Tyrol or the upper Adige River Valley. And below that, you see "hello, welcome" in three different languages. "Welcome" in German, "welcome" in Italian, and "welcome" in the ancient Latin language that this little demographic enclave still has as a part of their language heritage. There's a tiny little group of people that still speak this language that was related directly to the ancient Latin. When we look around the Dolomites, I explored this whole area when I was writing the first edition of my Rick Steves Italy guidebook, looking for a good town to call home in the Dolomites, and most of the town's just felt like a ski resort in the summer, just drained out, and empty, and "what am I doing here at the wrong season." But there's one place that is-- well there's a major town called Bolzano, and that would be in the valley floor, and Bolzano feels a lot like Salzburg but in Italy, it's got beautiful arcades and a wonderful Alpine kind of heritage, and a quirky museum with the iceman, Otzi, who thawed out of a glacier. And it gives us like a quirky, miraculous look at somebody who lived in prehistoric times. Quite amazing to see Otzi the Iceman when you're in Bolzano. And my favorite hometown is just up on top of the ridge above Bolzano, and this town is called Kastelruth. Now you'll see here it's got two names, Kastelruth and Castelrotto. I happened to say the German word first, but if you're Italian, you'd say Castelrotto. What's confusing, is if you have a map, it might say either/or. Bolzano would be Bozen, Kastelruth, Castelrotto, There's a town nearby, Vipiteno or Sterzing, you don't know, depending on German or Italian. Castelruth is a charming town with a beautiful old district, chair lifts going right out from there into the mountains for lovely hikes, and always some cultural activities happening. From there, you take a shuttle bus into a national park called the Alpe Di Siusi. The Alpe Di Siusi is the biggest high meadow in the Alps, anywhere in the Alps. And you've got this lovely high meadow on a sunny day, on a warm day, it's such delightful hike. You can do it in a wheelchair, I mean, it's just perfectly flat, it's like pasture land. Or you can hike up and get onto the Schlern, the mountain there. It's just like going to the beach except up in the mountains. There's petting zoos, there's lounge chairs, it is just a delightful chance for anybody to enjoy the Alps of Italy. So when you're thinking about Italy, remember, there are a lot of great attractions high up in the north. Thank you. If you've enjoyed this video. you'll find lots more at, and on my Rick Steves YouTube channel. Happy travels, and thanks for joining us.



Flag of Padania proposed by Bossi's Lega Nord
Flag of Padania proposed by Bossi's Lega Nord

Northern Italy was called by different terms in different periods of History. During ancient times the terms Gallia Cisalpina, Gallia Citerior or Gallia Togata were used to define that part of Italy inhabited by Celts (Gauls) during the 4th and 3rd centuries BC. Conquered by the Roman Republic in the 220s BC, it was a Roman province from c. 81 BC until 42 BC, when it was merged into Roman Italy. Until that time, it was considered part of Gaul, precisely that part of Gaul on the "hither side of the Alps" (from the perspective of the Romans), as opposed to Transalpine Gaul ("on the far side of the Alps").

After the fall of the Roman Empire and the settlement of the Lombards the name Langobardia Maior was used, in the Early Middle Ages, to define the domains of the Lombard Kingdom in Northern Italy. The Lombard territories beyond were called Langobardia Minor, consisting of the Duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. During the Late Middle Ages, after the fall of the northern part of the Lombard Kingdom to Charlemagne, the term Longobardia was used to mean Northern Italy within the medieval Kingdom of Italy. As the area became partitioned in regional states the term Lombardy subsequentially shifted to indicate only the area of the Duchies of Milan, Mantua, Parma and Modena and later only to the area around Milan.

In late modern period the term Alta Italia ('High Italy') was widely used, for example by the Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia during the second World War. Starting from the 1960s the term Padania was sometimes used as geographical synonym of Po Valley. The term appeared sparingly until the early 1990s, when Lega Nord, a federalist and, at times, separatist political party in Italy, proposed Padania as a possible name for an independent state in Northern Italy. Since then, it has carried strong political connotations.


Antiquity and Early Middle Ages

Ancient peoples of Northern Italy, with Celtic peoples shown in blue.
Ancient peoples of Northern Italy, with Celtic peoples shown in blue.

In pre-Roman centuries it was inhabited by different peoples among whom the Ligures, the ancient Veneti, who prospered through their trade in amber and breeding of horses, the Etruscans, who colonized Northern Italy from Tuscany, founded the city of Bologna and spread the use of writing; later, starting from the 5th century BC, the area was invaded by Celtic – Gallic tribes. These people founded several cities like Turin and Milan and extended their rule from the Alps to the Adriatic Sea. Their development was halted by the Roman expansion in the Po Valley from the 3rd century BC onwards. After centuries of struggle, in 194 BC the entire area of what is now Northern Italy became a Roman province with the name of Gallia Cisalpina ("Gaul on the inner side (with respect to Rome) of the Alps"). The Roman culture and language overwhelmed the former civilization in the following years, and Northern Italy became one of the most developed and rich areas of the western half of the empire with the construction of a wide array of roads and the development of agriculture and trade.

In late antiquity the strategic role of Northern Italy was emphasized by the moving of the capital of the Western Empire from Rome to Mediolanum in 286 and later to Ravenna from 402 until the empire collapsed in 476.

Migration of the Lombards towards Northern Italy
Migration of the Lombards towards Northern Italy

After the fall of the Western Empire, Northern Italy suffered heavily from destruction brought about by migration from Germanic peoples and from the Gothic War. In the 570s the Germanic Lombards, or Longobardi, entered Northern Italy from Friuli and founded a long-lasting reign (with its capital in Pavia) that gave the medieval name to the whole Northern Italy and the current name to the Lombardy region. After the initial struggles, relationships between the Lombard people and the Latin-speaking people improved. In the end, the Lombard language and culture assimilated with the Latin culture, leaving evidence in many names, the legal code and laws, and other things. The end of Lombard rule came in 774, when the Frankish king Charlemagne conquered Pavia, deposed Desiderius, the last Lombard king, and annexed the Lombard Kingdom to his empire changing the name in Kingdom of Italy. The former Lombard dukes were mostly replaced by Frankish counts, prince-bishops or marquises.

High Middle Age and Renaissance

Member cities of the first and second Lombard League.
Member cities of the first and second Lombard League.

In the 10th century Northern Italy was formally under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire but was in fact divided in a multiplicity of small, autonomous city-states, the medieval communes and maritime republic. The 11th century marked a significant boom in Northern Italy's economy, due to improved trading and agricultural innovations, culture flourished as well with many universities founded, among them the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe. The increasing richness of the city-states made them able to defy the traditional feudal supreme power, represented by the German emperors and their local vassals. This process led to the creation of different Lombard Leagues formed by allied cities of Lombardy that defeated the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick I, at Legnano, and his grandson Frederick II, at Parma, and becoming virtually independent from the German emperors.

The Leagues failed to develop from an alliance to a lasting confederation and subsequently, among the various local city-states, a process of consolidation took place; most of them became lordships ruled by powerful families like the Della Scala of Verona or the Visconti of Milan, and conquered neighboring cities threatening to unify Northern Italy under a single state.

Northern Italy after the Peace of Lodi
Northern Italy after the Peace of Lodi

In the end a balance of power was reached in 1454 with the Peace of Lodi and Northern Italy ended up divided between a small number of regional states, the most powerful were the Duchies of Savoy, Milan, Mantua, Ferrara and the Republics of Genoa and Venice, which had begun to extend its influence in the mainland from the 14th century onwards.

In the 15th century Northern Italy became one of the centres of the Renaissance whose culture and works of art were highly regarded. The enterprising class of the communes extended its trade and banking activities well into northern Europe and "Lombards", the term that designated the merchants or bankers coming from northern Italy, were present in all of Europe. The Italian Wars between 1494 and 1559 ended the North Italian Renaissance and brought the region to be fought between France and the Spanish and Austrian House of Habsburg. After the war Northern Italy became under direct or indirect control of Spain. At the same time Ottoman control of the eastern Mediterranean and the discoveries of sea routes to Asia around Africa and of the Americas led to the decline of the Venetian Republic.

Pestilences, like that of 1628/1630, and the generally declining conditions of Italy's economy in the 17th and 18th centuries halted the further development of Northern Italy. The only polity that managed to thrive in this period was the Savoy's state which, thanks to military and diplomatic victories in 1720, managed to acquire the island of Sardinia, through which the then Dukes gained legitimacy as a proper Kingdom and increased Turin's importance as a European capital.

Modern history

The Iron Crown of Lombardy, used by Napoleon to symbolize authority over Northern Italy
The Iron Crown of Lombardy, used by Napoleon to symbolize authority over Northern Italy

After the French Revolution in the late 18th century Northern Italy was conquered by the French armies, many client republics were created by Napoleon and in 1805 a new Kingdom of Italy, made of all of Northern Italy but Piedmont that was annexed to France, was established with Milan as capital and Napoleon as head of state. In the congress of Vienna, the Kingdom of Sardinia was restored, and furthermore enlarged by annexing the Republic of Genoa to strengthen it as a barrier against France. The rest of Northern Italy was under Austrian rule, either direct like in the Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom or indirect like in the Duchies of Parma and Modena. Bologna and Romagna were given to the Papal State.

The Austrian imperial government was unpopular because of their anti-liberal politics and Northern Italy became the intellectual centre leading the Italian unification process. Piedmont and the Kingdom of Sardinia, in particular, was the state that launched Italy's unification in 1859–1861. After defeating the Austrians in 1859 and annexing Northern Italy the new state proceeded to launch a campaign to conquer Southern and Central Italy and Turin briefly became the capital of the whole of Italy.

Anti-Fascist Partisans in the streets of Bologna after the general insurrection of April 1945
Anti-Fascist Partisans in the streets of Bologna after the general insurrection of April 1945

After Italian unification the capital was moved from Turin to Rome and the administrative and institutional importance of Northern Italy was deeply reduced. However, from the late 19th century and especially with the economic boom of the 1950s–1960s, Northern Italy and especially the cities of Turin, Genoa, and Milan was the most important region in the Italian industrialization and sharpened its status of richest and most industrialized part of Italy. Between 1943 and 1945, during the Second World War, Northern Italy was part of the Fascist Italian Social Republic and the main theatre of the anti-fascist partisan activity. Between April 19 and 25, 1945 the cities of Northern Italy began an insurrection against Fascist and Nazist forces that led to the liberation of Northern Italy by Allied forces Economic differences between Northern Italy and the rest of the country, as well as the short history of Italy as a single nation, led in the 1990s to the emergence of Padanian nationalism, as Lega Nord promoted either secession or larger autonomy for Padania, the name chosen to represent Northern Italy.


Northern Italy is made of the basin of the River Po, which comprises the whole of the broad plain extending from the foot of the Apennines to that of the Alps, together with the valleys and slopes on both sides of it, the Venetian Plain and the Ligurian coast. Northern Italy has the Alps as northern and western boundary and the Apennine Mountains as the southern one. In between the two mountain ranges lies a large plain made of the Venetian Plain and the valley of the Po, the largest river in Italy, which flows 652 km eastward from the Cottian Alps to the Adriatic Sea and receives all the waters that flow from the Apennines northwards, and all those that descend from the Alps towards the south. The Po Valley is the largest plain in Italy and held the vast majority of North Italian population.

Farming landscape in the Po Plain at Sant'Agata Bolognese
Farming landscape in the Po Plain at Sant'Agata Bolognese

The Alps are home to some worldwide-known mountains like the Matterhorn (Cervino), Monte Rosa, Gran Paradiso in the eastern Alps, and Bernina, Stelvio and Dolomites along the eastern side of the Alps. The highest peak in Europe is Mont Blanc, at 4,810 meters above sea level, located at the border with France.

With the exception of Liguria all of Northern Italy lies in the drainage basin of the Adriatic Sea (with rivers Po, Piave, Adige, Brenta, Tagliamento, Reno) though the waters from some border municipalities (Livigno in Lombardy, Innichen and Sexten in Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol) drain into the Black Sea through the basin of the Danube, and the waters from the Lago di Lei in Lombardy drain into the North Sea through the basin of the Rhine.

On the foothills of the Alps there are a number of subalpine moraine-dammed lakes, the largest of which is Garda. Other well known of these subalpine lakes are Lake Maggiore, whose most northerly section is part of Switzerland, Como, Orta, Lugano, Iseo, Idro.


Alpine lakes like Lake Orta are characterised by warmer microclimates than the surrounding areas
Alpine lakes like Lake Orta are characterised by warmer microclimates than the surrounding areas

The climate of Northern Italy is mainly humid subtropical (Köppen Cfa), especially in the plains. Winter in Northern Italy is normally long, rainy and rather cold. In addition, there is a high seasonal temperature variation between Summer and Winter. In the hills and mountains, the climate is humid continental (Köppen Dfb). In the valleys it is relatively mild, while it can be severely cold above 1,500 mt, with copious snowfalls. The coastal areas of Liguria generally fit the Mediterranean climate profile. In the Alpine foothills, characterised by an Oceanic climate (Köppen Cfb), numerous lakes exercise a mitigating influence, allowing the cultivation of typically Mediterranean crops (olives, citrus fruit).

A peculiarity of the regional climate is the thick fog that covers the plains between October and February, especially in the central Po Plain. The east coast, from Romagna to Trieste is occasionally affected by the cold bora winds in winter and spring.

Fog on the Secchia River near Modena. Fog is a common occurrence in the Po Plain
Fog on the Secchia River near Modena. Fog is a common occurrence in the Po Plain

The coldest month is January: the Po valley's mean temperature is between −1–1 °C. Winter morning lows can occasionally reach −30 to −20 °C in the Alps and −14 to −8 °C in the Po valley. Summer is usually more stable with July temperatures are 22–24 °C north of river Po, like in Milan or Venice, and south of river Po can reach 24–25 °C like in Bologna.

while the number of days with lows below 0 °C is usually from 60 to 90 a year, with peaks of 100–110 days in the mainly rural zones.[4] In the colder winters, the Venice Lagoon may freeze, and in the coldest ones even enough to walk on the ice sheet.[5]

Precipitation evenly distributed during the year, although the summer is usually slightly wetter. is more intense in the Prealpine zone, up to 1,500 to 2,000 mm annually, but is abundant also in the plains and Alpine zones, with an average of 600 to 850 mm annually. The total annual rainfall is on average 827 mm.[6] Regione Lombardia. Retrieved 21 July 2015. Snow is quite common between early December and early March in cities like Turin, Milan and Bologna, but sometime it appears in late November or late March and even April. Both the Alps and the Apennine can see up to 500–1,000 cm of snow in a year at 2,000 m; on the highest peaks of the Alps, snow may fall even during mid summer, and glaciers are present.


Because of high industrialization and the lack of wind due to being closed between mountain ranges air pollution remains a severe problem in Northern Italy. Even if smog levels have decreased dramatically since the 1970s and 1980s, in 2005 a team of researchers at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute reported that Northern Italy was one of Europe's most polluted areas in terms of smog and air pollution due to its climatic and geographic conditions, which cause the stagnation of pollutants.[7]


Northern Italy is the most developed and productive area of the country, with one of the highest GDPs per capita in Europe. It was the first part of Italy to become industrialised in the last half of the 19th century; the so-called industrial triangle was formed by the manufacturing centres of Milan and Turin, as well as the seaport of Genoa. Since then, the industrial core of the area has shifted eastward; the current industrial triangle consists of Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna. A similar shift happened for GDP per capita, and the eastern regions (including Lombardy) have since become wealthier than Piedmont and Liguria. With a 2008 nominal GDP estimated at €772,676 million, Northern Italy accounts for 54.8% of the Italian economy, despite having just 45.8% of the population.[3]

Largest cities

The most populous cities (with over 100,000 inhabitants) as of December 31, 2016,[8] estimates were:

Rank City Population Region
1 Milan 1,366,180  Lombardy
2 Turin 882,523  Piedmont
3 Genoa 580,097  Liguria
4 Bologna 389,261  Emilia-Romagna
5 Venice 261,321  Veneto
6 Verona 257,275  Veneto
7 Padua 210,440  Veneto
8 Trieste 204,338  Friuli-Venezia Giulia
9 Brescia 200,423  Lombardy
10 Parma 195,687  Emilia-Romagna
11 Modena 185,273  Emilia-Romagna
12 Reggio Emilia 171,944  Emilia-Romagna
13 Ravenna 159,115  Emilia-Romagna
14 Rimini 149,403  Emilia-Romagna
15 Ferrara 132,278  Emilia-Romagna
16 Monza 123,598  Lombardy
17 Bergamo 120,923  Lombardy
18 Trento 117,997  Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol
19 Forlì 117,863  Emilia-Romagna
20 Vicenza 111,620  Veneto
21 Bolzano 107,317  Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol
22 Novara 104,183  Piedmont
23 Piacenza 103,082  Emilia-Romagna

Alpine regions

Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Veneto, Trentino Alto-Adige, Liguria, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Lombardy are known as the Alpine regions of Italy, consisting of all of North Italy except for Emilia-Romagna.[9][10]

See also


  1. ^ "Statistiche demografiche ISTAT".
  2. ^ Castagnoli, Adriana (2004). Culture politiche e territorio in Italia: 1945-2000. Milano: Angeli. p. 34. ISBN 978-8846452337.
  3. ^ a b Mangiameli, Stelio (2012). Il regionalismo italiano tra tradizioni unitarie e processi di federalismo. Milano: Giuffrè. ISBN 978-8814174131.
  4. ^ "Galaverna a Passarera di Capergnanica e dintorni".
  5. ^ "Venice on ice". Archived from the original on 2001-10-08. Retrieved 2012-07-20.
  6. ^ "Regional Statistical Yearbook: average rainfall, yearly and ten-year average, Lombardy and its provinces". Regione Lombardia. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  7. ^ Natural Hazards
  8. ^ "Statistiche demografiche ISTAT".
  9. ^ Marco Angelillo (16 April 2018). "Alpi, le regioni di sette Paesi per il cuore verde d'Europa". (in Italian).
  10. ^ "EUSALP". Retrieved 10 March 2017.
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