Situated in Mediterranean Europe, Italy has land frontiers with France in the north-west, Switzerland and Austria in the north and Slovenia in the north-east. The peninsula is surrounded by the Ligurian Sea, the Sardinian Sea and the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west, the Sicilian Sea and the Ionian Sea in the south and the Adriatic Sea in the east. Italian is the language of the majority of the population but there are minorities speaking German, French, Slovene and Ladino.
There is a great deal of variety in the landscape in Italy, although it is characterized predominantly by two mountain chains: the Alps and the Apennines.The former extends over 600 miles from east to west. It consists of great massifs in the western sector, with peaks rising to over 14,000 feet, including Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc), Monte Rosa and Cervino (the Matterhorn). The the chain is lower in the eastern sector, although the mountains, the Dolomites, are still of extraordinary beauty.At the foot of the Alpine arc stretches the vast Po Valley plain, cut down the middle by the course of the river Po, the longest in Italy (390 miles), which has its source in the Pian de Re (Monviso) and flows into the Adriatic through a magnificent delta.The Alpine foothills are characterized by large lakes: Lake Maggiore and the lakes of Como, Iseo and Garda.
The Apennines form the backbone of the peninsula, stretching in a wide arc concave to the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Corno Grande (Gran Sasso d'Italia) is the highest peak. A large part of central Italy is characterized by a green hilly landscape, through which the rivers Arno and Tevere (Tiber) run. The southern section of the chain pushes out to the east forming the Gargano promontory and, sloping down further south, the Salentine peninsula. Itthen proceeds to the west with the Calabrian and Peloritano massif stretching across the Strait of Messina into Sicilia.
The principal islands are Sicilia, rising up to the great volcanic cone of Etna (10,860 feet) and Sardegna. The main archipelagos are the Tremiti Islands in the Adriatic Sea, the Tuscan Archipelago, the Pontine Islands, the Aeolian Islands and the Egadi Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Sicilia.
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