Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a Southern European country, situated on the western side of the European continent. 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 it is commonly called lo stivale (Italian for boot).
For more than 3,000 years Italy experienced many migrations and invasions from Germanic, Celtic, Frankish, Byzantine Greek, Saracen, Norman, and the French Angevin, and Lombard peoples. Italy was also home to many well-known and influential civilisations, including the Etruscans, Greeks and the Romans. Since the expulsion of the German army near the end of WWII, Italy has been secure in its current borders.
Italy is called Bel paese (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 (40 as of January 1, 2006).
Today, Italy is a highly developed country with the 6th highest GDP in 2004, a member of the G8 and a founding member of what is now the European Union, having signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957.