Italy’s population density is 200 residents per km2. However, the distribution of the population varies, and the density is lowest in the often mountainous and from the agricultural point of view the regions of Valle d’Aosta, Trentino-Alto Adige, Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata and Sardinia. But even in some richer rural areas, such as Umbria, the southern parts of Piedmont and Tuscany, and northern Lazio, population density is low. Among the reasons for this may be noted the lack of larger, expanding cities or, as in southwestern Tuscany, the former presence of large wetlands. Significant parts of central and southern Italy have long been made up of relocation countryside, while especially parts of the Piedmont, Lombardy and Lazio regions have shown a move-in surplus. In addition to extensive urbanization, migration flows have mainly gone from high to lowland, from inland to coast and from south to north. About 50 percent of the residents live in cities with more than 20,000 residents. The largest cities in 2018 were Rome (2.9 million residents), Milan (1.4 million) and Naples (966 100).
From the mid-1800s, upwards of 10 million Italians emigrated to the United States. Other countries have also received significant Italian immigration, including Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and France. After the First World War, emigration to overseas destinations decreased, and Central Europe has become the main target for Italian emigration. However, Italy today has an immigration surplus.
According to Countryaah, the post-war period has been marked by significant changes in Italy’s demographics. As in most parts of Europe, natural growth during the post-war period has decreased, from 0.79 percent (1951–52) to negative natural growth in the 2010s. In 1993, for the first time, the number of deaths exceeded the number of births, which has become the norm in recent years. Despite this, the population has increased slightly as a result of the surplus of residents.
The Italian national language is based on the variant spoken in the Tuscany region and in particular in Florence, whose dialect was spread as a literary language throughout Italy from the 13th century onwards. Throughout history, many other dialects have become literary languages, mainly Venetian and Neapolitan. After Italy’s unification in the 1860s, the national language gradually pushed away the dialects, but these continue to be vivid in many parts of the country.
In Italy, in addition to the Italian with its dialects, a number of minority languages are spoken: German mainly in Alto Adige (South Tyrol), Occitan, French and Franco-Provencal in the north-west and Slovenian in the north-east. The Friulian in Friuli and the Ladino in Alto Adige usually together with Romanians, who are mainly spoken in Switzerland, are considered dialects of Romanesque. The Sardinian occupies a distinctive position as an independent language, and in southern Italy there are language islands of Greek, Albanian and Croatian, which were created mainly by immigration during the 15th and 16th centuries. Catalan is spoken in the town of Alghero on the northwestern coast of Sardinia.
The Italian dialect area outside the state of Italy often includes the Romanesque dialects spoken in Corsica, in the Roya Valley in south-eastern France and in the western parts of Slovenia.
For pre-Christian religion in Italy, see Etruscans (Religion) and Roman Empire (Religion). On Christianity in Italy before the year 400, see Christianity (History).
By the year 400, Italy was largely Christian. Churchly Italy was dominated by Rome, but the Ostrogoths and later the Langobards were long supporters of Aryanism. When Italy was incorporated into the Byzantine Empire about 535, the church came under strong Greek influence, especially in southern Italy, where Byzantine rites occurred until the end of the Middle Ages. The Pope’s participation in the so-called three-chapter battle in 553 triggered a lengthy schism between Rome and the Patriarch of Aquileia; it first ceased about 700.
The church’s organization has been old-fashioned – even today Italy has more than 200 bishoprics – and the church life has long been undeveloped. Monasteries and law schools became the bearers of knowledge and education; through them Greek and later Arabic literature was brought to Latin Europe.
Rome’s leadership was consolidated during the High Middle Ages, but then also ascetic and church-critical movements occurred, one led by Arnold of Brescia. The Cathars formed an organized counter-church in Italy. The Valdens had a strong influence in northwestern Italy. To counteract these tendencies, the pope established the Inquisition 1231. Other movements were channeled into church paths, e.g. The Franciscan Order, but also this, during the 1300s, faced intense criticism of the church’s ownership. The pope’s stay in Avignon increased the religious turmoil. A contributing cause was the apocalyptic expectation of Floris by Joakim. After the popes’ return to Rome, they became eager supporters of the Renaissance art and architecture rather than of ordinary church life.
The Reformation gained little success except among the Valens, who turned to Reformed Protestantism. The Pope renewed the Inquisition in 1542. After the Tridentin meeting 1545-63, a series of ecclesiastical reforms were implemented; new male and female orders were formed – i.e. of Jesuits, oratorians, capuchins and ursulins; they took responsibility for schools and social care. The counter-reformatory spirit with its militant Catholicism has been much different. Its visible expression got it in the Roman Baroque.
The following centuries constituted an ecclesiastical decline in the context of Italy’s general decline. An anti-clerical movement with roots in the Renaissance received its main support in Freemasonry. During the 19th century, the anti-clerical forces dominated politics, especially since Pius IX so strongly opposed Italy’s unification. The relationship between church and state was first regulated by the Lateran Treaty in 1929, when the Vatican State was established. Through this treaty, the Roman Catholic Church gained the privileged position it still has. In 1975 the Treaty was modified. Divorce was then legally allowed.
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Today’s Italy is still strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church, to which about 80% of the population professed at the end of the 1990s. The Protestants (among whom the Electoral is the largest community) comprise some percent of the people. The number of Muslims has increased sharply since the 1990s, but the proportion is lower than in many other European countries. In 2010, the number of Muslims in Italy was estimated to be about 1.5 million, mostly immigrants from northern Africa, Albania and the Middle East without Italian citizenship. Other religious groups are numerically insignificant. There is a Catholic vitality but also a widespread indifference. In northern and central Italy, secularization is increasing among the younger ones. Southern Italy’s traditional conservatism holds a way of life that is more magical than religious, and in the cities there is a widespread interest in all kinds of esotericism and occultism. Aggressive anti-clericalism, on the other hand, is less common; Catholicism is seen as an indispensable part of national heritage.