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Of all European countries, Italy is perhaps the hardest to classify.
It is a modern, industrialized nation. It is the harbinger of style, its designers leading the way with each season's fashions. But it is also, to an equal degree, a Mediterranean country, with all that that implies.
The Italians are strongly family-oriented, with an emphasis on the traditions and rituals of the Catholic Church which, notwithstanding a growing scepticism among the country's youth, still dominates people's lives here to an immediately obvious degree.
Italy only became a unified state in 1861 and, as a result, Italians often feel more loyalty to their region than the nation as a whole - something manifest in different cuisines, dialects, landscape and often varying standards of living. There is also, of course, the country's enormous cultural legacy - Tuscany alone has more classified historical monuments than any country in the world; there are considerable remnants of the Roman Empire all over the country, notably of course in Rome itself; and every region retains its own relics of an artistic tradition generally acknowledged to be among the world's richest.