of Italy is just under 58 million people, according to a recent
estimate. The birth rate was put at 8.93 per thousand, one
of the lowest in Europe and below the EU average of about
12 per thousand – surprisingly given the Italians’
preoccupation with children and family. Demographers have
been predicting an ongoing fall in the numbers, a slight increase
in the birthrate in the past few years combined with immigration
may well keep the population steady. More children are born
in the south than in the north, the birth rate in Emilia-Romagna
is half that of Campania.
Heavily populated areas include those around
Rome, Milan and Naples, Liguria, Piemonte and parts of Lombardia,
the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Portici, a suburb of
Napoli, located directly under Mt Visuvius is the second most
densely populated spot in the world, Hong Kong being the first.
The Italians of today are descended primarily
from the ancient Etruscans and Romans. Various other peoples
have been added to the native population, so that mixed with
familiar dark-haired, olive-skinned Mediterranean faces one
sees blonde, blue-eyed Italians whose forebears probably came
from the north.
There is only a small minority of people
that are non-Italian speaking, which includes German speakers
in Alto Adige (in the province of Bolzano) and a tiny French-speaking
minority in the Valle d’Aosta. Some people in around
Trieste along the border with Slovenia speak Solvene. In the
south are pockets of Greeks and Albanians, descendants of
immigrants in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Nearly all Italians are Roman Catholics,
although many do not attend church regularly. There are about
100,000 Protestants. Many of these are Waldenses, a Christian
sect dating from the Middle Ages. Italy also has a small Jewish
community. Roman Catholicism was made the official religion
of Italy under the 1929 Lateran pacts with the Vatican. This
official status ended in 1985, when revisions to the pacts
provided for the separation of church and state.