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A chain of mountains, the Apennines, juts down the center of the peninsula. It accounts for 21 percent of the total area; 40 percent of Italy's area, in contrast, is hilly and 39 percent is mountainous.

The climate is generally a temperate Mediterranean one with variations caused by the mountainous and hilly areas.

Three features in particular from this period solidified the notion of a unified culture.

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There are pockets of German, Slovene, French, and other speakers. Italian patriotism is largely a matter of convenience.Old loyalties to hometown have persisted and the nation is still mainly a "geographic expression" (i.e., there is more identity with one's home region than to the country as a whole) to many Italians.Local families strengthened their hold on the rural areas and replaced Carolingian rulers.Italy had become difficult to rule from a central location. Through the ensuing years, numerous rulers from beyond the Alps, with or without the consent of the papacy, failed to impose their authority.Italy's hilly terrain has led to the creation of numerous independent states.

Moreover, agriculture in most of the country has been of a subsistence type and has led to deforestation. The Romans used the name Italia to refer to the Italian peninsula.Additionally, Italy has been invaded and settled by many different peoples.The majority of the people are ethnically Italian, but there are other ethnic groups in the population, including French–Italians and Slovene–Italians in the north and Albanian–Italian and Greek–Italians in the south. Various "dialects" are spoken, but Italian is taught in school and used in government.This ethnic presence is reflected in the languages spoken: German is predominant in the Trentino–Alto Adige region, French is spoken in the Valle d'Aosta region, and Slovene is spoken in the Trieste–Gorizia area. Sicilian is a language with Greek, Arabic, Latin, Italian, Norman French, and other influences and generally is not understood by Italian speakers.Until that time, various city-states occupied the peninsula, each operating as a separate kingdom or republic.