Italy, with its distinctive boot shape, is a European peninsula extending into the Mediterranean Sea. The country is mountainous with two major chains, the Alps in the north and the Apennines extending the length of the country. A cluster of volcanoes is located mostly in the south and southwest. In addition to the peaks, plains, rivers and foothills make up a major part of the geologic landscape of the Italian peninsula.
The Po-Venetian Plain
The Po-Venetian plain is located in northern Italy between the Adriatic Sea, the Alps and the Apennine mountains. The plain was once a gulf in a tectonic trough that filled over time with deposits from the seas, rivers and glaciers. Today, these deposits are almost 5 miles deep. The majority of the plain is flat. Once covered with forests that have since been harvested, the Po-Venetian plain is now considered the breadbasket of Italy for its rich agriculture land. Swamps and bogs are common throughout the plain.
The Italian Alps
The Italian Alps are part of the Alpine chain in Western Europe formed when the continents of Europe and Africa collided. The Italian Alps are divided into three parts: the Western, Central and Eastern Alps. The most famous peak in the Italian Alps is Monte Cervino, also known as the Matterhorn, located on the Swiss-Italian border.
The Apennines are a range of mountains that travel the length of the Italian peninsula for 830 miles ending on the island of Sicily. Often called the backbone of Italy, the Apennines are the source of most major rivers in the country. The highest peak in the Apennine range is Mount Corno at over 9,000 feet. Like the Po-Venetian plain, the Apennines were once heavily forested but due to thousands of years of human harvesting have now lost most of their forests.
Mount Vesuvius and Other Volcanic Structures
Italy has a large number of volcanic structures for such a small country, due mostly to convergence between the African and European continental plates. The most famous Italian volcano is Mount Vesuvius, part of the Somma-Vesuvius volcanic complex, known for the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD. Etna, Stromboli and Vulcano, active in vaying degrees, are other famous volcanoes on the Italian mainland and surrounding islands.