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Italy has been the cradle of many European cultures and peoples. Rome, was for centuries the center of Western civilization. Later it became the birthplace of the Renaissance and played a major role in the development of modern science and astronomy. Excavations throughout Italy reveal human presence dating back to the Paleolithic period, some 200,000 years ago. In the 8th and 7th centuries BC Greek colonies were established all along the coast of Sicily and the southern part of the Italian Peninsula. Rome, at first a small agricultural community founded in approximately the 8th century BC, grew into an extensive empire. After steady decline from the 2nd century, the empire broke into two parts in 285: the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire in the East. The western part under the pressure of Goths finally dissolved, leaving the Italian peninsula divided into small independent kingdoms and feuding city states for the next 14 centuries. Italy became noted for its merchant Republics. These city-states had a dominant merchant class which nurtured academic and artistic advancement. The Maritime Republics Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi, were heavily involved in the Crusades. Fifteenth-century Italy was the birthplace of the Renaissance. The creation of the Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) was the result of efforts by Italian nationalists and monarchists to establish a united kingdom. Italy's capital became Rome. During World War I, Italy stayed neutral until 1915. World War I killed 600,000 Italians. Due to public dissatisfaction with the outcome of the war the liberal establishment, endorsed the small National Fascist Party, led by Benito Mussolini. From 1922, Mussolini banned all political parties and curtailed personal liberties. The first pact with Nazi Germany was concluded in 1936. Italy was invaded by the Allies in June 1943. The fascist regime collapsed. Italy surrendered in September 1943. The Nazis left the country on April 25, 1945. Italy became a republic in 1946 after a referendum held on June 2, 1946.
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