The 15th-century pope Pius II, who really initiated the modern discourse on "Europe", wrote a famous letter to Sultan Mohammad II, the conqueror of Constantinople, in which he celebrated the manifold powers of the old continent: "Spain so steadfast, France so warlike, Germany so populous, Britain so strong, Poland so daring, Hungary so active and Italy so rich, high-spirited and experienced in the art of war."
Now as then, Europe is unthinkable without its nations. To see Europe only as the European Union and its Brussels institutions is like describing a beautiful old house by reading out the instruction books for its plumbing, electrical system and central heating. To be sure, Europe is much more than the sum of its nations – but without them, it is nothing. So it is appropriate that as the Guardian launches a month of special European coverage, it will do so by looking in depth, week by week, at four nations mentioned by Pius II more than five centuries ago: Germany, France, Spain and Poland.
Meanwhile, let us consider Pius II's own nation, Italy, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of its supposed unification into a modern nation-state on 17th March – the Kingdom of Italy having been proclaimed on 17 March 1861. Italy is the ur-European country. Nowhere else can you find so many closely piled layers of European history. Only in Rome can you have lunch near the place where Julius Caesar was murdered, then pop over to hear St Peter's heir proclaim his 2,000-year-old message to the city and the world. Most of what made the traditional, early modern identity of Europe – especially the heritage of ancient Greece and Christianity – came to us through ancient Rome. Europe: from Julius Caesar to Silvio Berlusconi.
Every European country is unique, yet they all have much in common with each other and each part tells us something about the whole. Here are eight things that I think today's Italy tells us about today's Europe. Read full article in the Guardian...
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