Italy with Rome as its capital was the political center of western civilization for centuries. Long after the decline of the Roman Empire (4th century), Italy became the birthplace of the Renaissance (15th & 16th century), an intellectual movement which had tremendous influence on the future course of European thought. Today it is a modern democratic republic which plays a major role in global diplomatic and cultural affairs. Italy's prominence in the world of art (Michelangelo, Leonardo de Vinci), architecture (Rome, Florence, Venice), literature (Dante), music (Verdi, Puccini) and fashion (Prada, Gucci) has been recognized for centuries. We all appreciate Italy's contribution to the world of cuisine. These extraordinary successes explain why tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of its economy. In fact, most of the tour books Sandy and I have purchased over the years relate to Italy.