Year in review: Ten events that shaped Italy in 2016

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Year in review: Ten events that shaped Italy in 2016
Scenes from the Mediterranean and Amatrice, and ex-prime minister Matteo Renzi. All photos: AFP

2016 has been a tumultuous year in Italy, with ongoing worries such as the migrant crisis and economic woes, coupled with sudden earthquakes and political turmoil. We take a look back over the events that shaped Italy this year.


Migration and refugees

The migrant crisis was a prominent theme again this year, with record numbers both of deaths at sea and arrivals on Italy's shores. As France, Austria and Switzerland closed their borders with Italy, the country's reception centres struggled - particularly as promised government funding failed to materialize.

New photos show horror of the Mediterranean's never-ending migrant tragedy

Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP

The government launched a campaign aimed at dissuading would-be migrants from making the perilous journey, and ex-prime minister Matteo Renzi repeatedly criticized the EU for failing to share the burden. But as the year draws to a close, a solution to the crisis doesn't seem any closer.

Banking crisis

Italy's banks have been struggling for some years, and this year UniCredit and several of the smaller banks (Italy has 700 in total) were in precarious situations.

Here's what you need to know about Italy's banking crisis

Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

But the biggest worries were caused by BMPS, the world's oldest bank and Italy's third largest. It attempted a set of last-ditch measures, including naming a new CEO, cutting thousands of jobs and trying to raise cash from investors. Its future remains uncertain however, with a government-funded bailout looking likely.

Tourist troubles

Proving that 2016 was a year when anything could happen, Italy had problems due both to too many and too few tourists. Rome continued to experience a decline in visitors, even during Pope Francis's Jubilee Year, a trend thought to be linked to worries over terror attacks on big cities among other factors.

Why these idyllic Italian towns are saying no to tourists

Cinque Terre. Photo: Daniel Stockman/Flickr

But in Venice, there was increasing unrest as locals complained about hordes of tourists and protested against polluting cruise ships, leading authorities to introduce a 'locals first' policy on water buses. In the summer, flyers reading 'Tourists go away!' appeared across the city. Other hotspots, from Pompei to the towns of Cinque Terre, began plans to limit visitor numbers in specific areas in order to reduce potential damage from footfall.

READ MORE: Venice and the perennial woe of unruly tourists

Civil unions, May

A bill legalizing same sex unions, which Renzi had promised to deliver by the end of 2015, finally became reality this spring after months of fierce disputes and amendments to the text. In doing this, Italy became the last major western European country to recognize civil unions for same sex couples.

Italy says ‘yes' to gay civil unions in historic vote

Photo: AFP

A hotly debated adoption clause was scrapped, one of several reasons many were disappointed in the final version. But the day was hailed a 'victory for love', and thousands of couples have since tied the knot. One especially heartwarming story was that of two former nuns, who fell in love during a mission.

Puglia train crash, July

Twenty-three people were killed and many more injured in a head-on train collision in Puglia. A station master admitted partial fault for the accident two days later and local investigators opened a culpable manslaughter investigation.

Puglia train crash death toll rises to 'at least 27'

Photo: Vigili del Fuoco

Italy rallied around the injured, with volunteer doctors and nurses assisting at the scene and pictures showing thousands queuing to donate blood to the victims.

Over 100 women killed by men

In the first nine months of the year alone, 116 women were victims of femicide - murder based on their gender.

Campaigners and politicians have spoken out about the urgent need to eliminate the problem, and there have been some promising signs, such as an increase in violent men seeking pre-emptive help. But there's still a long way to go.

116 women have been murdered in Italy this year. How can Italy tackle gendered violence?

Photo: AFP

The suicide of one woman who battled for months to have a video of her having sex removed from the internet fuelled debate in Italy on the "right to be forgotten" online. Several similar cases then came to light, prompting Italy to give the go-ahead to an 'anti-cyber-bullying' law.

Earthquakes, August and October

A major earthquake killed 299 people in the town of Amatrice in August; a toll which was particularly high due to the disaster striking at the height of the tourism season, just days before Amatrice was due to hold a local festival.

Photo: Angela Giuffrida

More tremors, of up to 6.6 magnitude, came in October to the same region. While these quakes fortunately did not cause any further casualties, thousands of people were left homeless, while homes, schools, churches, farms and buildings vital to the region's tourism industry were all destroyed.

While recovery work has begun, it will take a long time for these areas to get back to normal.

READ MORE: How Italy plans to rebuild its quake-damaged towns

Rise of the Five Star Movement

The Five Star Movement has appeared to go from strength to strength in 2016, with huge wins in local elections including Rome and Turin's mayoral votes. Polls show them neck-and-neck with the current ruling party, the Democratic Party, and the 'No' victory in the referendum has benefited leader Beppe Grillo.

What is Italy's Five Star Movement?

Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

But it's not all been plain sailing for Italy's populist party. In the six months she's been in power, Rome mayor Virginia Raggi has faced struggles including failing to fix the city's rubbish crisis as promised. Most recently, she's been stripped of decision-making powers by party leadership after a close aide was arrested for suspected corruption. And questions were raised after a BuzzFeed News investigation appeared to show strong links between the party and a network of fake news websites - a claim Grillo denied, but he failed to address some key questions.


Terror attacks in Brussels and Nice, and persistent threats against Italy from terror group Isis, have seen security beefed up across Europe. Italy's major sights such as the Vatican and Colosseum have introduced additional anti-terror measures and patrols, as have ports and shopping centres.

Rome boosts security amid heightened terror threat

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The threat level has remained at 2 in Italy since the Paris attacks, the highest possible level in the absence of a direct attack. And the government has focussed on its preventative strategy, which has seen more than 50 people deported this year.

Referendum, December

Things started to unravel for prime minister Matteo Renzi at the start of the year, and continued to get tougher. Forced to hold a referendum in order to pass a set of constitutional reforms, Renzi ended up sealing his fate by pledging to resign if defeated.

How Matteo Renzi fell as swiftly as he rose

Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Opposition parties seized on the chance to topple the PM, while for many ordinary Italians the vote was seen as an opportunity to express dissatisfaction with Renzi, his failure to improve issues such as unemployment, or the reforms themselves.

In the end, it was a resounding 'No', and Renzi kept his word - reportedly telling staff "I didn't realize they hated me so much" before resigning. Now 2017 is set to be a crucial year for Italian politics, as post-war government number 64 scrambles to update Italy's electoral law ready for elections which could be as early as February.

The Local Italy would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading in 2016, and we hope it's been a good year for all our readers.




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