Italy has often acted as a bridge, between the Mediterranean states of North Africa and West Asia and the European continent.
The Roman Empire adopted large parts of Greek culture, Christianity found its way from the Middle East to Rome and from there across the continent and the whole world. Augustine, the forefather of the Occident, moved from what is now Algeria to Milan to develop his theology. Later, it was the Italian city states that benefited from exchanges with the Islamic and Byzantine worlds, and the Renaissance was also stimulated in the 15th century by emigrant scholars from Byzantium, which was now under Ottoman rule.
In the wake of the European expansion of power in the past centuries, this aspect has been somewhat lost sight of. The nation-state was now the preferred entity to organise a society, and a nation was best placed to acquire colonies and build an empire through them. After the disasters of the two world wars, Italy became a member of the European Union and NATO, and later part of the Eurozone.
In the meantime, however, the world is once again having a greater impact on Europe than vice versa, and in the long term Italy will once again assume its bridging function. The demographic development of the southern and eastern Mediterranean countries, the economic rise of Asia including Chinese investments in Mediterranean ports, plus the economic problems of the southern European euro countries all point in this direction.
Italy will have to find a new relationship with Europe and the other parts of the world, but could reap far-reaching benefits if it achieves a good balance in this respect.