The region is mostly mountains and hills, on the north-western border of Italy with France and Switzerland; surrounded by some of the highest mountains in Europe, such as the Gran Paradiso and Monte Rosa, it is occupied to the East by the Pianura Padana, crossed by the largest river in Italy, the Po, and its many tributaries.
The most ancient inhabitants of the region were the Celts and Liguri, who were then occupied by the Romans. The barbarian invasions of the 5th century completely destroyed the region, and only under the Lombards civilized life was re-established. Important Lombard dukedoms rose in Novara, Ivrea, Asti, Tortona and Torino. After the Frankish invasion of the late 8th century AD the feudal system was introduced and many monasteries established. Then in the 11th century, as in the rest of Italy, the rise of free Communes began, among them Asti, Chieri, Ivrea, Novara, Torino, Tortona, Cuneo, Mondovì, Vercelli, Alba, Savigliano, which often fought against the powerful Marquises of Monferrato. In the latter half of the 13th century the Communes sided with Charles of Anjou, and the Angevin rule lasted throughout the following century.
During the Renaissance the mighty Visconti family ruled over Alba, Alessandria, Asti, Bra, Novara, Tortona, Vercelli, while the Savoy family (the dynasty at the head of united Italy in 1860) from Southern France started to spread in the region. In 1559, after a war between France and Spain, the Cateau-Cambrésis Treaty gave part of Piemonte to the Savoy Duke Emanuele Filiberto and to the Marquis of Monferrato, leaving to France the cities of Saluzzo, Torino, Chieri, Pinerolo, Chivasso, Asti and to Spain the city of Vercelli.
Then in the 18th century, while the European monarchies were all involved in the Succession Wars, the Savoy were able to unify the region. Then in the early 19th century the Italian Risorgimento found fertile ground and the support of the monarchs and of some enlightened ministers, like Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, who was finally able to weave the network of alliances necessary to allow the rise of the Italian State.
Most of the population live in the plain, especially in the wide metropolitan area of Turin, Novara and Vercelli where a great many mechanical and car industries are located. Thanks to the great abundance of water agriculture is very important, the main products being rice, wine, maize, potatoes and the precious white truffle. Tourism is also especially lively in the winter resorts in the Alps. But in spite of the advanced industrialization and modernity of the cities, the Piedmontese are very conservative as far as their traditions are concerned, and folk festivals are still widely attended.