Italy’s capital and largest city, Rome, has for centuries been the leading political and religious centre of Western civilisation, as the capital of the Roman Empire and of Christianity. In the Dark Ages, Italy suffered continual invasions by Germanic tribes, while the Roman heritage was preserved by Christian monks. Beginning from the 11th century, Italian cities, communes and maritime republics rose to great prosperity through shipping, commerce and banking (indeed, modern capitalism has its roots in Medieval Italy), while culture flourished, especially during the Renaissance, which produced notable scholars, artists and polymaths such as Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Michelangelo and Machiavelli. Meanwhile, explorers such as Polo, Columbus, Vespucci and Verrazzano discovered new routes to Far East and the way for the New World. Nonetheless, Italy remained fragmented into numerous warring states for the rest of the Middle Ages, subsequently falling prey to other large European powers, notably France, Spain and later Austria, thus entering a long period of decline that lasted until the beginning of the 18th century.