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Lombardy is divided physically into three parts from north to south—a mountainous Alpine and pre-Alpine zone; a zone of gently undulating foothills; and a zone of alluvial plains sloping gently to the Po River in the south. The Alpine division reaches a height of 13,284 feet (4,049 metres) in the Bernina. The foothill zone is partly composed of morainic material and contains a number of scenic lakes. The regione is drained southward by many rivers, all of them tributaries of the Po, including the Ticino, the Adda, and the Oglio, with its affluents the Mella and Chiese, and the Mincio. The regione abounds in lakes and contains all or part of Lakes Garda (Italy’s largest lake), Maggiore, Lugano, Como, Iseo, Idro, and Varese and the lakes of the Brianza (Pusiano, Annone, Alserio, and Segrino). The climate is generally continental, with hot summers and cold winters, and rainfall varies from about 24 inches (610 mm) annually in the area near the Po River to 80 inches (2,032 mm) in the mountainous regions.

Lombardy was inhabited by Celtic peoples from the 5th century BCE and was conquered by Rome after the Second Punic War (218–201 BCE), upon which it became part of Cisalpine Gaul. The region suffered heavily in the barbarian invasions that ended the western Roman Empire, and from 568 to 774 CE it was the centre of the kingdom of the Lombards, a Germanic people who gave their name to the region. The Lombard kingdom ended in 774, and Lombardy became part of the empire of the Frankish king Charlemagne. Frankish rule continued until 887, and after the breakup of the Carolingian empire a number of independent units, mostly towns ruled by counts or bishops, emerged in Lombardy.