So David Gilmour in The Pursuit of Italy: A History of a Land, its Regions and their Peoples (2011). I can't contradict him; I never saw Italy before 1950. But driving across southern Tuscany last fall, I was impressed at how empty it seemed. I suppose partly the point is hill country: you certainly can't farm anything much out here and maybe the highest and best use is the production of the admirable wild boar sausage.
Between 1950 and 2005 the Italian countryside lost to asphalt and concrete a total of 3.66 million hectares, a figure larger than the combined size of Tuscany and Umbria.
The other side of Rome, you find the Capuan Plane which one may think of as empty though it's not: the problem is rather that it seems to belong to the Camorra and thus becomes a place where respectable folks, Italian and otherwise, just don't want to go. Once malaria country; evidently the mobsters are immune to the mosquito.