- For the politico-economic entity, see European Union. For the band of the same name, see Europe (band).
A comprehensive collection of continental features is found in Europe, albeit on a smaller scale than elsewhere. Mountain ranges, peninsulas, islands and more arid or cold regions can be seen in this satellite composite image of Europe
Europe is a continent forming the westermost part of the Eurasian supercontinent. Europe is bounded to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, to the south by the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, and to the east by the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea (for more detailed description see Geography of Europe).
In terms of area, Europe is the world's second smallest continent, with an area of 10,400,000 km˛ (4,000,000 square miles), making it slightly larger than Australia.
In terms of population it is the third largest continent after Asia and Africa. The population of Europe in 2001 was estimated to be 666,498,000: roughly one ninth of the world's population.
Europa, carried away by bull-shaped Zeus.
In ancient Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenician princess who was abducted by a bull-shaped Zeus and taken to the island of Crete, where she gave birth to Minos. For Homer, Europa (Greek: Ευρώπη) was a mythological queen of Crete, not a geographical designation. Later Europa stood for mainland Greece and by 500 BC its meaning was extended to lands to the north.
The term Europe is generally derived from Greek words meaning broad (eurys) and face (ops). A minority, however, see a Semitic origin, pointing to the Semitic word ereb which means "sunset". From a Middle Eastern viewpoint, the sun sets over Europe: the lands to the west.
Main article: History of Europe
Europe has a long history of cultural and economic achievement, starting as far back as the palaeolithic. Origins of Western democratic and individualistic culture are often laid in Ancient Greece; the Roman Empire divided the continent along the Rhine and Danube for several centuries. Following the decline of the Roman Empire, Europe entered a long period of stasis, referred to by Renaissance thinkers as the "Dark Ages" and by the Enlightenment and modern historians, as the Middle Ages. During this time isolated monastic communities in Ireland and elsewhere carefully safeguarded and compiled knowledge accumulated previously. The Renaissance and the New Monarchs marked the start of a period of discovery, exploration, and increase in scientific knowledge. From the 15th century Portugal opened the age of discoveries soon followed by Spain. They were later joined by France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain, in building large colonial empires, with vast holdings in Africa, the Americas, and Asia.
The Industrial Revolution started in England in the later 18th century, leading to much greater general prosperity and a corresponding increase in population. Many of the states in Europe took their present form in the aftermath of World War I. After World War II, and until the end of the Cold War, Europe was divided into two major political and economic blocks: Communist nations in Eastern Europe and capitalistic countries in Western Europe. Around 1990 the Eastern bloc broke up.
Geography and extent
Political and geographic boundaries in Europe do not always match. This physical and political map shows Europe at its furthest extent, reaching to the Urals.
For further infomation see the article Geography of Europe.
Geographically Europe is a part of the larger landmass known as Eurasia. The continent begins at the Ural Mountains in Russia, which defines Europe's eastern boundary with Asia. The southeast boundary with Asia isn't universally defined, with either the Ural or Emba rivers serving as possible boundaries, continuing with the Caspian Sea, and either the Kuma and Manych rivers or the Caucasus mountains as possibilities, and onto the Black Sea; the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles conclude the Asian boundary. The Mediterranean Sea to the south separates Europe from Africa. The western boundary is the Atlantic Ocean, but Iceland, much farther away than the nearest points of Africa and Asia, is also included in Europe. There is ongoing debate on where the geographical centre of Europe is.
In practice the borders of Europe are often drawn with greater regard to political, economic, and other cultural considerations. This has led to there being several different "Europes" that are not always identical in size, including or excluding countries according to the definition of "Europe" used.
Almost all European countries are members of the Council of Europe, the exceptions being Belarus, the Holy See (Vatican City), and Kazakhstan.
The idea of a European "continent" is not universally held. Some non-European geographical texts refer to a Eurasian Continent, or to a European "sub-continent", given that "Europe" is not surrounded by sea and is, in any case, much more a cultural than a geographically definable area. In the past concepts such as "Christendom" were deemed more important.
In another usage, "Europe" is increasingly being used as a short-form for the European Union (EU) and its members, currently consisting of 25 sovereign nations. A number of other European countries are negotiating for membership, and several more are expected to begin negotiations in the future.
In terms of shape, Europe is a collection of connected peninsulas. The two largest of these are "mainland" Europe and Scandinavia to the north, divided from each other by the Baltic Sea. Three smaller peninuslas—Iberia, Italy and the Balkans—emerge from the southern margin of the mainland into the Medeterranean Sea, which separates Europe from Africa. Eastward, mainland Europe widens much like the mouth of a funnel, until the boundary with Asia is reached at the Ural Mountains.
Land relief in Europe shows great variation within relatively small areas. The southern regions, however, are more mountainous, while moving north the terrain descends from the high Alps, Pyrenees and Carpathians, through hilly uplands, into broad, low northern plains, which are vast in the east. An arc of uplands also exists along the northwestern seaboard, beginning in the western British Isles and continuing along the mountainous, fjord-cut spine of Norway.
This description is simplified. Sub-regions such as Iberia and Italy contain their own complex features, as does mainland Europe itself, where the relief contains many plateaus, river valleys and basins that complicate the general trend. Iceland and the British Isles are special cases. The former is a land unto itself in the northern ocean which is counted as part of Europe, while the latter are upland areas that were once joined to the mainland until rising sea levels cut them off.
The few generalizations that can be made about the relief of Europe make it less than suprising that the continent's many separate regions provided homes for many separate nations throughout history.
Glaciation during the most recent ice age affected the distribution of European fauna. Having lived side-by-side with agricultural and industrial civilizations for millennia, Europe's animals and plants have been profoundly affected by the presence and activities of man. Deforestation in the Mediterranean basin has been affecting siltation rates and climate for more than 2000 years. With the exception of Scandinavia and northern Russia, few if any areas of untouched wilderness are today to be found in Europe.
The main natural vegetation cover in "mainland" Europe is deciduous forest. Coniferous forests prevail as one moves north within Russia and Scandinavia, giving way to tundra as the Arctic is approached. The semi-arid Mediterranean region hosts much scrub forest and species such as olive trees and grapes which are adapted to the dry climate to which the region gives its name. A narrow east-west tongue of Eurasian grassland— the steppe— extends eastwards from Ukraine and southern Russia and ends in Hungary.
As to the animals, most large animals and top predator species have been hunted to extinction. The wooly mammoth and aurochs were extinct before the end of the Neolithic period, and wolves and bears are today found only in the far north. Few corners of mainland Europe have not been grazed by livestock at some point over the millennia, and the cutting down of the pre-agricultural forest habitat caused incalculable disruption to the original plant and animal ecosystems.
Europe comprises the following independent states (in alphabetical order):
1 Armenia and Cyprus are geographically in Asia, but considered part of Europe for cultural and historical reasons.
2 Azerbaijan and Georgia lie partly in Europe according to definitions which consider the main watershed of the Caucasus as the boundary with Asia.
3 Kazakhstan's European territory consists of a portion west of the Ural River (the Emba in other definitions).
4 The name of this state is a matter of international dispute. View its main article for details.
5 Those territories of Russia lying west of the Ural Mountains are considered as part of Europe.
6 European Turkey comprises territory to the west and north of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles straits.
The European territories listed below are recognised as being culturally and geographically defined. Most have a degree of autonomy. In brackets is the state which administers the territory.
Note that this is not a list of all dependencies of all European countries, which exist on other continents.
Regions in Europe
- See Regions of Europe
Map colouring is based on strict geographic definitions. Often the various regions include different countries than those on the map. The inclusion or not of various countries in each region is described below:
Various regions of Europe; some strict definitions are shown here in a colour-coded map
Western Europe is always assumed to include: the British Isles (United Kingdom, Ireland), the French Region (France, Monaco) and Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg). It usually also includes Germany, though geographically the country may be more central European. In some circumstances, it refers to the entire western half of Europe, including the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, Andorra), the Italian peninsula (Italy, San Marino, Vatican City), the Nordic Countries or Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark) and the Alpine Countries (Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Slovenia). Used in a historical or political sense (referring to Cold War divisions), this term may even include Greece and Turkey.
Central Europe is not perhaps as common a term as Western or Eastern Europe. Most of the countries included in the definition are often labelled Western or Eastern. A definition of Central Europe usually includes the Visegrad Group (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary) and often also the Alpine Countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Slovenia, Germany). According to the most recent usage, Central Europe may even be those countries that joined the European Union on May 1, 2004. This would mean Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary (the Visegrad Four); Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia (the Baltic States); Slovenia, Cyprus, and Malta.
Similarly to Western Europe, the term Eastern Europe may be used in a strict or broad sense. It includes the European CIS States (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine), and not seldom the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Poland. It often includes the Caucasus or Transcaucasian countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia), though these are often also regarded as part of Asia. In a broader economic/political context, it may also encompass all of the Visegrad Group (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary) and the Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro).
On the map, "Northern Europe" is depicted as only encompassing the Nordic Countries (i.e. "Scandinavia" in the widest sense: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark). The term Northern Europe does, however, usually cover a much larger area, in fact an arbitrary part of Europe north of the Alps. Typically, it includes the British Isles (the United Kingdom and Ireland), Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), Northern France, Germany, often all the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), sometimes Poland, and on occasion even Russia.
Southern Europe is a term used in much the same ways as Northern Europe. It includes the Iberian Peninsula (Spain, Portugal, Andorra), the Italian Peninsula (Italy, San Marino, Vatican City) and the Balkan Peninsula (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro). Usually the Mediterranean States (Cyprus, Malta) and Asia Minor (i.e. Turkey) are also included. In a cultural sense, southern France may be included.
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