2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: European Geography

World map showing Europe
World map showing Europe
A satellite composite image of Europe
A satellite composite image of Europe

Europe is one of the five inhabited traditional continents of the Earth. Physically and geologically, Europe is the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, west of Asia. 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 to the southeast by the waterways adjoining the Mediterranean to and including the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. On the east, Europe is divided from Asia by the water divide of the Ural Mountains and by the Caspian Sea.

Europe is the world's second-smallest continent in terms of area, covering about 10,400,000  square kilometres (4,010,000 sq mi) or 2.0% of the Earth's surface. The only continent smaller than Europe is Australia. In terms of population, it is the third-largest continent (after Asia and Africa) with a population of some 710,000,000 or about 11% of the world's population. However, the term continent can refer to a cultural and political distinction or a physiographic one, leading to various perspectives about Europe's precise borders, area, and population.

The European Union – comprising 25 member states, with two countries acceding in 2007 (Bulgaria and Romania) and two candidates in accession negotiations (Turkey and Croatia) – is the largest political and economic entity covering the European continent, while Russia (excluding portions in Asia) is the second largest entity and Europe's largest state in area and population. The European Union also featured the world's largest economy with an estimated nominal GDP of 13.4 trillion USD, with the nominal GDP per capita ranging from $66,463 in Luxembourg to about $10,452 in the Czech Republic.


In Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenician princess who was abducted by Zeus in bull form and taken to the island of Crete, where she gave birth to Minos. For Homer, Europe ( Greek: Εὐρώπη Eurṓpē; see also List of traditional Greek place names) was a mythological queen of Crete, not a geographical designation. Later Europa stood for mainland Greece, and by 500 BC its meaning had been extended to lands to the north.

The Greek term Europe is derived from Greek words meaning broad (eurys) and face (ops) – broad having been an epithet of Earth herself in the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European religion; see Prithvi (Plataia). A minority, however, suggest this Greek popular etymology is really based on a Semitic word such as the Akkadian erebu meaning "sunset" (see also Erebus). From the Middle Eastern vantagepoint, the sun does set over Europe, the lands to the west. Likewise, Asia is sometimes thought to have derived from a Semitic word such as the Akkadian asu, meaning "sunrise", and is the land to the east from a Middle Eastern perspective.

The majority of major world languages use words derived from "Europa" to refer to the continent – e.g. Chinese uses the word Ōuzhōu (歐洲), which is an abbreviation of the transliterated name Ōuluóbā zhōu (歐羅巴洲).


The origins of Western democratic and individualistic culture are often attributed to Ancient Greece, though numerous other distinct influences, in particular Christianity, can also be credited with the spread of concepts such as egalitarianism and universality of law.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, Europe entered a long period of changes arising from what is known as the Age of Migrations. That period has been known as the "Dark Ages" to Renaissance thinkers. Isolated monastic communities in Ireland and elsewhere carefully safeguarded and compiled written knowledge accumulated previously.

During this time, the western part of the Roman Empire was "reborn" as the Holy Roman Empire, later called Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. The eastern part of the Roman Empire became known in the west as the Byzantine Empire. The 'Byzantines' themselves still called themselves Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων Basileia tōn Romaiōn - the Empire of the Romans. In 1453, when the Ottoman Empire conquered the Byzantine capital Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire ceased to exist, with a small hold out state of Trebizond which lasted until 1461.

The Renaissance and the New Monarchs marked the start of a period of discovery, exploration, and increase in scientific knowledge. In the 15th century, Portugal opened the age of discoveries, soon followed by Spain. They were later joined by France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom in building large colonial empires with vast holdings in Africa, the Americas, and Asia.

After the age of discovery, the ideas of democracy took hold in Europe. Struggles for independence arose, most notably in France during the period known as the French Revolution. This led to vast upheaval in Europe as these revolutionary ideas propagated across the continent. The rise of democracy led to increased tension within Europe on top of the tension already existing due to competition within the New World. The most famous of these conflicts happened when Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power and set out on a conquest, forming a new French Empire, which soon collapsed. After these conquests Europe stabilised, but the old foundations were already beginning to crumble.

The Industrial Revolution started in Great Britain in the late 18th century, leading to a move away from agriculture, 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. From the end of World War II through the end of the Cold War, Europe was divided into two major political and economic blocks: Communist nations in Eastern Europe and Capitalist countries in Southern Europe, Northern Europe and Western Europe. About 1990, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the wider Iron Curtain, and the Soviet Union the Eastern Block disintegrated.

European integration has been a theme in European relations since the end of the second World War and has spread to Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War. The European Union, the successor to the European Community, has enlarged from 6 original founding members to 25 today, and on 27th September 2006, the countries of Bulgaria and Romania were formally approved the right of succession, to happen early in 2007. The issue of Turkey is still a contentious one, being a transcontinental country and predominantly Muslim, the negotiations can last for 15 years. The European Union has developed from a peace-keeping and economic orientated organisation into an entity resembling a confederation. NATO has also enlarged since the end of the Cold War, with a number of Eastern European countries joining.

Geography and extent

Europe at its furthest extent, reaching to the Urals.
Europe at its furthest extent, reaching to the Urals.
Political map (neighbouring countries in Asia and Africa also shown)
Political map (neighbouring countries in Asia and Africa also shown)
Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.
Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.
Shoreline in Mediterranean Greece.
Shoreline in Mediterranean Greece.
Päijänne lake and white nights in Finland.
Päijänne lake and white nights in Finland.

Physiographically, Europe is the northwestern constituent of the larger landmass known as Eurasia, or Africa-Eurasia: Asia occupies the eastern bulk of this continuous landmass (save the Suez Canal separating Asia and Africa) and all share a common continental shelf. Europe's eastern frontier is now commonly delineated by the Ural Mountains in Russia ( Strabo, Geography 11.1, took the Tanais River to be the boundary, as did early Judaic sources). The south-east boundary with Asia is not universally defined. Most commonly the Ural or, alternatively, the Emba River serve as possible boundaries. The boundary continues to the Caspian Sea, the crest of the Caucasus Mountains or, alternatively, the Kura River in the Caucasus, and on to the Black Sea; the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles conclude the Asian boundary. However, numerous geographers consider Azerbaijan's and Armenia's southern border with Iran and Turkey's southern and eastern border with Syria, Iraq and Iran as the boundary between Asia and Europe because of political and cultural reasons. The Mediterranean Sea to the south separates Europe from Africa. The western boundary is the Atlantic Ocean; Iceland, though nearer to Greenland (North America) than mainland Europe, is generally included in Europe. There is ongoing debate on where the geographical centre of Europe is. For detailed description of the boundary between Asia and Europe see here.

Due to sociopolitical and cultural differences, there are various descriptions of Europe's boundary; in some sources, some territories are not included in Europe, while other sources include them. For instance, geographers from Russia and other post-Soviet states generally include the Urals in Europe while including Caucasia in Asia.

In another usage, Europe is increasingly being used as a short-form for the European Union (EU) and its members, currently consisting of 25 member states and the candidate countries negotiating for membership, and several other countries expected to begin negotiations in the future (see Enlargement of the European Union). This definition, however, excludes non-members such as Switzerland, Norway and Russia.

Physical geography

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. This extended lowland is known as the Great European Plain, and at its heart lies the North German Plain. An arc of uplands also exists along the north-western 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.


Having lived side-by-side with agricultural peoples for millennia, Europe's animals and plants have been profoundly affected by the presence and activities of man. With the exception of Scandinavia and northern Russia, few areas of untouched wilderness are currently found in Europe, except for various national parks.

The main natural vegetation cover in Europe is forest. The conditions for growth are very favourable. In the north, the Gulf Stream and North Atlantic Drift warm the continent. Southern Europe could be described as having a warm, but mild climate. There are frequent summer droughts in this region. Mountain ridges also affect the conditions. Some of these ( Alps, Pyrenees) are oriented east-west and allow the wind to carry large masses of water from the ocean in the interior. Others are oriented south-north ( Scandinavian Mountains, Dinarides, Carpathians, Apennines) and because the rain falls primarily on the side of mountains that is oriented towards sea, forests grow well on this side, while on the other side, the conditions are much less favourable. Few corners of mainland Europe have not been grazed by livestock at some point in time, and the cutting down of the pre-agricultural forest habitat caused disruption to the original plant and animal ecosystems.

Eighty to ninety per cent of Europe was once covered by forest. It stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arctic Ocean. Though over half of Europe's original forests disappeared through the centuries of deforestation, Europe still has over one quarter of its land area as forest, such as the taiga of Scandinavia and Russia, mixed rainforests of the Caucasus and the Cork oak forests in the western Mediterranean. During recent times, deforestation has been slowed and many trees have been planted. However, in many cases monoculture plantations of conifers have replaced the original mixed natural forest, because these grow quicker. The plantations now cover vast areas of land, but offer poorer habitats for many European forest dwelling species which require a mixture of tree species and diverse forest structure. The amount of natural forest in Western Europe is just 2–3% or less, in European Russia 5–10%. The country with the smallest percentage of forested area (excluding the micronations) is the Republic of Ireland (8%), while the most forested country is Finland (72%).

Białowieża National Park, Poland
Białowieża National Park, Poland

In temperate Europe, mixed forest with both broadleaf and coniferous trees dominate. The most important species in central and western Europe are beech and oak. In the north, the taiga is a mixed spruce- pine- birch forest; further north within Russia and extreme northern Scandinavia, the taiga gives way to tundra as the Arctic is approached. In the Mediterranean, many olive trees have been planted, which are very well adapted to its arid climate; Mediterranean Cypress is also widely planted in southern Europe. The semi-arid Mediterranean region hosts much scrub forest. A narrow east-west tongue of Eurasian grassland (the steppe) extends eastwards from Ukraine and southern Russia and ends in Hungary and traverses into taiga to the north.

Glaciation during the most recent ice age and the presence of man affected the distribution of European fauna. As for the animals, in many parts of Europe most large animals and top predator species have been hunted to extinction. The woolly mammoth and aurochs were extinct before the end of the Neolithic period. Today wolves (carnivores) and bears ( omnivores) are endangered. Once they were found in most parts of Europe. However, deforestation caused these animals to withdraw further and further. By the Middle Ages the bears' habitats were limited to more or less inaccessible mountains with sufficient forest cover.

Tamariz beach - Portugal
Tamariz beach - Portugal

Today, the brown bear lives primarily in the Balkan peninsula, Scandinavia, and Russia; a small number also persist in other countries across Europe (Austria, Pyrenees etc.), but in these areas brown bear populations are fragmented and marginalised because of the destruction of their habitat. In addition, polar bears may be found on Svalbard, an autonomous Norwegian island region far north of Scandinavia. The wolf, the second largest predator in Europe after the brown bear, can be found primarily in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans, with a handful of packs in Spain and Scandinavia.

Other important European carnivores are Eurasian lynx, European wild cat, foxes (especially the red fox), jackal and different species of martens, hedgehogs, different species of snakes ( vipers, grass snake...), different birds (owls, hawks and other birds of prey).

Important European herbivores are snails, amphibian larvae, fish, different birds, and mammals, like rodents, deer and roe deer, boars, and living in the mountains, marmots, steinbocks, chamois among others.

Sea creatures are also an important part of European flora and fauna. The sea flora is mainly phytoplankton. Important animals that live in European seas are zooplankton, molluscs, echinoderms, different crustaceans, squids and octopuses, fish, dolphins, and whales.


Almost all of Europe was possibly settled before or during the last ice age about 10,000 years ago. It has been suggested that Neanderthal man and modern man coexisted during at least some of this time. Roman road building helped with the interbreeding of the native Europeans' genetics. In contemporary times Europe has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, though it once had one of the highest.

Political geography


Territories of Europe (also see transcontinental nation): ██ Europe ██ Extension into Asia of the continuous territory of a European state ██ Physiographically in Asia, considered European for cultural and historical reasons[citation needed]
Territories of Europe (also see transcontinental nation): ██ Europe ██ Extension into Asia of the continuous territory of a European state ██ Physiographically in Asia, considered European for cultural and historical reasons[ citation needed]

Territories and regions

Regions of Europe as delineated by the United Nations (other categorisations may vary): ██ Northern Europe ██ Western Europe ██ Eastern Europe ██ Southern Europe
Regions of Europe as delineated by the United Nations (other categorisations may vary): ██  Northern Europe ██  Western Europe ██  Eastern Europe ██  Southern Europe

The countries in this table are categorised according to the scheme for geographic subregions used by the United Nations, and data included are per sources in cross-referenced articles. Where they differ, provisos are clearly indicated.

According to different definitions, such as consideration of the concept of Central Europe, the following territories and regions may be subject to various other categorisations.

Name of region and
territory, with flag
( 1 July 2002 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Eastern Europe:
Belarus Belarus 207,600 10,335,382 49.8 Minsk
Bulgaria Bulgaria 110,910 7,621,337 68.7 Sofia
Czech Republic Czech Republic 78,866 10,256,760 130.1 Prague
Hungary Hungary 93,030 10,075,034 108.3 Budapest
Moldova Moldova 33,843 4,434,547 131.0 Chişinău
Poland Poland 312,685 38,625,478 123.5 Warsaw
Romania Romania 238,391 21,698,181 91.0 Bucharest
Russia Russia 3,960,000 106,037,143 26.8 Moscow
Slovakia Slovakia 48,845 5,422,366 111.0 Bratislava
Ukraine Ukraine 603,700 48,396,470 80.2 Kiev
Northern Europe:
Åland Åland (Finland) 1,552 26,008 16.8 Mariehamn
Denmark Denmark 43,094 5,368,854 124.6 Copenhagen
Estonia Estonia 45,226 1,415,681 31.3 Tallinn
Faroe Islands Faroe Islands (Denmark) 1,399 46,011 32.9 Tórshavn
Finland Finland 336,593 5,157,537 15.3 Helsinki
Guernsey Guernsey 78 64,587 828.0 St Peter Port
Iceland Iceland 103,000 304,334 2.7 Reykjavík
Republic of Ireland Ireland 70,280 3,883,159 55.3 Dublin
Isle of Man Isle of Man 572 73,873 129.1 Douglas
Jersey Jersey 116 89,775 773.9 Saint Helier
Latvia Latvia 64,589 2,366,515 36.6 Riga
Lithuania Lithuania 65,200 3,601,138 55.2 Vilnius
Norway Norway 324,220 4,525,116 14.0 Oslo
Norway Svalbard and Jan
Mayen Islands (Norway)
62,049 2,868 0.046 Longyearbyen
Sweden Sweden 449,964 9,090,113 19.7 Stockholm
United Kingdom United Kingdom 244,820 60,201,000 244.2 London
Southern Europe:
Albania Albania 28,748 3,544,841 123.3 Tirana
Andorra Andorra 468 68,403 146.2 Andorra la Vella
Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina 51,129 3,964,388 77.5 Sarajevo
Croatia Croatia 56,542 4,390,751 77.7 Zagreb
Gibraltar Gibraltar (UK) 5.9 27,714 4,697.3 Gibraltar
Greece Greece 131,940 10,645,343 80.7 Athens
Italy Italy 301,230 58,751,711 191.6 Rome
Republic of Macedonia Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 25,333 2,054,800 81.1 Skopje
Malta Malta 316 397,499 1,257.9 Valletta
Montenegro Montenegro 13,812 616,258 44.6 Podgorica
Portugal Portugal 91,568 10,084,245 110.1 Lisbon
San Marino San Marino 61 27,730 454.6 San Marino
Serbia Serbia 88,361 9,663,742 109.4 Belgrade
Slovenia Slovenia 20,273 1,932,917 95.3 Ljubljana
Spain Spain 498,506 40,077,100 80.4 Madrid
Vatican City Vatican City 0.44 900 2,045.5 Vatican City
Western Europe:
Austria Austria 83,858 8,169,929 97.4 Vienna
Belgium Belgium 30,510 10,274,595 336.8 Brussels
France France 547,030 59,765,983 109.3 Paris
Germany Germany 357,021 83,251,851 233.2 Berlin
Liechtenstein Liechtenstein 160 32,842 205.3 Vaduz
Luxembourg Luxembourg 2,586 448,569 173.5 Luxembourg
Monaco Monaco 1.95 31,987 16,403.6 Monaco
Netherlands Netherlands 41,526 16,318,199 393.0 Amsterdam
Switzerland Switzerland 41,290 7,301,994 176.8 Bern
Central Asia:
Kazakhstan Kazakhstan 370,373 1,245,701 3.4 Astana
Western Asia:
Azerbaijan Azerbaijan 39,730 4,198,491 105.7 Baku
Georgia (country) Georgia 49,240 2,447,176 49.7 Tbilisi
Turkey Turkey 24,378 11,044,932 453.1 Ankara
Total 10,396,619 708,903,245 68.1

Languages and cultures

Map showing the approximate current distribution of languages in Europe.
Map showing the approximate current distribution of languages in Europe.
Europe countries in local languages.
Europe countries in local languages.

There are several linguistic groups widely recognised in Europe. These sometimes (but not always) coincide with cultural and historical connections between the various nations, though in other cases religion is considered a more significant distinguishing factor.

Romance languages

Romance languages are spoken more or less in south-western Europe, as well as Romania and Moldova which are situated in Eastern Europe. This area consists of: Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Romania, Moldova, French-speaking Belgium ( Wallonia, Brussels), French-speaking Switzerland ( Romandy), Romansh-speaking Switzerland, and Italian-speaking Switzerland. All Romance languages are derived from the Roman language, Latin.

Germanic languages

Germanic languages are spoken more or less in north-western Europe and some parts of central Europe. This region consists of: Norway, Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Austria, Liechtenstein, most of Switzerland, Iceland, Flanders and the German-speaking areas of Belgium, the Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, the Swedish-speaking municipalities of Finland, and South Tyrol in Italy.

Slavic languages

Slavic languages are spoken in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. This area consists of: Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Saxony and Brandenburg in Germany, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine.

  • Cyrillic Alphabet

The Cyrillic alphabet is named after St Cyril, a missionary from Byzantium. It was invented in the First Bulgarian Empire sometime during the 10th century AD, possibly by St Kliment of Ohrid, to write the Old Church Slavonic language. The Cyrillic alphabet achieved its current form in 1708 during the reign of Peter the Great. Four letters were eliminated from the alphabet in a 1917/18 reform.

The Cyrillic alphabet has been adapted to write over 50 different languages, mainly in Russia, Central Asia and part of Eastern Europe. In many cases additional letters are used, some of which are adaptations of standard Cyrillic letters, while others are taken from the Greek or Latin alphabets.

Uralic languages

The Uralic Languages are divided into three main groups of which the Finno-Permic languages are spoken in Finland, Estonia, Sweden and Norway and European Russia while the Ugric languages are spoken in Hungary, parts of Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine, and Siberian Russia. These two main branches form the group of the Finno-Ugric languages.

Altaic languages

Turkic Languages are spoken in Turkey, Azerbaijan, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (recognised only by Turkey), parts of Bulgaria, parts of Greece, parts of Romania, parts of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, parts of Moldova, parts of Russia, parts of Ukraine and parts of the Caucasus.

Baltic languages

Baltic languages are spoken in Lithuania and Latvia. (Estonia's national language is part of the Finno-Ugric family even though it is a Baltic state geographically.)

Celtic languages

Celtic Languages were originally used only to describe the Gaelic language in Ireland, however the term now extends to the other Gaelic and Brythonic languages. Celtic Europe are those countries and regions where Celtic languages are spoken. The Celtic nations are: Ireland, Scotland (UK), Wales (UK), Cornwall (UK), the Isle of Man (a British Crown dependency) and Brittany (within France). These are all nations where a Celtic language is spoken and share in Celtic organisations (see Pan Celticism).

Sometimes considered Celtic nations are Galicia and Asturias (both autonomous communities of Spain). Some regions of England (in addition to Cornwall) have retained a degree of Celtic influence in their regional dialects (see Cumbric), although England's Celtic languages died out as recently as the 18th century in Devon.

Other languages

Outside of these six main linguistic groups one can find:

  • The Greek language, spoken in Greece, Cyprus and parts of Turkey, Albania and Italy, and in Greek diaspora communities in several other European countries (most notably Germany).
  • The Albanian language is its own independent branch of the Indo-European language family with no close living relatives. Most scholars maintain that it derives from the Illyrian language. Major Albanian-speaking communities outside Albania live in Kosovo, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece, and Turkey.
  • Ibero-Caucasian, a group that includes ethnic groups throughout the Caucasus region (both North and South). Ibero-Caucasian languages are not linked to the Indo-European languages. This group includes Georgians, Abkhaz, Chechens, Ingush, Bats, and a number of other smaller ethnic groups that reside in the Caucasus.
  • The Maltese language, a member of the Afro-Asiatic group, which includes Arabic and Hebrew, is spoken in Malta. Unlike other Semitic languages, Maltese is written in the Roman alphabet.
  • The Basque language is spoken in parts of southern France and northern Spain, i.e. the Basque Country


Predominant religions in Europe  ██ Roman Catholicism  ██ Orthodox Christianity  ██ Protestantism  ██ Sunni Islam  ██ Shia Islam
Predominant religions in Europe ██  Roman Catholicism ██  Orthodox Christianity ██  Protestantism ██  Sunni Islam ██  Shia Islam

The most popular religions of Europe are the following:

Other religions are practised by smaller groups in Europe, including:

Millions of Europeans profess no religion or are atheist or agnostic. The largest non-confessional populations (as a percentage) are found in Sweden, the Czech Republic, and France, although most former communist countries have significant non-confessional populations. Attendance at church is a minority activity in most Western European countries - as an example, the Church of England attracts around 1 million worshippers on a Sunday , which corresponds to about 2% of the population of England.

Official religions

A number of countries in Europe have official religions, including Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Vatican City (Catholic), Greece (Eastern Orthodox); Denmark, Iceland, and Norway (Lutheran). In Switzerland, some cantons are officially Catholic, others Reformed Protestant. Some Swiss villages even have their religion as well as the village name written on the signs at their entrances.

Georgia has no established church, but the Georgian Orthodox Church enjoys "de facto" privileged status. In Finland, both Finnish Orthodox Church and Lutheran church are official. England, a part of the UK, has Anglicanism as its official religion. Scotland, another part of the UK, has Presbyterianism as the 'National' church, but is no longer "official", and in Sweden, the 'National' church is Lutheran, but no longer "official". Azerbaijan, France, Portugal, Romania, and Turkey are officially "secular".

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