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Europe is conventionally considered one of the seven continents which, in this case, is more a cultural and political distinction than a physiogeographic one. Physically and geologically, Europe is a subcontinent or large peninsula, forming the westernmost part of Eurasia. Europe is bounded to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and to the south by the Mediterranean and Black Seas and the Caucasus. Europe's boundary to the east is vague, but has traditionally been given as the Ural Mountains and Caspian Sea to the southeast: the Urals are considered by most to be a geographical and tectonic landmark separating Asia from Europe. For detailed description of the boundary see here.

Europe is the world's second-smallest continent in terms of area, covering around 10,790,000 km² (4,170,000 sq mi) or 7.1% of the Earth's surface, and is only larger than Australia. In terms of population, it is the third-largest continent (Asia and Africa are larger) with a population of more than 700,000,000, or about 11% of the world's population.

World map showing Europe
File:Europe satellite orthographic.jpg
A satellite composite image of Europe



Picture of Europa, carried away by bull-shaped Zeus.

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, Europé (Greek: Ευρωπη; 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 has been derived from Greek words meaning broad (eurys) and face (ops) -- broad having been an epitheton 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 the Akkadian word asu, meaning "sunrise", and is the land to the east from a Mesopotamian perspective.


Main article: History of Europe

Europe has a long history of cultural and economic achievement, starting as far back as the Palaeolithic, although this is true for the rest of the Old World as well. The recent discovery at Monte Poggiolo, Italy, of thousands of hand-shaped stones, tentatively carbon-dated to 800,000 years ago, may prove to be of particular importance.

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 like egalitarianism and universality of law.

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 changes arising from what is known as the Age of Migrations. That period has been known as the "Dark Ages" to Renaissance thinkers. During this time, isolated monastic communities in Ireland and elsewhere carefully safeguarded and compiled written knowledge accumulated previously. 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 tensions within Europe on top of the tensions already existing due to competition within the New World. The most famous of these conflicts was when Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power and set out on a conquest, forming a new French empire that soon collapsed. After these conquests Europe stabilised, but the old foundations were already beginning to crumble.

The Industrial Revolution started in the United Kingdom 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 Western Europe. Around 1990, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Eastern bloc disintegrated.

Geography and extent

Main article: Geography of Europe
File:Physical Map of Europe.jpg
The political and geographic boundaries of Europe are not always synoymous. This physical and political map shows Europe at its furthest extent, reaching to the Urals.

Geographically Europe is a part of the larger landmass known as Eurasia. The continent begins at the Ural Mountains in Russia, which define Europe's eastern boundary with Asia. The southeast boundary with Asia isn't universally defined. Most commonly the Ural or, alternatively, the Emba river can serve as possible boundaries. The boundary continues with the Caspian Sea, and then the Araxes river in the Caucasus, and on to 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 often 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.

At times "Europe" is defined 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, and the Holy See (Vatican City).

The idea of the European continent is not held across all cultures. Some non-European geographical texts refer to the continent of Eurasia, or to the European peninsula, given that Europe is not surrounded by sea. 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 member states. A number of other European countries are negotiating for membership, and several more are expected to begin negotiations in the future (see Enlargement of the European Union).

Physical features

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 peninsulas (Iberia, Italy and the Balkans) emerge from the southern margin of the mainland into the Mediterranean 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. 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 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.

Due to the few generalisations that can be made about the relief of Europe, it is less than surprising that its many separate regions provided homes for many separate nations throughout history.


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 today to be found in Europe, except for different natural 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 colonisation, Europe still has over one quarter of the world's forests - spruce forests of Scandinavia, vast pine forests in Russia, chestnut rainforests of the Caucasus and the cork oak forests in the Mediterranean. During recent times, deforestation has been stopped and many trees were planted. However, in many cases conifers have been preferred over original deciduous trees, because these grow quicker. The plantations and monocultures now cover vast areas of land and this offers very poor habitats for European forest dwelling species. The amount of original forests in Western Europe is just two to three per cent (in the European part of Russia five to ten per cent). The country with the smallest forest-covered area is Ireland (eight per cent), while the most forested country is Finland (72 per cent).

In "mainland" Europe, deciduous forest prevails. The most important species are beech, birch and oak. In the north, where taiga grows, a very common tree species is the birch tree. In the Mediterranean, many olive trees have been planted, which are very well adapted to its arid climate. Another common species in Southern Europe is the cypress. Coniferous forests prevail at higher altitudes up to the forest boundary and 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. 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. Today, the brown bear lives primarily in the Balkan peninsula, in the North and in 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 the far North of Europe, polar bears can also be found. The wolf, the second largest predator in Europe after the brown bear, can be found primarily in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans.

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, amphibians, fish, different birds, and mammals, like rodents, deers and roe deers, boars, and living in the mountains, marmots, steinbocks, chamoises 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 crayfish, squids and octopuses, fish, dolphins, and whales.

Some animals live in caves, for example proteus and bats.


Almost all of Europe was possibly settled before or during the last ice age ca. 10,000 years ago. 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 inbreeding rates in the world because of an extensive transport network paired with open borders.

Europe passed well over 600 million people before the turn of the 20th century, but now is entering a period of population decline, for a variety of social factors.

Territories and divisions

Political divisions

Independent states

See also: Table of European territories and regions

The following independent states have territory in Europe:


1 Armenia and Cyprus are not a part of Europe geographically but are considered to be European culturally.
2 Azerbaijan's and Georgia's have european territory consists of areas north of the crest of the Caucasus.
3 Russia's and Kazakhstan's european territory consists of the areas west of the Ural mountains and the Emba River.
4 The name of this state is a matter of international dispute. See Republic of Macedonia for details.
5 State union of Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Montenegro.
6 Turkey's european territory comprises territory to the west and north of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles straits.

Dependent territories

The European territories listed below are recognised as being culturally and geographically defined. Most have a degree of autonomy. In the list below, each territory is followed by its legal status.

Note that this is not a list of all dependencies of all European countries. Dependencies located on other continents are not listed.

Unilaterally seceded territories

Following are breakaway regions of independent states. These regions have declared and de facto achieved independence, but this is not recognised de jure by their home state or by the other independent states.

Territories under United Nations administration

Table of European territories and regions

Name of territory,
with flag
Region[1] Area
(1 July 2002 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Template:Flagicon Albania Southern Europe 28,748 3,544,841 123.3 Tirana
Template:Flagicon Andorra Southern Europe 468 68,403 146.2 Andorra la Vella
Template:Flagicon Armenia Eastern Europe
(Western Asia)[2]
29,800 Yerevan
Template:Flagicon Austria Central Europe 83,858 8,169,929 97.4 Vienna
Template:Flagicon Azerbaijan Western Asia
(Eastern Europe)[3]
39,730 4,198,491 105.7 Baku
Template:Flagicon Belarus Eastern Europe 207,600 10,335,382 49.8 Minsk
Template:Flagicon Belgium Western Europe 30,510 10,274,595 336.8 Brussels
Template:Flagicon Bosnia and Herzegovina Southern Europe 51,129 3,964,388 77.5 Sarajevo
Template:Flagicon Bulgaria Eastern Europe 110,910 7,621,337 68.7 Sofia
Template:Flagicon Croatia Southern Europe 56,542 4,390,751 77.7 Zagreb
Template:Flagicon Cyprus Western Asia
(Southern Europe)[4]
5,995 780,133 130.1 Nicosia (Lefkoşa)
Template:Flagicon Czech Republic Central Europe 78,866 10,256,760 130.1 Prague
Template:Flagicon Denmark Northern Europe 43,094 5,368,854 124.6 Copenhagen
Template:Flagicon Estonia Northern Europe 45,226 1,415,681 31.3 Tallinn
Template:Flagicon Faeroe Islands (Denmark) Northern Europe 1,399 46,011 32.9 Tórshavn
Template:Flagicon Finland Northern Europe 337,030 5,183,545 15.4 Helsinki
Template:Flagicon France Western Europe 547,030 59,765,983 109.3 Paris
Template:Flagicon Georgia Western Asia
(Eastern Europe)[5]
49,240 2,447,176 49.7 Tbilisi
Template:Flagicon Germany Western Europe 357,021 83,251,851 233.2 Berlin
Template:Flagicon Gibraltar (UK) Southern Europe 5.9 27,714 4,697.3 Gibraltar
Template:Flagicon Greece Southern Europe 131,940 10,645,343 80.7 Athens
Template:Flagicon Guernsey (UK) Northern Europe 78 64,587 828.0 St Peter Port
Template:Flagicon Hungary Central Europe 93,030 10,075,034 108.3 Budapest
Template:Flagicon Iceland Northern Europe 103,000 279,384 2.7 Reykjavík
Template:Flagicon Ireland Northern Europe 70,280 3,883,159 55.3 Dublin
Template:Flagicon Isle of Man (UK) Northern Europe 572 73,873 129.1 Douglas
Template:Flagicon Italy Southern Europe 301,230 57,715,625 191.6 Rome
Template:Flagicon Jersey (UK) Northern Europe 116 89,775 773.9 Saint Helier
Template:Flagicon Kazakhstan Central Asia
(Eastern Europe)[6]
Template:Flagicon Latvia Northern Europe 64,589 2,366,515 36.6 Riga
Template:Flagicon Liechtenstein Western Europe 160 32,842 205.3 Vaduz
Template:Flagicon Lithuania Northern Europe 65,200 3,601,138 55.2 Vilnius
Template:Flagicon Luxembourg Western Europe 2,586 448,569 173.5 Luxembourg
Template:Flagicon Macedonia Southern Europe 25,333 2,054,800 81.1 Skopje
Template:Flagicon Malta Southern Europe 316 397,499 1,257.9 Valetta
Template:Flagicon Moldova Eastern Europe 33,843 4,434,547 131.0 Chişinău
Template:Flagicon Monaco Western Europe 1.95 31,987 16,403.6 Monaco
Template:Flagicon Netherlands[7] Western Europe 41,526 16,318,199 393.0 Amsterdam, The Hague
Template:Flagicon Norway Northern Europe 324,220 4,525,116 14.0 Oslo
Template:Flagicon Poland Central Europe 312,685 38,625,478 123.5 Warsaw
Template:Flagicon Portugal[8] Southern Europe 91,568 10,084,245 110.1 Lisbon
Template:Flagicon Romania Eastern Europe 238,391 21,698,181 91.0 Bucharest
Template:Flagicon Russia Eastern Europe
3,960,000 106,037,143 26.8 Moscow
Template:Flagicon San Marino Southern Europe 61 27,730 454.6 San Marino
Template:Flagicon Serbia and Montenegro Southern Europe 102,173 10,280,000 100.6 Belgrade
Template:Flagicon Slovakia Central Europe 48,845 5,422,366 111.0 Bratislava
Template:Flagicon Slovenia Southern Europe 20,273 1,932,917 95.3 Ljubljana
Template:Flagicon Spain[10] Southern Europe 498,506 40,077,100 80.4 Madrid
Template:Flagicon Svalbard and Jan
Mayen Islands
Northern Europe 62,049 2,868 0.046 Longyearbyen
Template:Flagicon Sweden Northern Europe 449,964 8,876,744 19.7 Stockholm
Template:Flagicon Switzerland Western Europe 41,290 7,301,994 176.8 Bern
Template:Flagicon Turkey Western Asia
(Southern Europe)[11]
780,580 11,044,932 14.1 Ankara
Template:Flagicon Ukraine Eastern Europe 603,700 48,396,470 80.2 Kyiv
Template:Flagicon United Kingdom Northern Europe 244,820 59,778,002 244.2 London
Template:Flagicon Vatican City Southern Europe 0.44 900 2,045.5 Vatican City
Total 10,787,328 707,736,887 65.6


  1. ^  Continental regions as per UN categorisations/map. Depending on definitions, various territories cited below (notes 2-6, 8-11) may be in one or both of Europe and Asia or Africa.
  2. ^  Armenia is sometimes considered a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Western Asia (as per UN categorisations/map).
  3. ^  Azerbaijan is often considered a transcontinental country in Western Asia (UN region) and Eastern Europe; population and area figures are for European portion only.
  4. ^  Cyprus is often considered a transcontinental country in Western Asia (UN region) and Southern Europe; population and area figures are for de jure Greek-administered portion only.
  5. ^  Georgia is often considered a transcontinental country in Western Asia (UN region) and Eastern Europe; population and area figures are for European portion only.
  6. ^  Kazakhstan is sometimes considered a transcontinental country in Central Asia (UN region) and Eastern Europe.
  7. ^  Netherlands population for July 2004; Amsterdam is the official capital, while The Hague is the administrative seat.
  8. ^  Figures for Portugal exclude the Madeira Islands, west of Morocco in Africa.
  9. ^  Russia is generally considered a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe (UN region) and Asia; population and area figures are for European portion only.
  10. ^  Figures for Spain exclude the Canary Islands, west of Morocco in Africa, and the exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, which are on the northwest of the African continent.
  11. ^  Turkey is generally considered a transcontinental country in Western Asia (UN region) and Southern Europe; population and area figures are for European portion only, including all of Istanbul.

Linguistic and cultural regions

The sub-division in several linguistic and cultural regions is much less subjective than the geographical sub-division, since they correspond to people's cultural connections. There are three main groups:

Germanic Europe

Germanic Europe, where Germanic languages are spoken. This area corresponds more or less to north-western Europe and some parts of central Europe. The main religion of the region is Protestantism, but the further south you go, you encounter more countries with a Catholic majority (particularly Austria but also Belgium). This region consists of: United Kingdom, Ireland, Iceland, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, the Faroe Islands, German-speaking Switzerland, the Flemish part of Belgium, the Swedish-speaking municipalities of Finland, and the South Tyrol part of Italy.

Latin Europe

Latin Europe, where the Romance languages are spoken. This area corresponds more or less to south-western Europe, with the exception of Romania and Moldova which are situated in Eastern Europe. The major religion is Catholicism, except in Romania and Moldova. This area consists of: Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Romania, Moldova, French-speaking Belgium and French-speaking Switzerland, and Italian and Romansh-speaking Switzerland as well.

Slavic Europe

Slavic Europe, where Slavic languages are spoken. This area corresponds, more or less, to Central and Eastern Europe. The main religions are Orthodox Christianity and Catholicism, with large Muslim populations in some parts formerly ruled by the Ottoman Empire. This area consists of: Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine.


Outside of these three main groups we can find:

  • The Celtic nations: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Cornwall (within the United Kingdom); the Isle of Man (a British Crown dependency); the Republic of Ireland; Brittany (within France). These are all nations where a Celtic language is spoken, or was spoken into modern times, and there is a degree of shared culture (see Pan Celticism). Also considered Celtic nations are both Galicia (Spain) and Asturias, (within Spain), whose own Celtic language died out several hundred years ago.
  • Greece, the only country of "Hellenic Europe". In Hellenic Europe we can consider also the Greek Cypriot community. It is sometimes associated with the Latin countries, due to the geographical and cultural ties to the Mediterranean Sea, and sometimes to the Slavic-Orthodox part of Europe due to the importance or Orthodoxy in Greece.
  • 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, Balkars, and a number of other smaller ethnic groups that reside in the Caucasus.
  • Turkey, having an Altaic language not of Indo-European origin, and mainly a Muslim country, unlike the main regions' different versions of Christianity.
  • Hungary, having a language related to Finnish and Estonian (not of Indo-European origin). Due to its location Hungary is normally grouped with Central or Eastern European countries.
  • Finland and Estonia, whose languages are related to Hungarian. Despite this connection (not a close one), Finland and Estonia are normally associated with northern European countries (of an even farther connection).
  • Armenia, although not considered as part of Europe geographically, has a language that constitutes a separate branch of Indo-European family of languages and the nation is considered to be European culturally. The Armenian language is spoken in Armenia and other European countries with Armenian communities (such as France, Greece, Belgium, Russia, Germany etc.).

See also

Lists and tables

External links


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