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Europe is conventionally considered one of the seven continents of Earth which, in this case, is more a cultural and political distinction than a physiographic one, leading to various perspectives about Europe's borders. Physically and geologically, Europe is a subcontinent or large peninsula, forming the westernmost part of Eurasia and 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–according to the traditional geographic definition–to the southeast by the waterways adjoining the Mediterranean to and including the Black Sea, and the Caucasus Mountains (in Caucasia). Europe's eastern frontier is vague, but has traditionally been given as the divide of the Ural Mountains and the Caspian Sea to the southeast. The Urals are considered by most to be a geographical and tectonic landmark separating Asia from Europe.
For just a description of the Asia-Europe boundary, see Europe and Asia. See also Geographic criteria for EU membership.
Europe is the world's second-smallest continent in terms of area, covering about 10,390,000 square kilometres (4,010,000 sq mi) or 2.0% of the Earth's surface. The only smaller continent is Australia. In terms of population, it is the third-largest continent (Asia and Africa are larger) with a population of more than 705,000,000, or about 11% of the world's population.
Etymology - 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 a Semitic word such as the Akkadian asu, meaning "sunrise", and is the land to the east from a Middle Eastern perspective.
History - As part of the Old World, Europe has a long history of cultural and economic achievement, starting as far back as the Paleolithic. The recent discovery at Monte Poggiolo, Italy, of thousands of stones shaped by human hands, and tentatively dated to 800,000 years ago, may prove to be of particular importance, though the origins or modern Europeans are much more recent. Origins of Europeans and Europe Haplogroups Map.
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.
The Roman Empire divided the continent along the Rhine and Danube rivers for several centuries.
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 the Byzantine Empire. In 1453, when the Ottoman Empire conquered the Byzantine capital Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire ceased to exist.
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 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 (with the exceptions of Turkey and Greece) and Capitalist countries in Southern Europe and Western Europe. About 1990, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the wider Iron Curtain, 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 members to 25 now. It has developed from an 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 - Geographically, Europe is the western portion 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 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. 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, 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.
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.
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 geographically definitive.
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 and Norway.
Physical geography - 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.
Biodiversity - 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 percent 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 is the Republic of Ireland (8%), while the most forested country is Finland (72%).
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 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. 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, 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.
Demographics - 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 due to a variety of social factors.
Languages and cultures - There are several linguistic groups widely recognized 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.
Germanic languages - Germanic languages are spoken more or less in north-western Europe and some parts of central Europe. This region consists of: Iceland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Flanders and the German-speaking areas of Belgium, the Netherlands, the Faroe Islands, Norway, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, most of Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Liechtenstein, the Swedish-speaking municipalities of Finland, and South Tyrol in Italy.
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, Wallonia, Romandy, French-speaking Switzerland, Romansh-speaking Switzerland, and Italian-speaking Switzerland. All Romance languages are derived from the Roman language, Latin.
Slavic languages - Slavic languages are spoken in Central and Eastern Europe. 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.
Uralic languages - The Uralic Languages are divided into three groups of which the Finno-Permic languages are spoken in Finland, Estonia and European Russia while the Ugric languages are spoken in Hungary and Siberian Russia.
Altaic languages - Turkic Languages are spoken in Turkey, Azerbaijan, the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, parts of Bulgaria, parts of Romania, parts 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 Europe, where Celtic languages are spoken, or where they were previously spoken and the population still shares a Celtic heritage for non-linguistic reasons. 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, or was spoken into modern times, and there is a degree of shared culture (see Pan Celticism).
Sometimes considered Celtic nations are Galicia and Asturias (both autonomous communities of Spain), whose own Celtic language died out a millennium ago, and England where Celtic influence remains in some regional dialects (see Cumbric), although England's Celtic languages died out as recently as the 18th century in Devon. The main religions are Catholicism and Protestantism, which are particularly mixed in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Other languages - Outside of these six main linguistic groups one can find:
Greek language, spoken in Greece and Cyprus.
The Albanian language is its own independent branch of the Indo-European language family with no close living relatives. There is no scholarly consensus over its origin. Some scholars maintain that it derives from the Illyrian language.
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, Balkars, and a number of other smaller ethnic groups that reside in the Caucasus.
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.).
The Basque language is spoken in parts of southern France and northern Spain, i.e. the Basque Country
Religions in Europe - The most popular religions of Europe are the following:
Roman Catholicism: Countries or areas with significant Catholic populations are Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, south Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, south Germany, south Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Hungary,Slovenia, Croatia, the Croatian parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Poland, west Ukraine, Romania, Latgale region in Latvia, and Lithuania. There are also large Catholic minorities in England and Wales.
Protestantism: Countries with significant Protestant populations include Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, the UK, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. There are significant minorities in France, Czech Republic, Hungary, and the Republic of Ireland and indeed small minorities in most European Countries.
Orthodox Christianity: The countries with significant Orthodox populations are Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria,Cyprus, Finland (Karelia), Georgia, Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Ukraine.
Islam: Countries with significant Muslim population are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Greece, the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Serbia and Montenegro (especially in Kosovo), several republics of Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Also, as of 2005, about 5% of the EU identify themselves as Muslims, with many Muslim immigrants in Germany, the UK, Benelux, Crimea in Ukraine and France.
Other minor religions exist in Europe, some brought by migrants, including:
Judaism, mainly in France, UK, Russia and Germany
Hinduism, mainly in the UK and in the Netherlands .
Buddhism, thinly spread throughout western Europe, and in Kalmykia, Russia
Indigenous European pagan traditions and beliefs, many countries.
Rastafari, communities in the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and elsewhere.
Sikhism, mainly in the UK.
Jainism, mainly in the UK.
Voodoo, mainly in the UK and France.
Traditional African Religions (including Muti), mainly in the UK and France.
Millions of Europeans profess no religion or are atheistic or agnostic. The largest non-confessional populations (as a percentage) are found in Sweden, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and France although most former communist countries have significant non-confessional populations.
Official religions - A number of countries in Europe have official religions, including Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Vatican City (Catholic); and Greece (Eastern Orthodox), Denmark, Iceland and Norway (Lutheran). In Switzerland, some cantons are officially Catholic, others Reformed Protestant.
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. Russia recognises Eastern Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism as all "official"  (with three states, Kalmykia, Buryatia and Tuva, officially Buddhist ). 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". France, Turkey and Azerbaijan are officially "secular".
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