Introduction to Europe

*Europe is the second smallest continent in area (4,140,625 square miles), larger only than Australia—that is, if Europe is even considered a continent at all.  Some people (including many geographers in Russia) class it as part of a larger continent, Eurasia.

*If Europe is a continent (or even if it is merely a peninsula or Eurasia), it is typically considered to start at the Ural Mountains in Russia and the Caucasus Mountains just north of Turkey.  It is also surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Black Sea, all of which also have smaller seas and bays within them.

*Europe is classed as a continent as much for historical and cultural reasons as for geographical ones—Europe has had a tremendous impact on world history and culture, and continues to be culturally, politically, and economically significant:  the population of Europe is roughly 700,000,000, about 11% of the world's population.

*Including Russia, there are 44 countries in Europe today.

*Europe contains the world’s largest country, Russia (6,595,600 square miles), and the smallest, the Vatican City (0.16 square miles, or just under 109 acres—it would fit inside Johnson City 245 times).  

*Russia is also the most populous country in Europe (#8 worldwide), with about 143 million people.  Germany is second (#14 worldwide), with 82.4 million, France is third (#20), with 60.6 million, Great Britain is fourth (#21), with 60.4 million, Italy is fifth (#23), with 58 million, Ukraine is sixth (#25), with 47.4 million, and Spain is seventh (#27), with 43 million.

*The most populous metropolitan area in Europe is Moscow (#15 worldwide) with about 13,600,000 people.  Second is London (#18) with 11,850,000; third is Paris (#24) with 11,570,000 (although the Rhine-Ruhr area of Germany has many cities that have nearly become a megalopolis with a slightly higher population than the Paris Area); fourth is Istanbul with 11,332,000, which we will study later, when we look at the Middle East, fifth is the Milan area, with 6,500,000, sixth is Madrid with 5,600,000, and seventh is Saint Petersburg with 5,550,000.  Many countries in Europe have some degree of Primate City Syndrome, particularly Britain and France, while others, particularly countries that were formed more recently, such as Germany, Italy, and, to a lesser degree, Spain, have several important cities.

*Most people in Europe speak Indo-European languages.  

*There are also some non-Indo-European languages in Europe.  Finnish and Estonian are closely related to each other, and may be related to Hungarian as part of the Finno-Ugric language family, and possibly even to Turkish and other Turkic languages, if they are all part of the Ural-Altaic family (as some linguists suggest).

*The island of Malta speaks Maltese, a language related to Arabic.

*Europe also has a linguistic isolate: Basque.  This language is, as far as anyone knows, completely unrelated to any other known language in the world.  It has been postulated that this is the only survivor of the pre-Indo-European peoples who inhabited Europe before the Indo-Europeans arrived in Europe about 3,500 BC (although they would not dominate the continent until about 1,500 BC or so).

*The majority of Europe is nominally Christian, although actually church attendance and involvement is much lower than in the United States.  Northern Europe tends to be Protestant, Eastern Europe tends to be Orthodox, and Southern Europe tends to be Catholic, although there are exceptions (particularly on the western edge of Eastern Europe).  There are also a large number of Muslims in parts of South-eastern Europe.

*Europe, although made up of many separate and important nations, and historically often at war with itself, is moving closer together.  Today, 25 nations, mostly in Western Europe, have formed the European Union, a loose confederation of nations, which some want to turn into a much stronger federation for mutual protection, free trade, and the creation of a unified economy larger than that of the United States.  Twelve of the nations in the European Union use a common currency, the Euro.

This page last updated 25 September, 2005.