Alps

Alps
Mont Blanc oct 2004.JPG
Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, view from the Savoy side
Highest point
PeakMont Blanc
Elevation4,808.73 m (15,776.7 ft) [1]
Coordinates45°49′58″N 06°51′54″E / 45°49′58″N 06°51′54″E / 45.83278; 6.86500
Dimensions
Length1,200 km (750 mi)
Width250 km (160 mi)
Area200,000 km2 (77,000 sq mi)
Naming
Native name
Geography
Alpenrelief 01.jpg
Relief of the Alps. See also map with international borders marked.
Countries
Range coordinates46°30′N 09°19′E / 46°30′N 09°19′E / 46.500; 9.317
Geology
OrogenyAlpine orogeny
Age of rockTertiary
Type of rockBündner schist, flysch and molasse

The Alps (s/; French: Alpes [alp]; German: Alpen [ˈalpn̩] (About this soundlisten); Italian: Alpi [ˈalpi]; Romansh: Alps; Slovene: Alpe [ˈáːlpɛ]) are the highest and most extensive mountain range system that lies entirely in Europe,[2][note 1] separating Southern from Central and Western Europe and stretching approximately 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) across eight Alpine countries (from west to east): France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia.[3] The mountains were formed over tens of millions of years as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided. Extreme shortening caused by the event resulted in marine sedimentary rocks rising by thrusting and folding into high mountain peaks such as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. Mont Blanc spans the French–Italian border, and at 4,810 m (15,781 ft) is the highest mountain in the Alps. The Alpine region area contains about a hundred peaks higher than 4,000 metres (13,000 ft).

The altitude and size of the range affects the climate in Europe; in the mountains precipitation levels vary greatly and climatic conditions consist of distinct zones. Wildlife such as ibex live in the higher peaks to elevations of 3,400 m (11,155 ft), and plants such as Edelweiss grow in rocky areas in lower elevations as well as in higher elevations. Evidence of human habitation in the Alps goes back to the Palaeolithic era. A mummified man, determined to be 5,000 years old, was discovered on a glacier at the Austrian–Italian border in 1991.

By the 6th century BC, the Celtic La Tène culture was well established. Hannibal famously crossed the Alps with a herd of elephants, and the Romans had settlements in the region. In 1800, Napoleon crossed one of the mountain passes with an army of 40,000. The 18th and 19th centuries saw an influx of naturalists, writers, and artists, in particular, the Romantics, followed by the golden age of alpinism as mountaineers began to ascend the peaks.

The Alpine region has a strong cultural identity. The traditional culture of farming, cheesemaking, and woodworking still exists in Alpine villages, although the tourist industry began to grow early in the 20th century and expanded greatly after World War II to become the dominant industry by the end of the century. The Winter Olympic Games have been hosted in the Swiss, French, Italian, Austrian and German Alps. At present, the region is home to 14 million people and has 120 million annual visitors.[4]

Etymology and toponymy

An "Alp" refers to a high mountain pasture, often with a structure, such as this one on the south side of the Alps, where cows are taken for grazing.

The English word Alps derives from the Latin Alpes (through French). Maurus Servius Honoratus, an ancient commentator of Virgil, says in his commentary (A. X 13) that all high mountains are called Alpes by Celts. The term may be common to Italo-Celtic, because the Celtic languages have terms for high mountains derived from alp.

This may be consistent with the theory that in Greek Alpes is a name of non-Indo-European origin (which is common for prominent mountains and mountain ranges in the Mediterranean region). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Latin Alpes might possibly derive from a pre-Indo-European word *alb "hill"; "Albania" is a related derivation. Albania, a name not native to the region known as the country of Albania, has been used as a name for a number of mountainous areas across Europe. In Roman times, "Albania" was a name for the eastern Caucasus, while in the English languages "Albania" (or "Albany") was occasionally used as a name for Scotland,[5] although it is more likely derived from the Latin albus,[6] the color white.

The Latin word Alpes could possibly come from the adjective albus[6] (“white”).

In modern languages the term alp, alm, albe or alpe refers to a grazing pastures in the alpine regions below the glaciers, not the peaks.[7] An alp refers to a high mountain pasture where cows are taken to be grazed during the summer months and where hay barns can be found, and the term "the Alps", referring to the mountains, is a misnomer.[8][9] The term for the mountain peaks varies by nation and language: words such as Horn, Kogel, Kopf, Gipfel, Spitze, Stock, and Berg are used in German speaking regions; Mont, Pic, Tête, Pointe, Dent, Roche, and Aiguille in French speaking regions; and Monte, Picco, Corno, Punta, Pizzo, or Cima in Italian speaking regions.[10]