European Geography: Why So Many Shapes?
By: Jade Hermosillo
When looking at a map of Europe, you are most likely to think of it as many random shapes of countries mixed together except for Italy, it seems just like a boot, right? Apart from Italy the rest of the eastern countries seem to have no clear shape at all. Do you ever wonder why some countries are the shapes that they are? It’s ok if you haven’t because it doesn’t sound like a super exciting question at first. However, when you mix geography and history, you get something very different. More specifically, we will be talking about how mountains and rivers scattered throughout central and eastern Europe, combined with wars throughout this region, helped mold what we now see on today’s map.
As fun as it would be to go through every European country, this article will only focus on a few countries besides Italy, the region referred to as “Central and Eastern
Starting off with the more well-known country, Italy, there is an important reason why it is this size today. Usually, the small zig-zags on maps that represent mountains are overlooked, but for Italy, mountains were vital for its protection against invaders. In Italy, the Roman Empire existed for about 1,000 years! (The United States has barely existed for 246 years). How did it last for so long? A significant contributor to its protection was the Alps and the Apennine Mountains. The Alps run across from east to west acting as a border to Italy’s “boot” shape, making it hard for others to attack them. Meanwhile, the Apennine Mountains run from north to south, almost through the center of Italy, making it difficult to get from one side of the country to the other.
Next, we will talk about a country you probably have never heard of: Bulgaria. Bulgaria is one of the oldest countries in Europe, with its founding in 681 AD (over 1,000 years ago!). This country also had its own mountains, which acted as a natural border with other countries called The Balkan Mountains (“Balkan” is Turkish for mountain). When Bulgaria was the “Kingdom of Bulgaria” many years ago, these mountains protected them from invasions. It is also important to note that although the Balkans were not as protective as Italy’s Alps were, they did help slow down other armies giving Bulgarian forces more time to prepare for battle.
Another country you may not be too familiar with is Hungary. This is home to another small yet mighty nation that is often overlooked in world history but which has made many important contributions to it. Hungary is part of a geographical region called the “Carpathian Basin,” which means that most of Hungary is surrounded by mountains known as the Carpathians. Even before it was an official state, people would use the area inside the Carpathian Basin to refer to the later nation of Hungary because of how defining the set of mountains is. The Carpathians are also home to the mountains of Transylvania, which you might have heard of because there are many legends about vampires living there. The mountains served as a vital border not only because of their ability to sometimes protect from invaders but also because Hungary sees these mountains as symbolic and important to national geographical identity.
You may be wondering: why is learning about mountains thousands of miles away important? Good question. While I do not have a straightforward answer, all I can say is that I believe it is essential because it’s so fun to learn about things outside of school. I encourage you to do your own research about battles and mountains hundreds of years ago in Europe (or whatever part of the world you’re interested in) and how they have shaped today’s world. You never know what you might find.