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Europe - Continent facts


Europe is geologically and geographically a peninsula or subcontinent, forming the westernmost part of Eurasia. It is conventionally considered a continent, which, in this case, is more of a cultural distinction than a geographic one. It 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. Europe is the world's second-smallest continent in terms of area, covering around 10,790,000 km² (4,170,000 sq mi) or 2.1% 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.


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 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.


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 Caucases, 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. 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).


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.


The politics of Europe deals with the continually evolving politics within the continent. It is a topic far more detailed than other continents due to a number of factors including the long history of nation states in the region as well as the modern day trend towards increased political unity amongst the European states. The current politics of Europe can be traced back to historical events within the continent. Likewise geography, economy and culture have contributed to the current political make-up of Europe. Modern European politics is dominated by the European Union, particularly since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc of Communist states. With the end of the Cold War, the EU expanded eastward to include 25 member states that are represented in the European Parliament.


The economy of Europe is comprised of more than 665 million people in 48 different states. Like other continents, the wealth of Europe's states varies, although the poorest are well above the poorest states of other continents in terms of GDP and living standards. The difference in wealth across Europe can be seen in a rough East-West divide. Whilst Western European states all have high GDPs and living standards, many of Eastern Europe's economies are emerging from the collapse of the USSR and the former Yugoslavia. As a continent, Europe has the largest economy. Europe's largest national economy is that of Germany, which ranks third globally in nominal GDP, and fourth in purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP. The European Union is the world's largest economy, if counted as a single unit.


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.


Language is a very important part of culture, and Europe has a widespread variety of languages, with most countries having at least one official language. Russian is the largest language in Europe, followed by German. Many regional languages are also spoken, some enjoying a level of official status or recognition. Other minority languages are also spoken. The diversity on such a small territory is proverbial. The European Union alone uses 20 official languages, which all have the same status. The cost of translation is so high that the official language of the Union is an ongoing debate, since many MEPs are bilingual and most languages have a great level of prestige.


The Culture of Europe might better be described as a series of overlapping cultures of Europe. Whether it be a question of West as opposed to East; Catholicism and Protestantism as opposed to Eastern Orthodoxy; Christianity as opposed to Islam; many have claimed to identify cultural faultlines across the continent. Europe has been a cradle for many cultural innovations and movements, often at odds with each other such as Christian proselytism and Humanism, that have consequently been spread across the globe. The Renaissance of classical ideas influenced the development of art and literature far beyond the confines of the continent.


The religious history of Europe was was particularly complex before Christianity firmly established itself, a process which was ongoing until relatively recent times in some areas. Before the spread of Christianity, each country had its own indigenous religious traditions, sometimes maintained in isolation but in more accessible regions absorbing influences introduced by trading and successive waves of invasion. The 1st millennium BCE saw the expansion of the Celtic peoples throughout Europe, reaching as far north as Britain by 450 BCE to be followed by incursions by pre-Christian Germanic tribes such as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, during the first millennium CE. In 55 CE the Romans invaded Britain, pushing the Celts to the Western fringe of Europe (Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Brittany). The Roman Empire spread pre-Christian religions such as Mithraism and the Imperial cult throughout Europe, before also facilitating the spread of Christianity. Apart from the invasions of various European tribes into each others' territories, incursions came from the Middle East. Jewish communities in Egypt were Hellenized under Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BCE, Greek replacing Aramaic as their language, and some Jews formed communities in Greece. Judea became a vassal of the Roman Empire in 63 BCE, and with the growth of the Empire, the Jewish people spread throughout Europe. However, due to the nature of Judaism as a religion based on matriarchal lineage, it remained peculiar to the close knit Jewish communities and thus its religious influence upon other European peoples was limited. The Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah was developed by Jews in Spain, and written down in the 13thcentury, and after the expulsion of Jews from Spain it became known to the rest of Europe, producing a school of Christian Kabbalists, and influencing many peoples up to the present day. But perhaps the main spread of Judaic ideas in Europe came through its two offshoots, Christianity and Islam.

Since Christianity had its origins in Judea when it was under Roman occupation, its message was easily spread throughout the Empire, the Acts of the Apostles recording the first missionary journeys after the death of Christ, some of which were to Greece and Rome. Though there was initially some resistance to the new religion, once Christianity became established it rapidly spread throughout Europe as missionaries made it their goal to convert everyone to the religion of Christ. It was not until the 7th century, however, that Christianity had much success in Northern Europe when missions from Ireland Christianised much of Britain and Northern Europe; but the occupying Saxons resisted until they were converted at swordpoint in 804 CE. Even at this time, Christianity was not secure in North West Europe, for the Norwegian and Danish Vikings, who were not Christianised until the 11th century, were raiding and settling areas of Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands in the 8th-10th centuries CE.

Islam began in Mecca in about 610 CE, and by 634 the Muslims had defeated the Byzantine army and conquered Syria and Palestine in 637. Egypt fell soon after, and the first Muslim incursions into Europe began with the invasions of Spain in 711 and the establishment of an independent Muslim state there in 750. The Muslim armies reached France, but were driven back to the Pyrenees, though they retained their hold on Spain until Christian military pressure finally forced the last Sultan of Granada to surrender in 1492. The long years of religious Crusades between Christians and Muslims led to a greater knowledge of Islam and the re-introduction of knowledge and literature lost to Europe in the Dark Ages but kept secretly in the Muslim areas. The Ottoman Empire of the 15th/16th centuries included much of South-Eastern Europe, and led to Muslim contact with European states of a military, diplomatic and commercial nature. However, it has been largely in modern times, since the end of the Second World War, that Islam has had a deeper influence on European religious life, with some westerners converting to Islam and a large number of Muslims emigrating and settling in Europe.

The colonisation of India in the 18th century led to the first extensive encounters of Eastern religions by Europeans. The Parsis played an important role in the British development of Bombay as a commercial centre in the early 19th century, and many of them became westernised, receiving a British education; three Parsis living in London were elected to represent their constituencies in the House of Commons. Hinduism and Buddhism were especially appealing to Madame Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society, which introduced these religions into the European religious context in the late 19th/early 20th century. The Buddhist Society of England was formed at the beginning of the 20th century, and the west has become increasingly interested in Eastern religions throughout the present century. The mid 20th century saw the spread of Sikhism outside its Punjab homeland, especially after the second world war when many Sikh men made their way to Britain, being joined by their wives and families in the late 1960s, the Sikh Missionary Society being founded in Britain in 1969. The 1960s also saw a growth in interest in Eastern religions such as Taoism and Shinto.

A contemporary organisation of the Theosophical Society , The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical order founded in Great Britain in 1888, brought together influences from Freemasonry, the Jewish Kabbalah, ceremonial magic modernised from the Renaissance, and the latest archaeological research concerning religion in Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as customs and folklore native to the British Isles. This was the first introduction of Classical Mediterranean religions as practical traditions into modern day Europe.

Many of the religious traditions of the Celts, Scandinavians and Germanic tribes were also revived in the course of the late 19th/20th century, based on historical and archaeological findings plus intuitive insight and imagination to fill the gaps in factual knowledge. Though the classical religions of the Mediterranean - Egypt, Greece and Rome - had been well documented, with written records from ancient times and temples being self-evident, this was not the case in Northern Europe; written documentation is rare and places of worship seem to have been in natural surroundings rather than buildings. Nevertheless, enough material came to light through research and archaeology to enable the pre-Christian religions of Europe to be successfully revived in a modern context, such that, as revived religious traditions, they now attract increasing numbers of adherents.

A tradition of witchcraft seems to have existed in Europe in the form of village healers, 'Wise Women' and 'Cunning Men' since the Middle Ages, and there is some evidence of Traditional and Hereditary forms of the Craft also existing before modern Wicca. However, it was not until the 1950s that modern Wicca was introduced by Gerald Gardner, a Freemason, Druid and folklorist. In 1971, the need for an official body to represent the views of the growing number of Pagans in Britain was recognised, and The Pagan Federation was founded. Though in its early days the Federation was composed mainly of Wiccans and published a quarterly journal called The Wiccan, today it is made up of Pagans of many traditions, including Druids, Odinists, Ecopagans, non-aligned Pagans, ceremonial magicians, neo-shamans, as well as Wiccans of many persuasions.

The 1960s counter culture saw the emergence of the New Age religions and practices in the USA, which quickly spread to Britain and which are so prevalent in Europe today. This decade also saw an upsurge in feminism and a resulting quest for spirituality for women. 'Goddess Spirituality', again beginning in the USA but finding its way to Britain and Europe with great speed and becoming an important part of alternative religious traditions in Europe.

The 1980s saw the emergence of the Germanic religions (Odinism, Asatru) in a more organised form, although Asatru has been an official religion of Iceland, along with Christianity, since 1973. Traditional Baltic pre-Christian religions have only recently found widespread popularity, after the downfall of Soviet control; but Scandinavia and the Balkans were Christianised very late compared to the rest of Europe (Scandinavia in the 11th century, Poland in 966, Hungary 1001, and Lithuania in 1387) and so their indigenous religions have lain close to the surface of the culture of these countries and were able to emerge and flower in the 1990s. Shamanism likewise has survived in many different forms in Europe throughout history in tribal religions, but it was only recently that anthropological and historical research enabled modern Western Europeans to glean enough information to allow neo-shamanism to emerge as a form of spiritual ecology in the 1980s.

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