The Alps have always been an important part of Europe.
They are geographically important, representing 11% of Europe’s surface and heavily influencing its climate. They are important from a historical point of view, as they were a barrier for people movements and trade. They are culturally important for a shared, cross-national Alpine culture has developed on their valleys and mountains.
Local lifestyle and the way the Alps are seen from the outside have both changed dramatically during recent decades. From a remote, hard-to-live-in region where economy was mainly based on livestock, the Alps turned into one of the most important tourist destinations in Europe, especially in winter.
This is not a surprise, since the Alps provide awe-inspiring and majestic views.
If you’ve ever been on the bottom of one their valleys, which look like being hollowed out of the surrounding rocky walls, or on a flower-covered meadow on the top of a hill with high snowy peaks all around, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Besides, since the Alps are made of high mountains spanning for several hundreds of miles, they are a natural venue for countless ski slopes and related resorts. Here is one of them featuring the highest suspension bridge in Europe.
Let’s check some facts about Europe’s most famous mountain range.
Why are the Alps there? Alps formation
The Alps exist because Europe and Africa are colliding. Hundreds of millions of years of pressure between the two continents have highly pushed terrain over the sea level. In many locations altitude is well over 12,000 ft., or 4,000m. Nonetheless, the rocks on the highest peaks were once low-altitude ground belonging to European continent, African continent and even seabed.
That is particularly evident in north-eastern Italy’s Alps (the Dolomites), which feature a particular color that literally lights up at sunset and dawn, due to the carbonates originated by dead shellfish. It is remarkable that bodies of marine creatures which lived millions of years ago under the sea are now at 9,000 ft. above sea level, on snowy, sharp peaks.
Where are the Alps located?
The Alps are located in Middle-Southern Europe. They crown Northern Italy completely as a natural barrier which separates the country from France, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. Other branches reach Germany and Croatia.
If you want to go in and out of Italy via ground transport, you have to cross the Alps, and it’s been like that all along.
Other countries, like Switzerland and partly Austria, are directly sitting on the Alps. Their history, economy, and existence of their inhabitants have been inextricably linked to dealing with the challenges the Alps present.
When did the Alps become important?
The Alps have always represented a natural barrier for human migration, army movement, and trade. During crusades many wannabe crusaders died of cold and starvation while trying to cross them in order to reach Mediterranean harbors from where they intended to sail to Palestine.
Who is remarkably connected to the Alps?
Hannibal allegedly crossed the Alps with a herd of elephants and lost many of them to the mountains. Caesar and other Roman leaders went through the Alps often during empire’s expansion. However, the list of armies that crossed the Alps is almost endless and not limited to antiquity.
In the Middle Ages, migrations through the Alps of entire ethnic groups occurred, when barbarian hordes were looking for a new settlement in Italy after the fall of Roman Empire.
What are the most remarkable facts about the Alps?
The Alps have a huge impact to Europe’s climate. They stop part of the cold winds blowing from north and reduce their moisture content. As a result, south of the Alps weather is averagely warmer, dryer, and more stable.
The Alps maintain a permanent snow blanket over 9,000 ft. above sea level, and have many glaciers. Peaks are in average 1.6mi (2.5km) high, with 128 of them exceeding 4,000 m.
The Alps have been so important in history of Europe, starting from the Roman Era, that the term “Alpine” is now vastly used in many fields in a much broader sense than just referring to the Alps themselves. A remarkable example is “Alpine climate”, a way to denote a type of climate occurring above the altitude at which trees do not grow, anywhere in the world. Other examples are Alpine sports, and Alpine climbing style.
How are/were the Alps crossed?
In the antiquity, people believed the Alps were home to daemons and evil spirits; therefore while crossing alpine passes, many blindfolded themselves to not look at what they believed was a hell’s anteroom.
Until well into XIX century, the Alps could be crossed by migrating people, by armies, by traders, and pilgrims exclusively through passes, which are relatively-low-altitude areas between peaks.
Then came golden age of railway transportation, during which first tunnels through the Alps appeared, usually located at a much lower altitude than mountain passes.
Nowadays the Alps can be safely crossed through several tunnels, both railways and road tunnels.
With its 35mi (57km), the longest tunnel in the world is under construction under the Alps and will allow trains to cross them at 160MPH (250 km/h) under the Gotthard Massif.