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europe

Photo Courtesy of NASA

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 was a mythological queen of Crete, not a geographical designation. Later Europa stood for mainland Greece, and by 500 BC its meaning had been extended to lands to the north.

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" . 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 Caucasus, 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.

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License