In this article, you’ll be able to discover some of the most interesting facts about the Alps, a mountain range located in one of the most fascinating regions in the world!
1. It’s located within the borders of 8 different countries
The Alps are an enormous mountain range in Europe and are located entirely located within Europe. They are situated within the borders of 8 different European countries. These are (from west to east):
Even though the mountain range consists of multiple smaller ranges, the Dolomites and the Bernese Alps to name just a few famous ones, the general classification is to divide the Alps into two different sections:
- Western Alps
- Eastern Alps
The split of these two sections of the entire mountain range is near the Splügen Pass in Switzerland.
2. It’s by far the largest mountain range entirely located in Europe
The Alps take on a crescent shape and have a total length of about 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) and a width of about 250 kilometers (160 miles).
They cover about 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles), which makes it the most extensive mountain range situated entirely within Europe.
The Ural Mountains in Russia and the Caucasus Mountains in Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, are larger but are partially situated within the borders of Asia as well.
3. The range features 128 peaks over 4,000 meters (13,000 feet)
The highest mountain in Europe stands 5,642 meters (18,510 feet) tall and is located in the Caucasus Mountains. This prominent mountain is Mount Elbrus and is quite a bit taller than the highest mountain in Western Europe called the Mont Blanc which stands 4,808.73 meters (15,776.7 feet) tall.
The Mont Blanc is a famous mountain in France and just one of the 128 peaks of the Alps that reach a height of 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) or more, referred to as 4,000ers by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA).
Remarkably, this organization only lists 82 mountains above this height that have a prominence of 30 meters (98 feet) or more.
4. Its name could be derived from the Latin word for “white”
The name of the Alps is probably derived from the Latin word “Alpes,” which in return is probably derived from the adjective “albus” which means “white.”
The name of the range has been described by its current name since at least the late 14th century.
5. The formation of the Alps started around 300 million years ago
The development of the Alps as they appear today is a process that started well over 300 million years ago in a period called the Paleozoic Era (531 to 251.902 million years ago). Back then, there was only the Pangaean supercontinent which consisted of a single tectonic plate.
This plate eventually broke into multiple separate pieces during the Mesozoic Era (252 to 66 million years ago), a process that created the African and the Eurasian plates.
The Alps were formed by the collision of these two plates which resulted in the uplifting of sedimentary rocks from the bottom of the ocean. This eventually created the peaks of the Alps that we see today.
6. The sources of many important European rivers can be found here
The Alps are an incredibly important mountain range for Europe as it provides the lowlands of the continent with drinking water, irrigation, and electricity produced by hydroelectric power.
Some of the biggest rivers in Europe originate in the Alps, including the Rhine, the Rhône, the Inn, and the Po. These rivers often flow through neighboring countries to eventually release into the Mediterranean Sea, the North Sea, Adriatic Sea, and even the Black Sea.
To give some reference, the water coming from rivers that originate in the Alps power over 500 hydroelectricity power plants!
7. The Alpine lakes in northern Italy are popular tourist destinations
One of the most remarkable facts about the Alps is that the rivers originating here also create the subalpine lakes in northern Italy. These lakes have a completely different (more enjoyable) climate than the lakes located within the range and have been popular tourist destinations for millennia, dating back all the way to Roman times.
Some of the most popular lakes in this region are Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Como.
8. The largest glacier in the Alps is located in Switzerland
Even though fabulous glaciers are some of the most beautiful feats of nature, these pose extremely dangerous conditions for mountaineers. What appears to be a nice ice sheet often hides dangerous crevasses (deep cracks).
The Alps are filled with glaciers that glide majestically from the mountain slopes and are often the source of rivers. This includes for example the Rhône Glacier which is the source of the Rhône River.
All glaciers in the Alps are retreating and lose ground year after year due to global warming. The longest glacier in the range is located in the eastern Bernese Alps in the Canton of Valois in Switzerland.
The Aletsch Glacier has a total length of 22.6 kilometers (14.0 miles) but has lost about 1.3 kilometers (0.81 miles) of its total length since 1980.
9. High elevation regions in the world are named after this range
The Alps’ lower areas often have an amazingly enjoyable temperate climate, especially the regions around the Mediterranean Sea.
The higher you go, the colder it gets, so the Alps are divided into 5 different climate zones based on the level of elevation:
- The colline zone – between 500 and 1,000 meters (1,600 and 3,300 feet).
- The montane zone – between 800 and 1,700 meters (2,600 and 5,600 feet).
- The sub-Alpine zone – between 1,600 and 2,400 meters (5,200 and7,900 feet).
- The alpine zone – Between the tree line and the snow line.
- The glacial zone – The glaciated areas of the mountains.
One of the most interesting facts about the Alps is that areas at high elevations with a cold climate around the world are referred to as having an “Alpine climate” about this mountain range in Europe.
10. Over 13,000 plant species grow here
The type of vegetation in the mountain range varies greatly based on location and elevation. The main deciduous trees growing here are oak, beech, ash, and sycamore maple.
As you go higher, the vegetation changes quite a bit and often consists of short pine trees initially followed by amazingly colorful meadows of Alpine flowers. Some of the most famous Alpine plants are the Edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum) and the Alpine gentian (Gentiana acaulis).
Well over 13,000 different types of plants have been identified in the Alps.
11. Over 30,000 wild animal species live here
The mountains are also home to a huge number of wild animals, including some very dangerous ones such as adders, vipers, and brown bears.
Many species have adapted to living above the snow line, such as the alpine Apollo butterfly and the Alpine salamander. The latter is a reptile but gives birth to young instead of laying eggs, a remarkable form of adapting to the harsh conditions at high altitudes.
The largest mammal and perhaps the most intriguing animal living at high altitudes in the Alps is the alpine ibex (Capra ibex). This large wild goat has been spotted at heights of up to 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) and the males are famously known for their huge horns
12. The region has been inhabited since prehistoric times
As of today, the Alps are inhabited by a total of about 14 million people with the largest cities being Grenoble in France, Innsbruck in Austria, and Trento in Italy.
The region has been inhabited for numerous millennia and there’s proof for that as well. The most prominent example of this is the “Rock Drawings in Valcamonica” in the Lombardy region in Italy.
This is a series of over 200,000 drawings featuring over 140,000 figures and symbols that were carved into the rocks over 5,000 years ago!
13. One of the greatest warlords in history once crossed the Alps
The Romans were the first to build roads allowing for easy passage to cross the mountains. They probably wished they made it a bit more difficult in the 3rd century B.C. because these roads were used by one of their fiercest enemies.
Hannibal (247-181 B.C.), the military leader of the Carthaginian Empire, crossed the Alps during the Second Pubic War in 217 B.C. There is no record of where exactly he crossed it, but he managed to crush many Roman legions along the way.
One of the presumed locations where he marched an army of over 46,000 men and 37 elephants across the Alps is the Col de Montgenèvre in France just near the border with Italy. The obelisk located here was erected in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804, just before he declared himself as Emperor of France.
14. It features multiple medieval fortifications in spectacular locations
Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire during the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, shortly after the Christian persecution of Emperor Diocletian in the early 4th century
Christian structures in the form of monasteries and churches were erected in the Alps shortly after, followed by multiple fortifications and castles.
These include some of the most amazing castles in Europe such as the medieval castle of Chillon on the shore of Lake Geneva.
15. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world
The region of the Alps is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet, visited by an estimated 120 million tourists every year. Some of the most popular tourist locations are ski resorts such as:
- Oberstdorf in Bavaria, Germany
- Saalbach in Austria
- Davos in Switzerland
- Chamonix in France
- Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy
The tourism industry in this mountain range has an extensive history as it started in the early 19th century, with the first large-scale hotels and resorts being built during the so-called “Belle-Époque” between 1880 and 1914.
Until today, millions of tourists from around the world enjoy both the amazing landscape and the countless winter sports opportunities in this magnificent region in the world!