Alps

Alps

Overview

The Alps is one of the great mountain range
Mountain range
A mountain range is a single, large mass consisting of a succession of mountains or narrowly spaced mountain ridges, with or without peaks, closely related in position, direction, formation, and age; a component part of a mountain system or of a mountain chain...

 systems of Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, stretching from Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 and Slovenia
Slovenia
Slovenia , officially the Republic of Slovenia , is a country in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean. Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north, and also has a small portion of...

 in the east through Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

, Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked alpine country in Central Europe, bordered by Switzerland to the west and south and by Austria to the east. Its area is just over , and it has an estimated population of 35,000. Its capital is Vaduz. The biggest town is Schaan...

 and Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 to France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 in the west.

The highest mountain in the Alps is Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco , meaning "White Mountain", is the highest mountain in the Alps, Western Europe and the European Union. It rises above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence...

, at 4810.45 metres (15,782 ft), on the Italian–French border. All the main peaks of the Alps can be found in the list of mountains of the Alps and list of Alpine peaks by prominence.

The English name Alps was taken via French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 from Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 Alpes, which formerly was believed to be ultimately cognate with Latin albus ("white").
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Encyclopedia

The Alps is one of the great mountain range
Mountain range
A mountain range is a single, large mass consisting of a succession of mountains or narrowly spaced mountain ridges, with or without peaks, closely related in position, direction, formation, and age; a component part of a mountain system or of a mountain chain...

 systems of Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, stretching from Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 and Slovenia
Slovenia
Slovenia , officially the Republic of Slovenia , is a country in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean. Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north, and also has a small portion of...

 in the east through Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, Switzerland
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

, Liechtenstein
Liechtenstein
The Principality of Liechtenstein is a doubly landlocked alpine country in Central Europe, bordered by Switzerland to the west and south and by Austria to the east. Its area is just over , and it has an estimated population of 35,000. Its capital is Vaduz. The biggest town is Schaan...

 and Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 to France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 in the west.

The highest mountain in the Alps is Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco , meaning "White Mountain", is the highest mountain in the Alps, Western Europe and the European Union. It rises above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence...

, at 4810.45 metres (15,782 ft), on the Italian–French border. All the main peaks of the Alps can be found in the list of mountains of the Alps and list of Alpine peaks by prominence.

Etymology


The English name Alps was taken via French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 from Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 Alpes, which formerly was believed to be ultimately cognate with Latin albus ("white"). Few scholars share this opinion today. The German Albe, Alpe or Alp (f., Old High German
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...

 alpâ, plural alpûn), the Occitan Alp/Aup and the French Alpage or Alpe in the singular mean "alpine pasture", and only in the plural may also refer to the mountain range as a whole.

Geography


The highest peak of the Western Alps is Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco , meaning "White Mountain", is the highest mountain in the Alps, Western Europe and the European Union. It rises above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence...

, at 4810.45 metres (15,782 ft). The highest peak of the Eastern Alps is Piz Bernina
Piz Bernina
Piz Bernina is the highest mountain of the Eastern Alps and the highest point of the Bernina Range the highest peak in south Rhetic Alps. It is also the farthest easterly mountain higher than 4,000 m in the Alps, the highest point of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, and the fifth-most prominent...

 at 4049 metres (13,284 ft). Monte Rosa
Monte Rosa
The Monte Rosa Massif is a mountain massif located in the eastern part of the Pennine Alps. It is located between Switzerland and Italy...

 at 4634 metres (15,203 ft). and Ortler
Ortler
Ortler is, at above sea level, the highest mountain in the Eastern Alps outside the Bernina Range. It is the main peak of the Ortler Range. It is the highest point of the Southern Limestone Alps, of the Italian province of South Tyrol, of Tyrol overall, and, until 1919, of the Austrian-Hungarian...

, 3905 metres (12,812 ft), are the second-highest, respectively.

The Eastern Alps is commonly subdivided according to the different lithology
Lithology
The lithology of a rock unit is a description of its physical characteristics visible at outcrop, in hand or core samples or with low magnification microscopy, such as colour, texture, grain size, or composition. It may be either a detailed description of these characteristics or be a summary of...

 (rock composition) of the more central parts of the Alps and the groups at its northern and southern fringes:
  • Northern Limestone Alps
    Northern Limestone Alps
    The Northern Limestone Alps are the ranges of the Eastern Alps north of the Central Eastern Alps located in Austria and the adjacent Bavarian lands of southeastern Germany. The distinction from the latter group, where the higher peaks are located, is based on differences in geological composition...

     (from the Wienerwald
    Wienerwald
    The Vienna Woods are forested highlands that form the northeastern foothills of the Northern Limestone Alps in the states of Lower Austria and Vienna. The long and wide hill range is heavily wooded and a popular recreation area with the Viennese....

     to Bregenzerwald
    Bregenzerwald
    Bregenzerwald is one of the main regions in the state of Vorarlberg, Austria. Geologically, the Bregenzerwald is a mountain range of the Northern Limestone Alps, specifically the northern flysch zone. It is the drainage basin of the Bregenzer Ach river....

    ), including the Flyschzone; peaks up to 3000 metres (9,842.5 ft)
  • Central Eastern Alps
    Central Eastern Alps
    The Central Eastern Alps comprise the main chain of the Eastern Alps with its highest peaks, located between the Northern Limestone Alps and the Southern Limestone Alps, from which they differ in geological composition....

     (Austria, Switzerland); peaks up to 4050 metres (13,287.4 ft)
  • Southern Limestone Alps
    Southern Limestone Alps
    The Southern Limestone Alps are the ranges of the Eastern Alps south of the Central Eastern Alps mainly located in northern Italy and the adjacent lands of Austria and Slovenia. The distinction from the Central Alps, where the higher peaks are located, is based on differences in geological...

     (Austria, Italy, Slovenia)

The border between the Central Alps and the Southern Limestone Alps is the Periadriatic Seam
Periadriatic Seam
The Periadriatic Seam is a distinct geologic fault in Southern Europe, running S-shaped about 1000 km from the Tyrrhenian Sea through the whole Southern Alps as far as Hungary. It forms the division between the Adriatic plate and the European plate...

. The Northern Limestone Alps are separated from the Central Eastern Alps by the Greywacke zone
Greywacke zone
The greywacke zone is a band of Paleozoic metamorphosed sedimentary rocks that forms an east-west band through the Austrian Alps. The greywacke zone crops out between the Mesozoic rocks of the Northern Calcareous Alps and the Austroalpine and Penninic basement rocks of the Central Eastern Alps....

.

The Western Alps is commonly subdivided with respect to geography
Geography
Geography is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes...

:
  • Ligurian Alps
    Ligurian Alps
    The Ligurian Alps are a mountain range in northwestern Italy. A small part is located in France. They form the south-western extremity of the Alps, separated from the Apennines by the Colle di Cadibona. The Col de Tende separates them from the Maritime Alps...

  • Maritime Alps
    Maritime Alps
    The Maritime Alps are a mountain range in the southwestern part of the Alps. They form the border between the French département Alpes-Maritimes and the Italian province of Cuneo. The Col de Tende separates them from the Ligurian Alps; the Maddalena Pass separates them from the Cottian Alps...

  • Cottian Alps
    Cottian Alps
    The Cottian Alps are a mountain range in the southwestern part of the Alps. They form the border between France and Italy...

  • Dauphiné Alps
    Dauphiné Alps
    The Dauphiné Alps are a group of mountain ranges in southeastern France, west of the main chain of the Alps. They are separated from the Cottian Alps in the east by the Col du Galibier and the upper Durance valley; from the western Graian Alps in the north-east by the river Arc; from the lower...

  • Graian Alps
    Graian Alps
    The Graian Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in France , Italy , and Switzerland...

  • Chablais Alps
    Chablais Alps
    The Chablais Alps are a mountain range in the western Alps. They are situated between Lake Geneva and the Mont Blanc Massif. The Col des Montets separates them from the Mont Blanc Massif in the south, and the Rhône valley separates them from the Bernese Alps in the east.The Chablais Alps are...

  • Pennine Alps
    Pennine Alps
    The Pennine Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in Switzerland and Italy...

  • Bernese Alps
    Bernese Alps
    The Bernese Alps are a group of mountain ranges in the western part of the Alps, in Switzerland. Although the name suggests that they are located in the Bernese Oberland region of the canton of Bern, portions of the Bernese Alps are in the adjacent cantons of Valais, Lucerne, Obwalden, Fribourg and...

  • Lepontine Alps
    Lepontine Alps
    The Lepontine Alps are a mountain range in the central part of the Alps. They are located in Switzerland and Italy .On the north the upper Rhône valley separate them from the Bernese Alps and the Furka Pass and the upper Reuss valley separates them from the Urner Alps; on the west the Simplon Pass...

  • Glarus Alps
    Glarus Alps
    The Glarus Alps are a mountain range in central Switzerland. They extend from the Oberalp Pass to the Klausen Pass, and are bordered by the Urner Alps to the west, the Lepontine Alps to the south and the Appenzell Alps to the northeast...

  • Appenzell Alps
    Appenzell Alps
    The Appenzell Alps are a mountain range in Switzerland on the northern edge of the Alps. They extend into the cantons of Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Appenzell Innerrhoden and St...

    .

Series of lower mountain ranges run parallel to the main chain of the Alps, including the French Prealps
French Prealps
The French Prealps are a group of subalpine mountain ranges of medium elevation located immediately west of the French Alps. They roughly stretch from Lake Geneva southwest to the Isère and Drôme Rivers; east to a line running from Chamonix, to Albertville, to Grenoble, to Gap, to Barcelonette;...

 in France, the Jura Mountains
Jura mountains
The Jura Mountains are a small mountain range located north of the Alps, separating the Rhine and Rhone rivers and forming part of the watershed of each...

 in Switzerland and France. (See Alpine geography
Geography of the Alps
The Alps cover a large area. This article describes the delimitation of the Alps as a whole and of subdivisions of the range, follows the course of the main chain of the Alps and discusses the lakes and glaciers found in the region....

.)

The geologic subdivision is different and makes no difference between the Western and Eastern Alps: the Helveticum
Helvetic nappes
The Helvetic zone, Helvetic system or the Helveticum is a geologic subdivision of the Alps. The Helvetic zone crops out mainly in Switzerland, hence the name . Rocks in the Helvetic zone are sedimentary and were originally deposited at the southern margin of the European plate...

 in the north, the Penninicum
Penninic nappes
The Penninic nappes or the Penninicum are one of three nappe stacks and geological zones in which the Alps can be divided. In the western Alps the Penninic nappes are more obviously present than in the eastern Alps , where they crop out as a narrow band...

 and Austroalpine system
Austroalpine nappes
The Austroalpine nappes are a geological nappe stack in the European Alps. The Alps contain three such stacks, of which the Austroalpine nappes are structurally on top of the other two...

 in the center and, south of the Periadriatic Seam, the Southern Alpine system
Southern Alps (geology)
The Southern Alps are a geological subdivision of the European Alps. The Southern Alps are the part of the Alps that are found south of the Periadriatic Seam, a major geological faultzone across the Alps...

 and parts of the Dinarides (see Alpine geology
Geology of the Alps
The Alps form part of a Tertiary orogenic belt of mountain chains, called the Alpide belt, that stretches through southern Europe and Asia from the Atlantic all the way to the Himalayas. This belt of mountain chains was formed during the Alpine orogeny. A gap in these mountain chains in central...

). Geographically, the Jura Mountains
Jura mountains
The Jura Mountains are a small mountain range located north of the Alps, separating the Rhine and Rhone rivers and forming part of the watershed of each...

 do not belong to the Alps; geologically, however, they do.

Main chain




The secondary chain of the Alps follows the watershed from the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

 to the Wienerwald
Wienerwald
The Vienna Woods are forested highlands that form the northeastern foothills of the Northern Limestone Alps in the states of Lower Austria and Vienna. The long and wide hill range is heavily wooded and a popular recreation area with the Viennese....

, passing over many of the highest and most famous peaks in the Alps. From the Colle di Cadibona to Col de Tende
Col de Tende
Col de Tende is a high mountain pass in the Alps, on the border of France and Italy.It separates the Maritime Alps from the Ligurian Alps. It connects Nice and Tende in Alpes-Maritimes with Cuneo in Piedmont....

 it runs westwards, before turning to the northwest and then, near the Colle della Maddalena, to the north. Upon reaching the Swiss border, the line of the main chain heads approximately east-northeast, a heading it follows until its end near Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

.

Principal passes


The Alps does not form an impassable barrier; It has been traversed for war and commerce
Commerce
While business refers to the value-creating activities of an organization for profit, commerce means the whole system of an economy that constitutes an environment for business. The system includes legal, economic, political, social, cultural, and technological systems that are in operation in any...

, and later by pilgrim
Pilgrim
A pilgrim is a traveler who is on a journey to a holy place. Typically, this is a physical journeying to some place of special significance to the adherent of a particular religious belief system...

s, students and tourists. Crossing places by road, train or foot are called passes. These are depressions in the mountains into which a valley leads from the plains and hilly pre-mountainous zones.

Four-thousanders



The Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme
Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme
The UIAA or Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme, is the organization that represents several million mountaineers and climbers, world-wide, on international issues. Formed in 1932 in Chamonix, France, it now has over 88 members associations from some 76 countries, all of national...

 (UIAA) has defined a list of 82 "official" Alpine 4,000-metre (13,123 ft) summits. The list contains many subpeaks with little prominence
Topographic prominence
In topography, prominence, also known as autonomous height, relative height, shoulder drop , or prime factor , categorizes the height of the mountain's or hill's summit by the elevation between it and the lowest contour line encircling it and no higher summit...

, but important for mountaineering
Mountaineering
Mountaineering or mountain climbing is the sport, hobby or profession of hiking, skiing, and climbing mountains. While mountaineering began as attempts to reach the highest point of unclimbed mountains it has branched into specialisations that address different aspects of the mountain and consists...

. Here are the twelve four-thousanders with at least 1000 metres (3,281 ft) of prominence.
Name Height (metres, feet) Range
Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco , meaning "White Mountain", is the highest mountain in the Alps, Western Europe and the European Union. It rises above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence...

4810.45 m (15,782 ft) Graian Alps
Graian Alps
The Graian Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in France , Italy , and Switzerland...

Monte Rosa
Monte Rosa
The Monte Rosa Massif is a mountain massif located in the eastern part of the Pennine Alps. It is located between Switzerland and Italy...

4634 m (15,203 ft) Pennine Alps
Pennine Alps
The Pennine Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in Switzerland and Italy...

Dom 4545 m (14,911 ft) Pennine Alps
Pennine Alps
The Pennine Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in Switzerland and Italy...

Weisshorn
Weisshorn
The Weisshorn is a mountain in the Pennine Alps, in Switzerland. With its summit, it is one of the major peaks in the Alps and overtops the nearby Matterhorn by some 30 metres. It was first climbed in 1861 from Randa by John Tyndall, accompanied by the guides J.J...

4506 m (14,783 ft) Pennine Alps
Pennine Alps
The Pennine Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in Switzerland and Italy...

Matterhorn
Matterhorn
The Matterhorn , Monte Cervino or Mont Cervin , is a mountain in the Pennine Alps on the border between Switzerland and Italy. Its summit is 4,478 metres high, making it one of the highest peaks in the Alps. The four steep faces, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points...

4478 m (14,692 ft) Pennine Alps
Pennine Alps
The Pennine Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in Switzerland and Italy...

Grand Combin
Grand Combin
The Grand Combin is a mountain in the western Pennine Alps in Switzerland. With its high summit it is one of the highest peaks in the Alps and the second most prominent of its range...

4314 m (14,154 ft) Pennine Alps
Pennine Alps
The Pennine Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in Switzerland and Italy...

Finsteraarhorn
Finsteraarhorn
The Finsteraarhorn is the highest mountain in the Bernese Alps and the highest mountain in the canton of Berne. It is also the highest summit in the Alps lying outside the main chain, or watershed. The Finsteraarhorn is the ninth highest and third most prominent peak in the Alps...

4273 m (14,019 ft) Bernese Alps
Bernese Alps
The Bernese Alps are a group of mountain ranges in the western part of the Alps, in Switzerland. Although the name suggests that they are located in the Bernese Oberland region of the canton of Bern, portions of the Bernese Alps are in the adjacent cantons of Valais, Lucerne, Obwalden, Fribourg and...

Aletschhorn
Aletschhorn
The Aletschhorn is a mountain in the Alps in Switzerland, lying within the Jungfrau-Aletsch region, which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO...

4193 m (13,757 ft) Bernese Alps
Bernese Alps
The Bernese Alps are a group of mountain ranges in the western part of the Alps, in Switzerland. Although the name suggests that they are located in the Bernese Oberland region of the canton of Bern, portions of the Bernese Alps are in the adjacent cantons of Valais, Lucerne, Obwalden, Fribourg and...

Barre des Écrins
Barre des Écrins
The Barre des Écrins is a mountain in the French Alps, the highest point of the Massif des Écrins, and the most southerly alpine peak in Europe that is higher than 4,000 metres.- Geography :...

4102 m (13,458 ft) Dauphiné Alps
Dauphiné Alps
The Dauphiné Alps are a group of mountain ranges in southeastern France, west of the main chain of the Alps. They are separated from the Cottian Alps in the east by the Col du Galibier and the upper Durance valley; from the western Graian Alps in the north-east by the river Arc; from the lower...

Gran Paradiso
Gran Paradiso
The Gran Paradiso is a mountain group between the Aosta Valley and Piedmont regions of north-west Italy. The peak, the 7th highest mountain in the Graian Alps with an elevation of 4,061 m, is close to Mont Blanc on the nearby border with France. On the French side of the border, the park is...

4061 m (13,323 ft) Graian Alps
Graian Alps
The Graian Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in France , Italy , and Switzerland...

Piz Bernina
Piz Bernina
Piz Bernina is the highest mountain of the Eastern Alps and the highest point of the Bernina Range the highest peak in south Rhetic Alps. It is also the farthest easterly mountain higher than 4,000 m in the Alps, the highest point of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, and the fifth-most prominent...

4049 m (13,284 ft) Bernina Range
Bernina Range
The Bernina Range is a mountain range in the Alps of eastern Switzerland and northern Italy. It is considered to be part of the Central Eastern Alps. It is one of the highest ranges of the Alps, covered with many glaciers. Piz Bernina , its highest peak, is the most easterly four thousand-metre...

Weissmies
Weissmies
The Weissmies is a mountain in the Pennine Alps in the canton of Valais in Switzerland near the village of Saas-Fee. It is the easternmost four-thousander of its range.- Geography :...

4017 m (13,179 ft) Pennine Alps
Pennine Alps
The Pennine Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in Switzerland and Italy...



Karl Blodig
Karl Blodig
Karl Blodig was an Austrian mountaineer, optician and journalist.Blodig was the first to successfully climb all the Alpine peaks of over 4000 meters, completing his final summit in around 1900. He describes these climbs in his book "Die Viertausender der Alpen ", first published in 1923....

 was the first person to climb all the major four-thousand metre peaks, circa 1900.

Geology and orogeny


The Alps form a part of a Tertiary
Tertiary
The Tertiary is a deprecated term for a geologic period 65 million to 2.6 million years ago. The Tertiary covered the time span between the superseded Secondary period and the Quaternary...

 orogenic
Orogeny
Orogeny refers to forces and events leading to a severe structural deformation of the Earth's crust due to the engagement of tectonic plates. Response to such engagement results in the formation of long tracts of highly deformed rock called orogens or orogenic belts...

 belt of mountain chains, called the Alpide belt
Alpide belt
The Alpide belt is a mountain range which extends along the southern margin of Eurasia. Stretching from Java to Sumatra through the Himalayas, the Mediterranean, and out into the Atlantic, it includes the Alps, the Carpathians, the mountains of Asia Minor and Iran, the Hindu Kush, the Himalayas,...

, that stretches through southern Europe and Asia from the Atlantic
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 all the way to the Himalayas
Himalayas
The Himalaya Range or Himalaya Mountains Sanskrit: Devanagari: हिमालय, literally "abode of snow"), usually called the Himalayas or Himalaya for short, is a mountain range in Asia, separating the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau...

. This belt of mountain chains was formed during the Alpine orogeny
Alpine orogeny
The Alpine orogeny is an orogenic phase in the Late Mesozoic and Tertiary that formed the mountain ranges of the Alpide belt...

. A gap in these mountain chains in central Europe separates the Alps from the Carpathians
Carpathian Mountains
The Carpathian Mountains or Carpathians are a range of mountains forming an arc roughly long across Central and Eastern Europe, making them the second-longest mountain range in Europe...

 off to the east. Orogeny took place continuously and tectonic
Tectonics
Tectonics is a field of study within geology concerned generally with the structures within the lithosphere of the Earth and particularly with the forces and movements that have operated in a region to create these structures.Tectonics is concerned with the orogenies and tectonic development of...

 subsidence
Subsidence
Subsidence is the motion of a surface as it shifts downward relative to a datum such as sea-level. The opposite of subsidence is uplift, which results in an increase in elevation...

 is to blame for the gaps in between.
The Alps arose as a result of the collision of the African
African Plate
The African Plate is a tectonic plate which includes the continent of Africa, as well as oceanic crust which lies between the continent and various surrounding ocean ridges.-Boundaries:...

 and European
Eurasian Plate
The Eurasian Plate is a tectonic plate which includes most of the continent of Eurasia , with the notable exceptions of the Indian subcontinent, the Arabian subcontinent, and the area east of the Chersky Range in East Siberia...

 tectonic plates, in which the western part of the Tethys Ocean
Tethys Ocean
The Tethys Ocean was an ocean that existed between the continents of Gondwana and Laurasia during the Mesozoic era before the opening of the Indian Ocean.-Modern theory:...

, which was formerly in between these continents, disappeared. Enormous stress was exerted on sediment
Sediment
Sediment is naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently transported by the action of fluids such as wind, water, or ice, and/or by the force of gravity acting on the particle itself....

s of the Tethys Ocean
Tethys Ocean
The Tethys Ocean was an ocean that existed between the continents of Gondwana and Laurasia during the Mesozoic era before the opening of the Indian Ocean.-Modern theory:...

 basin and its Mesozoic
Mesozoic
The Mesozoic era is an interval of geological time from about 250 million years ago to about 65 million years ago. It is often referred to as the age of reptiles because reptiles, namely dinosaurs, were the dominant terrestrial and marine vertebrates of the time...

 and early Cenozoic
Cenozoic
The Cenozoic era is the current and most recent of the three Phanerozoic geological eras and covers the period from 65.5 mya to the present. The era began in the wake of the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous that saw the demise of the last non-avian dinosaurs and...

 strata
Stratum
In geology and related fields, a stratum is a layer of sedimentary rock or soil with internally consistent characteristics that distinguish it from other layers...

 were pushed against the stable Eurasia
Eurasia
Eurasia is a continent or supercontinent comprising the traditional continents of Europe and Asia ; covering about 52,990,000 km2 or about 10.6% of the Earth's surface located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres...

n landmass by the northward-moving Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

n landmass. Most of this occurred during the Oligocene
Oligocene
The Oligocene is a geologic epoch of the Paleogene Period and extends from about 34 million to 23 million years before the present . As with other older geologic periods, the rock beds that define the period are well identified but the exact dates of the start and end of the period are slightly...

 and Miocene
Miocene
The Miocene is a geological epoch of the Neogene Period and extends from about . The Miocene was named by Sir Charles Lyell. Its name comes from the Greek words and and means "less recent" because it has 18% fewer modern sea invertebrates than the Pliocene. The Miocene follows the Oligocene...

 epochs. The pressure formed great recumbent folds, or nappe
Nappe
In geology, a nappe is a large sheetlike body of rock that has been moved more than or 5 km from its original position. Nappes form during continental plate collisions, when folds are sheared so much that they fold back over on themselves and break apart. The resulting structure is a...

s
, that rose out of what had become the Tethys Sea and pushed northward, often breaking and sliding one over the other to form gigantic thrust fault
Thrust fault
A thrust fault is a type of fault, or break in the Earth's crust across which there has been relative movement, in which rocks of lower stratigraphic position are pushed up and over higher strata. They are often recognized because they place older rocks above younger...

s. Crystalline basement
Basement (geology)
In geology, the terms basement and crystalline basement are used to define the rocks below a sedimentary platform or cover, or more generally any rock below sedimentary rocks or sedimentary basins that are metamorphic or igneous in origin...

 rocks, which are exposed in the higher central regions, are the rocks forming Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco , meaning "White Mountain", is the highest mountain in the Alps, Western Europe and the European Union. It rises above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence...

, the Matterhorn
Matterhorn
The Matterhorn , Monte Cervino or Mont Cervin , is a mountain in the Pennine Alps on the border between Switzerland and Italy. Its summit is 4,478 metres high, making it one of the highest peaks in the Alps. The four steep faces, rising above the surrounding glaciers, face the four compass points...

, and high peaks in the Pennine Alps
Pennine Alps
The Pennine Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in Switzerland and Italy...

 and Hohe Tauern
Hohe Tauern
The Hohe Tauern or High Tauern are a mountain range on the main chain of the Central Eastern Alps, comprising the highest peaks east of the Brenner Pass. The crest forms the southern border of the Austrian state of Salzburg with Carinthia and East Tyrol, while a small part in the southwest belongs...

.

The formation of the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

 is a more recent development, and does not mark the northern shore of the African landmass.

Climate


The Alps is split into five climate zones, each with a different kind of environment. The climate, plant life and animal life vary on different sections or zones of the mountain.
  1. The section of the Alps that is above 3,000 metres is called the névé zone. This area, which has the coldest climate, is permanently coated with compressed snow. Plants are therefore scarce in the névé zone.
  2. The alpine zone
    Alpine tundra
    Alpine tundra is a natural region that does not contain trees because it is at high altitude. Alpine tundra is distinguished from arctic tundra, because alpine soils are generally better drained than arctic soils...

     lies between the height of 2,000 and 3,000 metres. This zone is less cold than in the névé zone. Wildflowers and grasses grow here.
  3. Just below the alpine zone is the subalpine zone, 1,500 to 2,000 metres high. Forests of fir trees and spruce trees grow in the subalpine zone as the temperature slowly goes up.
  4. At about 1,000 to 1,500 metres high is the arable zone. Millions of oak trees sprout in this area. This is also where farming takes place.
  5. Below 1,000 metres are the lowlands. Here, a larger variety of plants are produced. Aside from plants, villages are also in the lowlands because the temperature is more bearable for both humans and animals.


The Alps is a classic example of what happens when a temperate area at lower altitude gives way to higher-elevation terrain. Elevations around the world which have cold climates similar to those found in polar
Polar region
Earth's polar regions are the areas of the globe surrounding the poles also known as frigid zones. The North Pole and South Pole being the centers, these regions are dominated by the polar ice caps, resting respectively on the Arctic Ocean and the continent of Antarctica...

 areas have been called Alpine
Alpine climate
Alpine climate is the average weather for a region above the tree line. This climate is also referred to as mountain climate or highland climate....

. A rise from sea level
Sea level
Mean sea level is a measure of the average height of the ocean's surface ; used as a standard in reckoning land elevation...

 into the upper regions of the atmosphere
Earth's atmosphere
The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere protects life on Earth by absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention , and reducing temperature extremes between day and night...

 causes the temperature
Temperature
Temperature is a physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold. Objects of low temperature are cold, while various degrees of higher temperatures are referred to as warm or hot...

 to decrease (see adiabatic lapse rate). The effect of mountain chains on prevailing winds is to carry warm air belonging to the lower region into an upper zone, where it expands in volume at the cost of a proportionate loss of heat, often accompanied by the precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

 in the form of snow
Snow
Snow is a form of precipitation within the Earth's atmosphere in the form of crystalline water ice, consisting of a multitude of snowflakes that fall from clouds. Since snow is composed of small ice particles, it is a granular material. It has an open and therefore soft structure, unless packed by...

 or rain
Rain
Rain is liquid precipitation, as opposed to non-liquid kinds of precipitation such as snow, hail and sleet. Rain requires the presence of a thick layer of the atmosphere to have temperatures above the melting point of water near and above the Earth's surface...

.

Political and cultural history


Little is known of the early dwellers of the Alps, save from scanty accounts preserved by Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 and Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 historians and geographers. A few details have come down to us of the conquest of many of the Alpine tribes by Augustus
Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

. Also, recent research into Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA
Mitochondrial DNA is the DNA located in organelles called mitochondria, structures within eukaryotic cells that convert the chemical energy from food into a form that cells can use, adenosine triphosphate...

 indicates that MtDNA Haplogroup K
Haplogroup K (mtDNA)
In human mitochondrial genetics, Haplogroup K is a human mitochondrial DNA haplogroup, defined by HVR1 mutations 16224C and 16311C.-Origin:It is the most common subclade of haplogroup U8, and it has an estimated age of c. 12,000 years BP....

 very likely originated in or near the southeastern Alps approximately 12–15,000 years ago.

During the Second Punic War
Second Punic War
The Second Punic War, also referred to as The Hannibalic War and The War Against Hannibal, lasted from 218 to 201 BC and involved combatants in the western and eastern Mediterranean. This was the second major war between Carthage and the Roman Republic, with the participation of the Berbers on...

 in 218 BC, the Carthaginian general Hannibal successfully crossed the Alps
Hannibal crossing the Alps
Hannibal crossing the Alps, in 218 BC, was one of the major achievements of the Second Punic War, and one of the most celebrated achievements of any military force in ancient warfare.-Background:...

 along with an army numbering 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 37 war elephants. This was one of the most celebrated achievements of any military force in ancient warfare
Ancient warfare
Ancient warfare is war as conducted from the beginnings of recorded history to the end of the ancient period. In Europe and the Near East, the end of antiquity is often equated with the fall of Rome in 476, and the wars of the Eastern Roman Empire Byzantium in its South Western Asian and North...

.

Much of the Alpine region was gradually settled by Germanic tribes (Lombards
Lombards
The Lombards , also referred to as Longobards, were a Germanic tribe of Scandinavian origin, who from 568 to 774 ruled a Kingdom in Italy...

, Alemanni, Bavarii
Bavarii
The Bavarii were a Germanic tribe whose name emerged late in Teutonic tribal times. The full name originally was the Germanic *baio-warioz. This name has been handed down as Baiwaren, Baioaren, Bioras, latinised Bavarii, Baioarii. or Bavarii, Bavarians, Bajuwaren, Bajuvarii, Bajuwaren and Baiern....

) from the 6th to the 13th centuries, the latest expansion corresponding to the Walser
Walser
The Walser are German-speaking people who live in the Alps of Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein and Austria. The Walser people are named after the Wallis , the uppermost Rhône River valley...

 migrations.

Not until after the final breakup of the Carolingian Empire
Carolingian Empire
Carolingian Empire is a historiographical term which has been used to refer to the realm of the Franks under the Carolingian dynasty in the Early Middle Ages. This dynasty is seen as the founders of France and Germany, and its beginning date is based on the crowning of Charlemagne, or Charles the...

 in the 10th and 11th century can the local history of the Alps be traced out.

Exploration


The higher regions of the Alps were long left to the exclusive attention of the people of the adjoining valleys even when Alpine travellers (as distinguished from Alpine climbers) began to visit these valleys. The two men who first explored the regions of ice and snow were H.B. de Saussure (1740–1799) in the Pennine Alps
Pennine Alps
The Pennine Alps are a mountain range in the western part of the Alps. They are located in Switzerland and Italy...

 and the Benedictine monk of Disentis Placidus a Spescha
Placidus a Spescha
Placidus a Spescha was a benedictine monk and early Alpine explorer born in Trun, near Disentis, in the valley of the upper Rhine in Graubünden...

 (1752–1833), most of whose ascents were made before 1806 in the valleys at the sources of the Rhine.

Tourism


The Alps are popular both in summer and in winter as a destination for sightseeing and sports. Winter sports (Alpine and Nordic skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, snowshoeing, ski tours) can be practised in most regions from December to April. In summer, the Alps are popular with hikers, mountain bikers, paragliders, and mountaineers, while many alpine lakes attract swimmers, sailors and surfers. The Alps are usually prominently featured in the three-week road bicycling race le Tour de France
Tour de France
The Tour de France is an annual bicycle race held in France and nearby countries. First staged in 1903, the race covers more than and lasts three weeks. As the best known and most prestigious of cycling's three "Grand Tours", the Tour de France attracts riders and teams from around the world. The...

, held annually in July. The lower regions and larger towns of the Alps are well served by motorways and main roads, but higher passes
Mountain pass
A mountain pass is a route through a mountain range or over a ridge. If following the lowest possible route, a pass is locally the highest point on that route...

 and by-roads can be treacherous even in summer. Many passes are closed in winter. A multitude of airports around the Alps (and some within), as well as long-distance rail links from all neighbouring countries, afford large numbers of travellers easy access from abroad. The Alps typically see more than 50 million visitors a year.

Flora



A natural vegetation limit with altitude is given by the presence of the chief deciduous
Deciduous
Deciduous means "falling off at maturity" or "tending to fall off", and is typically used in reference to trees or shrubs that lose their leaves seasonally, and to the shedding of other plant structures such as petals after flowering or fruit when ripe...

 trees—oak
Oak
An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus , of which about 600 species exist. "Oak" may also appear in the names of species in related genera, notably Lithocarpus...

, beech
Beech
Beech is a genus of ten species of deciduous trees in the family Fagaceae, native to temperate Europe, Asia and North America.-Habit:...

, ash
Ash tree
Fraxinus is a genus flowering plants in the olive and lilac family, Oleaceae. It contains 45-65 species of usually medium to large trees, mostly deciduous though a few subtropical species are evergreen. The tree's common English name, ash, goes back to the Old English æsc, while the generic name...

 and sycamore maple
Sycamore Maple
Acer pseudoplatanus, the sycamore maple, is a species of maple native to central Europe and southwestern Asia, from France east to Ukraine, and south in mountains to northern Spain, northern Turkey, and the Caucasus. It is not related to other trees called sycamore or plane tree in the Platanus...

. These do not reach exactly to the same elevation, nor are they often found growing together; but their upper limit corresponds accurately enough to the change from a temperate to a colder climate that is further proved by a change in the presence of wild herbaceous vegetation. This limit usually lies about 1200 metres (3,937 ft) above the sea on the north side of the Alps, but on the southern slopes it often rises to 1500 metres (4,921.3 ft), sometimes even to 1700 metres (5,577.4 ft).

This region is not always marked by the presence of the characteristic trees. Human interference has nearly exterminated them in many areas, and, except for the beech forests of the Austrian Alps, forests of deciduous trees are rarely found. In many districts where such woods once existed, they have been replaced by the Scots pine
Scots Pine
Pinus sylvestris, commonly known as the Scots Pine, is a species of pine native to Europe and Asia, ranging from Scotland, Ireland and Portugal in the west, east to eastern Siberia, south to the Caucasus Mountains, and as far north as well inside the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia...

 and Norway spruce
Norway Spruce
Norway Spruce is a species of spruce native to Europe. It is also commonly referred to as the European Spruce.- Description :...

, which are less sensitive to the ravages of goats who are the worst enemies of such trees.

Above the forestry, there is often a band of short pine trees (Pinus mugo), which is in turn superseded by dwarf shrub
Shrub
A shrub or bush is distinguished from a tree by its multiple stems and shorter height, usually under 5–6 m tall. A large number of plants may become either shrubs or trees, depending on the growing conditions they experience...

s, typically Rhododendron ferrugineum
Rhododendron ferrugineum
Rhododendron ferrugineum is an evergreen shrub that grows just above the tree line in the Alps, Pyrenees, Jura and northern Apennines, on acid soils. It may grow up to 1 m tall and produces clusters of pinkish-red, bell-shaped flowers throughout the summer...

(on acid soils) or Rhododendron hirsutum
Rhododendron hirsutum
Hairy Alpenrose or Rhododendron hirsutum is one of the species of rhododendron native to the mountains of Europe. It occurs in the eastern and central Alps, in the Tatra and the Balkans. It grows on carbonate-rich soils....

(on alkaline soils). Above this is the alpine meadow, and even higher, the vegetation becomes more and more sparse. At these higher altitudes, the plants tend to form isolated cushions. In the Alps, several species of flowering plants have been recorded above 4000 metres (13,123.4 ft), including Ranunculus glacialis
Ranunculus glacialis
Ranunculus glacialis, the glacier crowfoot or glacier buttercup, is a plant of the family Ranunculaceae.-Distribution:Ranunculus glacialis is an arctic-alpine species, found in the high mountains of southern Europe as well as on the Scandinavian peninsula, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Jan Mayen,...

, Androsace alpina
Androsace alpina
Alpine Rock-Jasmine or Androsace alpina is an alpine plant, endemic to the Alps.-Distribution:In the wild, Androsace alpina grows on silicaceous substrates, particularly granite, and is one of the few plants in the Alps to grow above 4000 metres, including near the summit of the Matterhorn...

and Saxifraga biflora.

See also

  • Swiss Alps
    Swiss Alps
    The Swiss Alps are the portion of the Alps mountain range that lies within Switzerland. Because of their central position within the entire Alpine range, they are also known as the Central Alps....

  • French Alps
    French Alps
    The French Alps are those portions of the Alps mountain range which stand within France, located in the Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur regions....

  • French Prealps
    French Prealps
    The French Prealps are a group of subalpine mountain ranges of medium elevation located immediately west of the French Alps. They roughly stretch from Lake Geneva southwest to the Isère and Drôme Rivers; east to a line running from Chamonix, to Albertville, to Grenoble, to Gap, to Barcelonette;...

  • Alps (film)
    Alps (film)
    Alps is a 2011 Greek drama film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. It stars Aggeliki Papoulia and Ariane Labed, and was co-written by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou...

    , a 2011 Greek film
  • The Alps
    The Alps
    The Alps is a 2007 American documentary film about the climbing of the north face of the Eiger in the Bernese Alps by John Harlin III, son of John Harlin who died on the same ascent 40 years earlier...

     (film), a 2007 American film
  • List of national parks of the Alps
  • Alpine Space Programme EU co-funded programme to enhance the competitiveness and attractiveness of the alpine region

External links