The highest peak rises at 4,810 meters (15,781 ft) , the Mont Blanc summit .
There are many significant peaks over 4,000 m (13,123 ft) above sea level.
The Alps form a barrier 1 200 km (725miles) between the Mediterranean and the Danube.
Great wall between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean , the alps have long harbored diverse inhabitants in magnificent isolation. Eigh countries partition this 85,000 square mile crescent where nature has always ruled supreme.
Runoff from the remaining 1,200 glaciers feeds major European rivers.
Each cultural region, oblivious of political borders, has evolved its own distinctive traits.
Alps have two distinct parts :
We can divide the Alps in three distinct parts :
-The Western Alps form an arc between French Alps and Switzerland Alps including Italy. They are higher with the Mont-Blanc for example.
-The Eastern and Southern Alps is from Switzerland .Italy and north of Slovenia to the southern Austria.
Some 70 million years ago the area was a seabed , wedged between two colliding plates of the earth’s crust.
The limestone seafloor gradually buckled and thrust upward. Some portions folded on top of each other , exposing gneiss , granite and schist layers in the high terrain. Filling the valleys during the Ice Age , glaciers carved the faces of mountains , scoured finger lakes and the disctinctive high mountain pastures calles alps.
The range is still rising , a millimeter or two yearly.
In Paleolithic times nomadic hunters followed game into the high country. As traders the Celts blazed transalpine routes through treacherous passes. To extend commerce and control, the Romans paved roads. Over the centuries the region was crossed by the armies of Hannibal , Caesar Augustus, Attila the Hun , Charlemagne , and Napoleon.
Yet until the 1700s the peaks were perceived as the dwelling place of dragons and demons.
For centuries Lucerne‘s city council outlawed the ascent of Mount Pilatus, reputed home of an evil spirit. In 1680 the Bishop of Annecy was brought to Chamonix to exorcise the supernatural force of the town’s overhanging glacier. Such legendary discouraged high altitude travel.
Alpine isolation was breached in the 1700s , when curiosity lured geologists and botanists to the heights.Writing of the mountains as appealing landscapes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and 19th-century Romantic poets enticed travelers.
The 1786 conquest of Mont Blanc western Europe’s highest summit by Frenchmen Michel-Gabriel Paccard and Jacques Balmat ushered in mountaineering’s pionneer era.
It was the British who popularized climbing and skiing as sports. In 1865 Edward Whymper ascended the “unconquerable” Matterhorn , and in 1922 Arnold Lunn developed slalom racing at Mürren.
For local people steep mountainsides , poor soils , and long winters dictate a rural economy dominated by cattle. Dairy farming , sheepherding , and lumbering, as well as vineyards, orchards, and grain growing, provide income. Wood , abundant in many areas, is used to build chalets and to carve utilitarian objects and religious figurines.
As in antiquity many beasts are blessed before they depart and adorned with bells and flowers on their return.
Favorite attractions include that premier Alpine landmark , the Matterhorn. Hiking and skiing resorts , such as Zermatt , Courmayeur , Breuil Cervinia , Megève , and Chamonix , have won global recognition.
National Park protects rare flora and the once endangered ibex.
The region became an important crossroads. About 25 a.c the Romans , whose monuments abound , established Augusta Praetoria (Aosta), a vital outpost in the western Alps. Medieval castles controlled rights of passage. Dogs trained at the hopsice in the Great St.Bernard Pass once recued the stranded.
In Aosta Valley schools , French and Italian are taught in tandem. In the Issime area the ancient dialect and customs of the Walser, a German-Swiss group, are preserved. Across the mountains, in Valais, two-thirds of the people speak French , the remainder German.
The Maritime Alps just straight out of the Mediterranean. By blocking the chilling mistral winds from the north , they ensure the Riviera’s exceptionally mild climate.
The 19th century British elite came for therapeutic reasons and today many have become artists’ retreats.
Citrus fruits , such as Menton’s famed lemons, are harvested along with olives and grapes introduced by the Romans. The coast’s cut flowers are cultivated for the European florist trade and the French perfume industry , based in Grasse.
In the Inn Valley-Bavarian Alps , traditions remain strong. Roman Catholic celebrations honor patron saints and holy days. Since the Black Plague bypassed Oberammergau in 1634, townspeople have performed the Passion play each decade; the next will be presented in 1990.
Yodeling, folksinging and brass bands featuring cowbells and zitherns enliven seasonal festivities. Men dress in the traditional lederhosen , loden jackets , and hats adorned with hunting trophies , the women wear dirndls. Coniferous forests supply crafts and heavy industries. An Oberammergau school teaches wood craving and Mittenwald specializes in violins.
Tirol‘s dense network of mountain huts has helped popularize hiking. Visitors also tour Bavaria’s flamboyant castles of King Ludwig II as well as Innsbruck‘s architectural legacies of the Habsburgs , one of Europe’s most powerful dynasties.
Winter Sports attract so many travelers. The Zugsptitze , Germany’s highest summit, challenges skiers nearly year-round. Garmisch-Partenkirchen hoested the 1936 Winter Olympics and Innsbrück presented the games in 1964 and 1976. But the first winter olympic was in Chamonix in 1924.
The Rhaetian Alps form one of the Continent’s major watersheds. Melting glaciers feed the Rhine and Inn Rivers. Historically these rivers and valleys have served as channels of communication, just as mountain passes and have controlled trans-Alpine trade and travel.
In the Grisons (Graudünden), most of the people converse in German many also in Italian or Romansh , an official Swiss language rooted in Latin and spoken by descendants of the indegenous population.
Erosion carved Italy’s Dolomites into unlikely formations. Sun and season color their limestone brilliant hues. Steep sides prevent extensive glaciation, except on Marmolada, the higest peak.
Provincial laws protect ethnic heritages.
The German-speaking majority of the Pusteria and Isarco Valleys preserve their Tirolean culture.
Each village honors its patron saint with a procession and reveres craftsmen who produce wrought iron , woolen textiles, and especially woodwork.
The Salzkammergut-Hohe Tauern region, a cultural extension of the Inn Valley and the Bavarian Alps , contains valuable resources such as salt , an ancient commodity and therapeutic mineral.
Along the scores of mountain lakes , including Atter , Traun , Zeller, and St Wolfgang , swimming and boating resorts flourish. Austria generates hydroelectricity across the Hohe Tauern Valley and ranks among Europe’s top exporters.
Around Berchtesgaden , remembered as Adolph Hitler’s retreat, a national park protects Alpine fauna and flora , such as edelweiss.
In winter , resorts at Kitzbühel and Zell am See draw thousands. Each summer Salzburg‘s music festival honors native son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The Julian Alps , dominated by Mount Triglav (2 860 m / 9,400 ft) , Slovenia’s higest peak.
The Julian Alps cross Italy and Slovenia.
The name come from Julius Caesar after he created a roman city at the foot of the mountain.
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