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The most southeastern European peninsula is called the Balkan Peninsula. The name was first introduced by the German geographer August Zeune in 1808. Nowadays the area is known as the Balkans or Southeastern Europe.

Geographically speaking the Peninsula is surrounded by the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean Sea including its subdivisions: the Adriatic, the Ionian, the Libyan, and the Aegean Seas. Its northern continental border is still debated but one of the common theories suggest it follows the nearly parallel line of the rivers: the Danube – Sava – Krka – Vipava – Isonzo/Soča. The northern geographical border lies between the Danube Delta (Romania and Ukraine) and the estuary of Isonzo/Soča (Italy), which mark the most eastern and respectively the most western points of the Peninsula. The southernmost point of the continental Balkan area is Cape Mattapan in Greece. Its highest peak is Musala (2925 m) in the Rila Mountains (Bulgaria). The Peninsula is surrounded by the biggest Mediterranean archipelagos: the Greek in the south and the Croatian in the west including a couple thousand islands the biggest of which is Crete (Greece).

This relatively triangular territory accommodates on approx. 550 000 sq. km, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, most of Croatia and Serbia, parts of Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, and even Italy and Ukraine. However, politically, culturally, and historically speaking, the term Balkan generally refers to the first 12 countries.

The area has very diverse landscapes representing nearly all typical European landscapes including high snowy mountain peaks, deep river valleys, fertile plains, steppes, mini desserts, forests and beautiful shores of any kind.

Natural diversity mirrors the cultural diversity of the Peninsula. For millennia the Balkans have been a contact zone between the Mediterranean, Central, Northern and Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia and the Near East. Here historians can find in retrospect arguably any social phenomenon that ever existed in Europe over the last 2000 years. Languages spoken here belong to all major linguistic families in Europe (Slavic, Germanic, Romance, Turkic plus Albanian, Greek and Armenian). Three major Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam and almost all of their denominations have been coexisting for centuries. Nearly the entire Balkan area was under the rule of the Roman Empire in the 1st to 5th centuries, under the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire in the 5th to 6th c. and 11th -12th c. and under the Ottoman Empire from the 15th to 17th c. However, a strong historical footprint in the medieval period (7th through 17th centuries) was left by the medieval Frankish and Bulgarian Empires, Serbian kingdom (an Empire between 1340 and 1371), Croatian and Hungarian kingdoms, Venetian, Genoese and Ragusan (Dubrovnik) republics, the crusader states including the Latin Empire, the Danubian principalities of Wallachia and Moldova and the Mongol Golden Horde. The modern history of the Balkans is regarded as a result of the political chess game between the great powers and liberation/independent movements of Balkan peoples inspired by nationalism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

All this makes Southeastern Europe a unique showroom of Europe’s history and geography.   

  • 1.6 million year old human remains found in Kozarnika cave, Bulgaria are among the oldest human remains in Europe found to date. This is evidence of early human migrations to the rest of Europe through the Balkans.
  • 7th millennium BCE – Europe’s first Neolithic farmers migrated to the Balkans from the Near East and settled here.
  • 6th millennium BCE – the Great Flood in the Black Sea zone. Many scholars associate it with the Biblical flood.
  • 5th millennium BCE – Balkan Chalcolithic civilization turned, for the first time in human history, metal processing into an industry and built Europe’s first proto-towns.
  • The following ancient people developed their civilizations in the Balkan region: Minoans and Ancient Greeks, Macedonians, Illyrians and Thracians, Celts and Romans as well as different Hellenic, Albanian, Germanic, Iranic, Slavic, Armenian, Romance, Jewish and Turkic peoples and communities make the history and culture of Balkans complex and interesting.
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