Southern Europe

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Southern Europe is the southern region of the European continent. Most definitions of Southern Europe, also known as Mediterranean Europe, includes Southern and Eastern Spain, Southern France, Italy, the Adriatic coast of Bosnia and Hesergovina, Croatia, Albania, Greece and East Thrace of European Turkey. Portugal is also usually included despite not having a coast in the Mediterranean.[1]

Geographic features of Southern European countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea
European sub-regions according to EuroVoc (the thesaurus of the European Union). Southern Europe is marked yellow on this map.

Different methods can be used to define Southern Europe, including its political, economic, and cultural attributes. Southern Europe can also be defined by its natural features — its geography, climate, and flora.


Geographically, Southern Europe is the southern half of the landmass of Europe. This definition is relative, although largely based in history, culture, climate, and flora which is shared across the region. It includes southwestern Europe: the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain) and southern France, including the minor territories of Andorra, Gibraltar, and Monaco. It also includes Italy in South-Central and the micro-states of San Marino and the Vatican City. It includes mostly just Greece in Southeastern Europe. However, Albania, Montenegro, the coast of Croatia and the southern tips of Bosnia and Herzegovina and East Thrace in European Turkey can be considered part of southern Europe according to some authors.[2][3][4]

The Major islands in the region are Sardinia, Sicily, Corsica, Crete, and the Balearic islands and the Island countries of Cyprus and Malta.


Southern Europe's most emblematic climate is that of the Mediterranean climate , which has become a typically known characteristic of the area, which is due to the large subtropical semi-permanent centre of high atmospheric pressure found, not in the Mediterranean itself, but in the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores High. The Mediterranean climate covers much of Portugal, Spain, Southeast France, Italy, Albania, Greece, the Western and Southern coastal regions of Turkey as well as the Mediterranean islands. Those areas of Mediterranean climate present similar vegetations and landscapes throughout, including dry hills, small plains, pine forests and olive trees.

Cooler climates can be found in certain parts of Southern European countries, for example within the mountain ranges of Spain and Italy. Additionally, the north coast of Spain experiences a wetter Atlantic climate.


The European floristic regions
  Mediterranean agriculture in coastal and peri-coastal regions

Southern Europe's flora is that of the Mediterranean Region, one of the phytochoria recognized by Armen Takhtajan. The Mediterranean and Submediterranean climate regions in Europe are found in much of Southern Europe, mainly in Southern Portugal, most of Spain, the southern coast of France, Italy, the Croatian coast, much of Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, and the Mediterranean islands.[5]


Country Area
(2016 est.)

(per km²)
 Albania 28,748 2,926,348 111.1 Tirana
 Andorra 468 77,281 179.8 Andorra la Vella
 Croatia 56,594 4,213,265 81 Zagreb
 France (Provence, coastal Languedoc, Northern Catalonia and Corsica) 62,464 7,940,808 127.1 Paris
 Gibraltar (UK) 6.8 34,408 4,328 Gibraltar
 Greece 131,990 11,183,716 85.3 Athens
 Italy 301,338 59,429,938 200.5 Rome
 Malta 316 429,362 1,306.8 Valletta
 Montenegro 13,812 628,615 50 Podgorica
 Portugal 92,090 10,371,627 114 Lisbon
 San Marino 61 33,203 501 City of San Marino
 Spain 504,030 46,347,576 93 Madrid
 Turkey (East Thrace) 23,764 10,620,739 446.9 Ankara
  Vatican City 0.44 801 1877 Vatican City

Largest urban areas[edit]

Rank Urban Area State Population[7] Density
(per km²)
1 İstanbul (European part)  Turkey 8,963,431 2,620
2 Madrid  Spain 6,171,000 4,600
3 Milan  Italy 5,257,000 2,800
4 Barcelona  Spain 4,693,000 4,300
5 Rome  Italy 3,906,000 3,400
6 Naples  Italy 3,706,000 3,600
7 Athens  Greece 3,484,000 5,000
8 Lisbon  Portugal 2,666,000 2,800
9 Marseille  France 1,578,000 3,600
10 Valencia  Spain 1,570,000 5,700


Early history[edit]

Partition of the Roman Empire.

The period known as classical antiquity began with the rise of the city-states of Ancient Greece. Greek influence reached its zenith under the expansive empire of Alexander the Great, spreading throughout Asia.

The Roman Empire came to dominate the entire Mediterranean basin in a vast empire based on Roman law and Roman legions. It promoted trade, tolerance, and Greek culture. By 300 AD the Roman Empire was divided into the Western Roman Empire based in Rome, and the Eastern Roman Empire based in Constantinople. The attacks of the Germanic peoples of Northern Europe led to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476, a date which traditionally marks the end of the classical period and the start of the Middle Ages.

During the Middle Ages, the Eastern Roman Empire survived, though modern historians refer to this state as the Byzantine Empire. In Western Europe, Germanic peoples moved into positions of power in the remnants of the former Western Roman Empire and established kingdoms and empires of their own.

The period known as the Crusades, a series of religiously motivated military expeditions originally intended to bring the Levant back into Christian rule, began. Several Crusader states were founded in the eastern Mediterranean. These were all short-lived. The Crusaders would have a profound impact on many parts of Europe. Their Sack of Constantinople in 1204 brought an abrupt end to the Byzantine Empire. Though it would later be re-established, it would never recover its former glory. The Crusaders would establish trade routes that would develop into the Silk Road and open the way for the merchant republics of Genoa and Venice to become major economic powers. The Reconquista, a related movement, worked to reconquer Iberia for Christendom.

The Late Middle Ages represented a period of upheaval in Europe. The epidemic known as the Black Death and an associated famine caused demographic catastrophe in Europe as the population plummeted. Dynastic struggles and wars of conquest kept many of the states of Europe at war for much of the period. In the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire, a Turkish state originating in Anatolia, encroached steadily on former Byzantine lands, culminating in the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Post-Middle Ages[edit]

Beginning roughly in the 14th century in Florence, and later spreading through Europe with the development of the printing press, a Renaissance of knowledge challenged traditional doctrines in science and theology, with the Arabic texts and thought[8] bringing about rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman knowledge.

The Reconquista of Portugal and Spain led to a series of oceanic explorations resulting in the Age of Discovery that established direct links with Africa, the Americas, and Asia, while religious wars continued to be fought in Europe, which ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. The Spanish crown maintained its hegemony in Europe and was the leading power on the continent until the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which ended a conflict between Spain and France that had begun during the Thirty Years' War. An unprecedented series of major wars and political revolutions took place around Europe and indeed the world in the period between 1610 and 1700. Observers at the time, and many historians since, have argued that wars caused the revolutions.[9]

European overseas expansion led to the rise of colonial empires, producing the Columbian Exchange.[10] The combination of resource inflows from the New World and the Industrial Revolution of Great Britain, allowed a new economy based on manufacturing instead of subsistence agriculture.[11]

The period between 1815 and 1871 saw a large number of revolutionary attempts and independence wars. Balkan nations began to regain independence from the Ottoman Empire. Italy unified into a nation state. The capture of Rome in 1870 ended the Papal temporal power. Rivalry in a scramble for empires spread in what is known as The Age of Empire.

20th century[edit]

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 was precipitated by the rise of nationalism in Southeastern Europe as the Great Powers took up sides. The Allies defeated the Central Powers in 1918. During the Paris Peace Conference the Big Four imposed their terms in a series of treaties, especially the Treaty of Versailles.

The Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, and along with Mussolini's Italy sought to gain control of the continent by the Second World War. Following the Allied victory in the Second World War, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. The countries in Southeastern Europe were dominated by the Soviet Union and became communist states. The major non-communist Southern European countries joined a US-led military alliance (NATO) and formed the European Economic Community amongst themselves. The countries in the Soviet sphere of influence joined the military alliance known as the Warsaw Pact and the economic bloc called Comecon. Yugoslavia was neutral.

Italy became a major industrialized country again, due to its post-war economic miracle. The European Union (EU) involved the division of powers, with taxation, health, and education handled by the nation states, while the EU had charge of market rules, competition, legal standards and environmentalism. The Soviet economic and political system collapsed, leading to the end of communism in the satellite countries in 1989, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself in 1991. As a consequence, Europe's integration deepened, the continent became depolarised, and the European Union expanded to subsequently include many of the formerly communist European countries – Romania and Bulgaria (2007) and Croatia (2013).


The following table shows the languages in Southern Europe that are spoken by at least five million people in the region:

Language Speakers[a] Principal Southern European
country / countries
Italian 59,400,000[12]  Italy
Spanish 46,000,000+[13]  Spain
Greek 13,432,490[14]  Greece
Turkish 10,934,365[15][16]  Turkey
 Northern Cyprus
Portuguese 10,000,000[17]  Portugal
Catalan 10,000,000 [18][19]  Spain

Romance languages[edit]

The most widely spoken family of languages in Southern Europe are the Romance languages, the heirs of Latin, which have spread from the Italian peninsula, and are emblematic of Southwestern Europe. (See the Latin Arch.) By far the most common Romance languages in Southern Europe are Italian (spoken by over 50 million people in Italy, San Marino, and the Vatican) and Spanish, which is spoken by over 40 million people in Spain and Gibraltar. Other common Romance languages include Romanian (spoken in Romania and Moldova), Portuguese (spoken in Portugal), Catalan (spoken in eastern Spain), Galician (spoken in northwestern Spain) and Occitan, which is spoken in the Val d'Aran in Catalonia, in the Occitan Valleys in Italy and finally in southern France.

Other languages[edit]

The Hellenic languages or Greek language are widely spoken in Greece and in the Greek part of Cyprus. Additionally, other varieties of Greek are spoken in small communities in parts of other European counties.

English is used as a second language in parts of Southern Europe. As a primary language, however, English has only a small presence in Southern Europe, only in Gibraltar (alongside Spanish) and Malta (secondary to Maltese).

There are other language groupings in Southern Europe. Albanian is spoken in Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, and parts of Greece. Maltese is a Semitic language that is the official language of Malta, descended from Siculo-Arabic, but written in the Latin script with heavy Latin and Italian influences. The Basque language is spoken in the Basque Country, a region in northern Spain and southwestern France.


The following table shows the busiest airports in Southern Europe in 2013.

Rank Country Airport City Passengers (2012) Passengers (2013) Change
1 Turkey İstanbul Atatürk Airport İstanbul 44,998,508 51,320,875 Increase014.0%
2 Spain Barajas Airport Madrid 45,190,528[20] 39,735,618[20] Decrease012.1%
3 Italy Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport Rome 36,980,911[21] 36,166,345[21] Decrease02.2%
4 Spain Barcelona El Prat Airport Barcelona 35,144,503[20] 35,216,828[20] Increase00.2%
5 Spain Palma de Mallorca Airport Palma de Mallorca 22,666,858[20] 22,768,032[20] Increase00.4%
6 Italy Malpensa Airport Milan 18,537,301[21] 17,955,075[21] Decrease03.1%
7 Portugal Lisbon Portela Airport Lisbon 15,301,176[22] 16,008,848[22] Increase04.6%
8 Spain Málaga Airport Málaga 12,581,944[20] 12,925,186[20] Increase02.7%
9 Greece Athens International Airport Athens 12,944,041[23] 12,536,057[23] Decrease03.2%
10 France Nice Côte d'Azur Airport Nice 11,189,896[24] 11,554,195[24] Increase03.2%


The religious distribution in 1054[25]

The predominant religion in Southern Europe is Christianity. Christianity spread throughout Southern Europe during the Roman Empire, and Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the year 380 AD. Due to the historical break of the Church into the western half based in Rome and the eastern half based in Constantinople, different denominations of Christianity are prominent in different parts of Europe. Christians in the western half of Southern Europe — e.g., Portugal, Spain, Italy — are generally Roman Catholic. Christians in the eastern half of Southern Europe — e.g., Greece, Macedonia — are generally Greek Orthodox.

Other classifications[edit]

European Travel Commission classification

European Travel Commission divides the European region on the basis of Tourism Decision Metrics (TDM) model. Countries which belong to the Southern/Mediterranean Europe are:[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Both native and second language speakers residing in Southern Europe only.


  1. ^ Encyclopedia of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Dr Alan Barnard and Jonathan Spence. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  2. ^ Article in Britannica
  3. ^ "New five-euro note has goddess". 27 October 2017 – via 
  4. ^ Library of Congress. Cataloging Policy and Support Office, Library of Congress Subject Headings
  5. ^ Wolfgang Frey and Rainer Lösch; Lehrbuch der Geobotanik. Pflanze und Vegetation in Raum und Zeit. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, München 2004
  6. ^ "World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision". (custom data acquired via website). United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. Retrieved 10 September 2017. 
  7. ^ "United Nations: World Urbanization Prospects". 
  8. ^ e.g. Averroes#Commentaries on Aristotle and Plato written in the 12th century, which was mentioned in Divine Comedy IV:144 around 1320 AD
  9. ^ Geoffrey Parker, "States Make War But Wars Also Break States,"Journal of Military History (2010) 74#1 pp 11–34
  10. ^ Richard J. Mayne. "history of Europe:: The Middle Ages". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18 April 2009. 
  11. ^ Steven Kreis (11 October 2006). "The Origins of the Industrial Revolution in England". Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  12. ^ Italian at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  13. ^ Spanish at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  14. ^ Greek at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  15. ^ European Turkey Population
  16. ^ Northern Cyprus
  17. ^ Portuguese at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  18. ^ "Number of Catalan speakers rising despite adverse context". 
  19. ^ "Informe sobre la Situació de la Llengua Catalana - Xarxa CRUSCAT. Coneixements, usos i representacions del català". 
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h "Estadísticas - Aeropuertos Españoles -". 
  21. ^ a b c d "Statistiche - Assaeroporti". 
  22. ^ a b Portugal, ANA - Aeroportos de (14 July 2016). "Annual Reports - Corporate". 
  23. ^ a b
  24. ^ a b S.S.L.L., Internethic. "Monthly Statistics Reports / Statistics / NEWS - MEDIA - Aéroport Nice Côte d'Azur : gateway to the mythical French Riviera". 
  25. ^ Dragan Brujić (2005). "Vodič kroz svet Vizantije (Guide to the Byzantine World)". Beograd. p. 51. [dead link]
  26. ^ European Tourism in 2014: Trends & Prospects (Q3/2014), page 15