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Countries Quest, Europe

Ural River, Ereb, Communist nations, Caucasus Mountains, European artists

Europe, conventionally one of the seven continents of the world. Although referred to as a continent, Europe is actually just the western fifth of the Eurasian landmass, which is made up primarily of Asia. Modern geographers generally describe the Ural Mountains, the Ural River, part of the Caspian Sea, and the Caucasus Mountains as forming the main boundary between Europe and Asia. The name Europe is perhaps derived from that of Europa, the daughter of Phoenix in Greek mythology, or possibly from Ereb, a Phoenician word for “sunset.”

The second smallest continent (Australia is the smallest), Europe has an area of 10,355,000 sq km (3,998,000 sq mi), but it has the third largest population of all the continents, 730 million in 2008. The northernmost point of the European mainland is Cape Nordkinn, in Norway; the southernmost, Punta de Tarifa, in southern Spain near Gibraltar. From west to east the mainland ranges from Cabo da Roca, in Portugal, to the northeastern slopes of the Urals, in Russia.

Europe has long been a center of great cultural and economic achievement. The ancient Greeks and Romans produced major civilizations, famous for their contributions to philosophy, literature, fine art, and government. The Renaissance, which began in the 14th century, was a period of great accomplishment for European artists and architects, and the age of exploration, beginning in the 15th century, included voyages to new territories by European navigators. European nations, particularly Spain, Portugal, France, and Britain, built large colonial empires, with vast holdings in Africa, the Americas, and Asia. In the 18th century modern forms of industry began to be developed. In the 20th century much of Europe was ravaged by the two world wars. After World War II ended in 1945, the continent was divided into two major political and economic blocs—Communist nations in Eastern Europe and non-Communist countries in Western Europe. Between 1989 and 1991, however, the Eastern bloc broke up. Communist regimes surrendered power in most Eastern European countries. East and West Germany were unified. The Soviet Communist Party collapsed, multilateral military and economic ties between Eastern Europe and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) were severed, and the USSR itself ceased to exist.

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