by Bob Brooke
According to legend, the Greek goddess Europa gave the continent of Europe her name. Her beauty inspired the love of Zeus. But civilizations of Asia Minor, namely Assyria, older than the Continent, itself, influenced her culture and history.
Geographically, Europe isn't an independent continent but a section of the land mass it shares with Asia. From the Ural Mountains, Europe stretches west to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea and south from Cape Nordkyn, Norway to Cape Tarifa, Spain, covering an area of 10 million square kilometres (3.88 million square miles) that's only slightly larger than Canada, the United States, or Brazil.
European cultures grew from a common civilization derived from ancient Greece and Rome, combined with the spread of Christianity. This encouraged its individual nations to develop their own cultures and ethnic characteristics, influenced by climate and geography. Six regions make up the continent — Northern Europe, the UK and Ireland, Western Europe, Mediterranean Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Baltic Peninsula.
A common history, attributed to the Romans under Julius Caesar, binds the European nations together. He sought to add to the Roman Empire by conquering the peoples of the Iberian Peninsula in 211 B.C.E., then defeating those of Gaul — now France, Switzerland and Belgium. Eventually, the Romans established colonies as far north as Hadrian's Wall in England, and east into the Rhine Valley and Austria. But it was the split of Roman Empire into an eastern half, ruled from Constantinople, and a western half, ruled from Rome, that drew the line between what's now known as Eastern and Western Europe.
Europe's 733 million people have developed 48 languages, divided into five language families, of which four — the Romanic, Germanic, Slav and Celtic languages have common roots. The fifth group, Finno-Ugrian languages, include Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian, and are of Mongolian origin. The Romanic languages — Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese — all stem from Latin while German, Dutch and Swedish comprise the Germanic group. Of the 35 Slav languages, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, and Serbian stand out. The Celtic languages — Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton (spoken in Brittany, France) — are remnants of a languages spoken in pre-Roman days. English is a mix of Anglo-Saxon and Norman dialects that originated in the British Isles.
Over the past 500 years, European culture has spread across the globe as European powers established colonies and as thousands emigrated beyond its boundaries. Wealth accumulated by rulers helped to build magnificent castles, palaces, museums, and art collections, including the British Museum in London, the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid, and the Pergamon in Berlin, four of the best. But beyond its museums, Europe offers a diversity in its cultures and its peoples and through the European Union, the ability to travel hassle-free between its member nations.
Europe contains some of the world's most dramatic landmarks, both natural and manmade. From the peaks of the Swiss Alps to the valleys of the Spanish Pyrenees and up and down the Rhine and Danube Rivers, you'll discover the best Mother Nature has to offer. Man has placed his indelible mark on Europe, also, from the canals of Amsterdam in the Netherlands to the Eiffel Tower and Versailles in France to the town of Bruges in Belgium, the Colesseum in Rome, and the bridge in Mostar, Herzegovina.
Everywhere you go in Europe, you'll find a mixture of old and new-modern motorways passing by ancient ruins, public palaces of concrete and glass standing near villages where time has all but stopped. But as you make your way around Europe, stop and meet the people, for they are Europe's true heart.
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Imagine sitting by a roaring fire sipping Irish Mist as the fog rolls in to envelope the stately mansion in which you're staying. You have just finished an exquisite meal that's a blend of Irish and French cuisine. Before retiring you soak in your own Jacuzzi bath and then have some fresh brewed tea as you snuggle into the down-filled four-poster canopy bed. If you have time, you might even take in a set of tennis on the estate's double courts before breakfast. Then it's off in your rental car to see Ireland as it's meant to be seen — up close and personal.Read More