The Balkan Peninsula falls in the South-Eastern part of mainland Europe. It occupies an area of 48,388,282 square kilometers and covers the territory of 13 countries – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro, as well as small parts of Italy and Turkey.
The Balkan Peninsula is surrounded by the Mediterranean basin. The Balkans borders the Adriatic and Ionian Sea to the west, Aegean Sea to the south, the Sea of Marmara to the southeast and the Black Sea to the east.
The Bosphorus and Dardanelles divide the Balkan Peninsula and Asia. Of all the Balkan countries, only three are landlocked – these are Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo.
Relief. The Balkan Peninsula has an extremely varied topography, although most of its area is occupied by mountains. Most of these mountains are young-folded and are part of the Alpine-Himalayan mountain system.
For this reason, the Balkan Peninsula is one of the most active seismic zones in Europe together with the island of Iceland.
The mountains that cover most of the peninsula are of medium height. The highest point is Musala peak, which means “Near Allah”.
It rises to 2925 m altitude in the Rila Mountains in Southwestern Bulgaria. Most elongate is the Dinaric Mountain chain that stretches along the entire coast of the Adriatic Sea.
Between the high mountains of the Balkans extend some of the most fertile plains in Europe.
The coastline of the peninsula is extremely rough. Only the shores of Scandinavia can be compared with the Balkans.
Strongly indented are the coasts of Croatia and Greece. The southern-most part of the Balkans is occupied by Peloponnese.
In order to shorten the trade routes between the Aegean and Ionian Sea, during the 19th century was built the Corinth Canal, whose length is about 5.8 km.
Climate. The Balkan Peninsula has a varied climate and falls into the borders of two very different climate zones. The northern parts of the peninsula have typical temperate-continental climate with hot summers and very cold winters.
In Bucharest, the capital of Romania, the average daytime temperature in January barely exceeds 1°C, and in July and August thermometers usually show more than 29°C. The southern parts of the peninsula enjoy mild and pleasant, sometimes very hot, subtropical climate.
The average daily temperature in the Greek capital Athens is about 13°C in January, and 34°C in July and August. In terms of rainfall there are also some significant differences.
For example, the west coast of the peninsula is considered one of the rainiest places in Europe, while the precipitation that falls over the eastern and southern part of the Balkans is relatively scarce.
In winter, the northern part of the peninsula receives heavy snow. Along the Aegean and the Adriatic coast, however, is much warmer and precipitation falls mainly as rain. Only in rare occasions is possible the formation of thin and short-term snow cover.
Waters. The Balkan Peninsula is rich in water, especially when it comes to mountain areas. Through the peninsula run several large and a great number of smaller rivers.
Some of the largest rivers are the Danube, Sava, Morava and others. The largest lakes are Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa (both are between Albania and Macedonia), Lake Scutari (between Montenegro and Albania) and many others.
In the higher-lying parts of the Balkans can be seen beautiful glacial lakes. Most impressive are the Seven Rila Lakes in Bulgaria, which are a major tourist attraction.
Nature. The beauty of the Balkans is legendary. Surely this is the most magnificent region in Europe.
Dense and impenetrable deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests cover large parts of the mountains and plains in this part of the world. The vegetation that covers the southern and coastal areas of the peninsula is mostly evergreen.
The central and northern parts, as well as far from the seashore the plants usually lose their leaves in winter. The beautiful and fresh mountains, especially these in Bulgaria, attract winter sports fans from around the world.
During the winter season in the high-lying parts usually forms a thick and long-lasting snow cover, and for this reason the ski slopes here are excellent. In Bulgaria you will find some world class winter resorts such as Bansko.
The Balkans is well known also for its magnificent beaches. The Dalmatian coast, which covers the western part of the peninsula is considered the most picturesque and green portion of the Mediterranean coast.
Greece itself is considered to be as a tourist’s paradise for its exceptionally beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear bays.
The Black Sea coast is completely different. It offers long stretching golden sandy beaches that remind the coast of California.
Fauna. The Balkans has extremely diverse fauna. The dense mountain forests that cover most of the peninsula are home of great variety of animals such as brown bears, wolves, foxes, jackals, wild cats, and smaller predators such as weasels and polecats.
In detached and isolated areas, especially in Macedonia, is found a limited number of lynxes. There are different types of herbivores such as deer, wild boars, wild horses and others. The Balkans is home to many bird species.
Some reserves, such as “Srebarna” in Bulgaria are a refuge for many endangered and rare birds like the pink pelican. In the Balkans nests a great variety of birds such as storks, cranes, swallows and others.
In woodlands are found eagles, hawks, and owls. The Balkans is a refuge for a wide variety of frogs and lizards. There are different types of snakes, some of which are poisonous.
Cities. Five cities in the Balkan Peninsula have populations of over one million people. These are Istanbul (the largest city in Turkey), Athens (the capital of Greece), Bucharest (the capital of Romania), Sofia (the capital of Bulgaria) and Belgrade (the capital of Serbia).
The largest one with population of around 11 million inhabitants is Istanbul, but it is not located entirely on the peninsula. Only the western half of the Turkish metropolis is located on the territory of the Balkans.
Athens is actually the largest city located entirely within the peninsula. The Greek capital has a population of about 3.1 million inhabitants. Besides these, other major cities are Thessaloniki, Skopje, Tirana, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Ljubljana, Varna, Plovdiv and Constanza.
Population. The population of the Balkan Peninsula is more than 70.5 million people. Regarding the ethnic composition, the Balkans is among the most diverse places on the continent.
Here live people of different ethnic groups, speaking dozens of different languages. The Slavic family of languages includes Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian,Slovene and Macedonian. Romanian language is part of the Romance family.
Greek and Albanian fall in separate language groups and are not related to other languages.
Turkish language, which is distributed in the southeastern part of the peninsula, belongs to the Turkic language family. In the Balkans live migrants from other parts of the world, mainly from Russia and Armenia.
In recent years there is an increasing interest of migrants from developed western countries such as Britain. They come here attracted by good climate, beautiful scenery, natural food and low cost real estates.
Apart from ethnic and linguistic terms, the Balkan region is also quite diverse religiously. For example, Greece, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia are Orthodox countries. Croatia, Slovenia and Italy are Catholic, and Turkey’s official religion is Islam.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina the number of Christians slightly outnumbers the Muslims and Albania is known as one of the countries in Europe with the highest percentage of atheists.
In the past, the Balkans was a land of numerous conflicts that arose from the large internal differences of the peninsula.
However, in recent years, the relations between the countries of the region gradually become warmer, and between some of them there are already very close economic ties.
Economics. The Balkan Peninsula is still one of the poorest and economically backward parts of Europe.
However, the local economy now is experiencing significant growth, trying to catch up with the rest of the continent.
Slovenia, Croatia and Greece are the richest countries in the Balkans, and Turkey‘s economy is the largest.
At the other extreme are countries like Albania and Macedonia, which have still pretty low standard of living.
Particularly important for economic development in the Balkans are the tourism industry and agriculture.
During the years of socialist regime many countries of the peninsula have been turned mistakenly into industrial economies without having the necessary facilities and traditions.
If, instead, these economies were concentrating all their efforts in the development of agriculture, today most of them probably would be no less developed than the countries in Western Europe.
It is well known that the Balkan Peninsula is one of the most fertile places in Europe and has the potential to meet the demand of food in Europe.
For the most fertile part is considered Dobrudja, often described as the “Granary of the Balkans”.
It is located in the eastern parts of the peninsula and covers parts of Northeastern Bulgaria and Southeastern Romania.
In the Balkans today are undergoing processes of integration. Several countries are already EU members, while others are still negotiating or are expected to be joined soon.