The Alps (/ælps/)[lower-alpha 1] are the highest and most extensive mountain range system that lies entirely in Europe,[lower-alpha 2][2] stretching approximately 1,200 km (750 mi) across seven Alpine countries (from west to east): France, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia.[lower-alpha 3][4]

The Alps seen from outer space, taken from the International Space Station
Highest point
PeakMont Blanc
Elevation4,808.73 m (15,776.7 ft)[1]
Coordinates45°49′58″N 06°51′54″E
Length1,200 km (750 mi)
Width250 km (160 mi)
Area200,000 km2 (77,000 sq mi)
Native name
Relief of the Alps. See also map with international borders marked.
Range coordinates46°30′N 09°19′E
OrogenyAlpine orogeny
Age of rockTertiary
Type of rock
The Dolomites (Italy) are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Alpine arch generally extends from Nice on the western Mediterranean to Trieste on the Adriatic and Vienna at the beginning of the Pannonian Basin. The mountains were formed over tens of millions of years as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided. Extreme shortening caused by the event resulted in marine sedimentary rocks rising by thrusting and folding into high mountain peaks such as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.

Mont Blanc spans the French–Italian border, and at 4,809 m (15,778 ft) is the highest mountain in the Alps. The Alpine region area contains 128 peaks higher than 4,000 m (13,000 ft).

The altitude and size of the range affect the climate in Europe; in the mountains, precipitation levels vary greatly and climatic conditions consist of distinct zones. Wildlife such as ibex live in the higher peaks to elevations of 3,400 m (11,155 ft), and plants such as edelweiss grow in rocky areas in lower elevations as well as in higher elevations.

Evidence of human habitation in the Alps goes back to the Palaeolithic era. A mummified man, determined to be 5,000 years old, was discovered on a glacier at the Austrian–Italian border in 1991.

By the 6th century BC, the Celtic La Tène culture was well established. Hannibal notably crossed the Alps with a herd of elephants, and the Romans had settlements in the region. In 1800, Napoleon crossed one of the mountain passes with an army of 40,000. The 18th and 19th centuries saw an influx of naturalists, writers, and artists, in particular, the Romantics, followed by the golden age of alpinism as mountaineers began to ascend the peaks.

The Alpine region has a strong cultural identity. The traditional culture of farming, cheesemaking, and woodworking still exists in Alpine villages, although the tourist industry began to grow early in the 20th century and expanded greatly after World War II to become the dominant industry by the end of the century.

The Winter Olympic Games have been hosted in the Swiss, French, Italian, Austrian and German Alps. As of 2010, the region is home to 14 million people and has 120 million annual visitors.[5]

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