Europe is a continent whose boundaries are the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Ural Mountains and Ural River in the east, the Caspian Sea, Caucasus mountains and Black Sea in the southeast and the Mediterranean Sea as the southern boundary. With Asia, Europe forms the supercontinent Eurasia: Europe is the western fifth of the Eurasian landmass. In tems of size, Europe is the worlds second smallest continent, being slightly larger than Oceania. In terms of population it is the second biggest continent after Asia.
The name Europe possibly stems from a female character in Greek Mythology named Europa who was abducted by a bull-shaped Zeus. A more prosaic explanation holds that it is derived from the word ereb from a Semitic language, meaning "sunset".
Europe has a long history of great cultural and economic achievement, starting as far back as the Bronze Age. From the 15th century European nations, particularly Spain, Portugal, France, and Britain, built large colonial empires, with vast holdings in Africa, America, and Asia. The Industrial Revolution started in Europe in the 18th century. After World War II, and until the end of the Cold War, Europe was divided into two major political and economic blocks: Communist nations in Eastern Europe and capitalistic countries in Western Europe. Around 1990 the Eastern block broke up. See history of Europe.
Often other borders of Europe are drawn, based on political, economical, cultural or practical considerations. This has led to there being several different "Europes" that are not always identical in size, including or excluding countries dependent on the definition of "Europe" used.
Increasingly, the word "Europe" is primarily being used as a synonym for the members of the European Union. Fifteen European states are currently members of the European Union, with 10 more due to join by mid-2004, a few more negotiating for membership and several more expected to commence negotiations at some stage in the future. Almost all European states are members of the Council of Europe; the sole exceptions are Belarus and the Vatican.
Currently, geographic Europe comprises the following 45 countries (in alphabetical order):
Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, three CIS republics in the Transcaucasus, are geographically part of continental Asia, but are frequently associated with Europe. Whether or not Armenia and Georgia are considered to be European countries usually depends on whether one defines Europe as being primarily an ethnic / linguistic entity, or primarily a political / geographic entity, and what one considers those definitions to be.
Several subdivisions of Europe:
|Satellite image - Large version (/upload/7/77/EuropeSatelliteImage.jpg)|