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Position and name of the Alps

The continent of Europe is no more than a great peninsula extending westwards from the much vaster continent of Asia, while it is itself broken up by two inland seas into several smaller peninsulas -- the Mediterranean forming the Iberian, the Italian and the Greek peninsulas, while the Baltic forms that of Scandinavia and the much smaller one of Denmark.

Save the last-named, all these peninsulas of Europe are essentially mountain ranges. But in height and importance the ranges that rise therein are much surpassed by a great mountain-chain, stretching from south-eastern France to the borders of Hungary, as well as between the plains of northern Italy and of southern Germany. This chain is collectively known as the Alps, and is the most important physical feature of the European continent. The Alps, however, do not present so continuous a barrier as the Himalayas, the Andes or even the Pyrenees. They are formed of numerous ranges, divided by comparatively deep valleys, which, with many local exceptions, tend towards parallelism with the general direction of the whole mass. This, between the Dauphine and the borders of Hungary, forms a broad band convex towards the north, while most of the valleys lie between the directions west to east and south-west to north-east. But in many parts deep transverse valleys intersect the prevailing direction of the ridges, and facilitate the passage of man, plants and animals, as well as of currents of air which mitigate the contrast that would otherwise be found between the climates of the opposite slopes.

The derivation of the name Alps is still very uncertain, some writers connecting it with a Celtic root alb, said to mean height, while others suggest the Latin adjective albus (white), referring to the colour of the snowy peaks. But in all parts of the great chain itself, the term Alp (or Alm in the Eastern Alps) is exclusively applied to the high mountain pastures, and not to the peaks and ridges of the chain.

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