AskDefine | Define alps

Dictionary Definition

Alps n : a large mountain system in south-central Europe; scenic beauty and winter sports make them a popular tourist attraction [syn: the Alps]

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  1. Plural of alp

Extensive Definition

The Alps (lang-fr Alpes; lang-de Alpen; lang-it Alpi; lang-rm Alps; lang-sl Alpe) is the name for one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east, through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west. The word "Alps" was taken via French from Latin Alpes (meaning "the Alps"), which may be influenced by the Latin words albus (white) or altus (high) or more likely a Latin rendering of a Celtic or Ligurian original.
The highest mountain in the Alps is Mont Blanc, at , on the Italian-French border. All the main peaks of the Alps can be found in the list of mountains of the Alps and list of Alpine peaks by prominence.



The Alps are generally divided into the Western Alps and the Eastern Alps. The division is along the line between Lake Constance and Lake Como, following the Rhine. The Western Alps are higher, but their central chain is shorter and curved; they are located in Italy, France and Switzerland. The Eastern Alps (main ridge system elongated and broad) belong to Austria, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Slovenia and Switzerland. The highest peaks of the Western Alps are Mont Blanc, , Mont Blanc de Courmayeur , the Dufourspitze and the other summits of the Monte Rosa group, and the Dom, . The highest peak in the Eastern Alps is Piz Bernina, .
The Eastern Alps are commonly subdivided according to the different lithology (rock composition) of the more central parts of the Alps and the groups at its northern and southern fringes: The border between the Central Alps and the Southern Limestone Alps is the Periadriatic Seam. The Northern Limestone Alps are separated from the Central Eastern Alps by the Grauwacken Zone
The Western Alps are commonly subdivided with respect to geography: Series of lower mountain ranges run parallel to the main chain of the Alps, including the French Prealps. (See Alpine geography.)
The geologic subdivision is different and makes no difference between the Western and Eastern Alps: Helveticum in the north, Penninicum and Austroalpine system in the centre and south of the Periadriatic seam the Southern Alpine system and parts of the Dinarides (see Alpine Geology).

Main chain

The "main chain of the Alps" follows the watershed from the Mediterranean Sea to the Wienerwald, passing over many of the highest and most famous peaks in the Alps. From the Colle di Cadibona to Col de Tende it runs westwards, before turning to the north-west and then, near the Colle della Maddalena, to the north. Upon reaching the Swiss border, the line of the main chain heads approximately east-north-east, a heading it follows until its end near Vienna.

Principal passes

The Alps do not form an impassable barrier; they have been traversed for war and commerce, and later by pilgrims, students and tourists. Crossing places by road, train or foot are called passes. These are depressions in the mountains to which a valley leads from the plains and hilly pre-mountainous zones.


The Alps are a classic example of what happens when a temperate area at lower altitude gives way to higher elevation terrain. Elevations around the world which have cold climates similar to those found in polar areas have been called alpine. A rise from sea level into the upper regions of the atmosphere causes the temperature to decrease. The effect of mountain chains on prevailing winds is to carry warm air belonging to the lower region into an upper zone, where it expands in volume at the cost of a proportionate loss of heat, often accompanied by the precipitation of moisture in the form of snow or rain.


The Alps arose as a result of the pressure exerted on sediments of the Tethys Ocean basin as its Mesozoic and early Cenozoic strata were pushed against the stable Eurasian landmass by the northward-moving African landmass. Most of this occurred during the Oligocene and Miocene epochs. The pressure formed great recumbent folds, or nappes, that rose out of what had become the Tethys Sea and pushed northward, often breaking and sliding one over the other to form gigantic thrust faults. Crystalline rocks, which are exposed in the higher central regions, are the rocks forming Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, and high peaks in the Pennine Alps and Hohe Tauern.
The landscape seen today is mostly formed by glaciation during the past two million years. At least five ice ages have done much to change the region, scooping out the lakes and rounding off the limestone hills along the northern border. Glaciers have been retreating during the past 10,000 years, leaving large granite erratics scattered in the forests in the region. As the last ice age ended, it is believed that the climate changed so rapidly that the glaciers retreated back into the mountains in a span of about 200 to 300 years.


The biggest city situated in the Alps, is Grenoble, France (metropolitan area about 500,000 inhabitants). French people call the city "The Capital City of Alps".
The second biggest city of the alpine arch, is Innsbruck, Austria.
In 2001, the total population of all the alpine area was about 12,295,000.

Political and cultural history

Little is known of the early dwellers in the Alps, save from the scanty accounts preserved by Roman and Greek historians and geographers. A few details have come down to us of the conquest of many of the Alpine tribes by Augustus.
During the Second Punic War in 218 BC, The Carthaginian general Hannibal successfully crossed the alps along with an army numbering 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 37 war elephants.. This was one of the most celebrated achievements of any military force in ancient warfare.
Much of the Alpine region was gradually settled by Germanic tribes (Langobards, Alemanni, Bavarii) from the 6th to the 13th centuries, the latest expansion corresponding to the Walser migrations.
It is not until the final breakup of the Carolingian Empire in the 10th and 11th centuries that it becomes possible to trace out the local history of the Alps.


The higher regions of the Alps were long left to the exclusive attention of the people of the adjoining valleys, even when Alpine travellers (as distinguished from Alpine climbers) began to visit these valleys. The two men who first explored the regions of ice and snow were H.B. de Saussure (1740-1799) in the Pennine Alps, and the Benedictine monk of Disentis, Placidus a Spescha (1752-1833), most of whose ascents were made before 1806, in the valleys at the sources of the Rhine.

Travel and Tourism

The Alps are popular both in summer and in winter as a destination for sightseeing and sports. Winter sports (alpine and Nordic skiing, tobogganing, snowshoeing, ski tours) can be practised in most regions from December to April, while in summer the Alps are popular with hikers, mountain bikers, paragliders, mountaineers, while many lakes attract swimmers, sailors and surfers. The lower regions and larger towns of the Alps are well accessed by motorways and main roads, but higher passes and by-roads can be treacherous even in summer. Many passes are closed in winter. A multitude of airports around the Alps (and some within), as well as long-distance rail links from all neighbouring countries, afford large numbers of travellers easy access from abroad.


A natural vegetation limit with altitude is given by the presence of the chief deciduous trees—oak, beech, ash and sycamore maple. These do not reach exactly to the same elevation, nor are they often found growing together; but their upper limit corresponds accurately enough to the change from a temperate to a colder climate that is further proved by a change in the wild herbaceous vegetation. This limit usually lies about above the sea on the north side of the Alps, but on the southern slopes it often rises to , sometimes even to .
This region is not always marked by the presence of the characteristic trees. Human interference has nearly exterminated them in many areas, and, except for the beech forests of the Austrian Alps, forests of deciduous trees are rarely found. In many districts where such woods once existed, they have been replaced by the Scots pine and Norway spruce, which are less sensitive to the ravages of goats who are the worst enemies of such trees.
Above the forestry, there is often a band of short pine trees (Pinus mugo), which is in turn superseded by dwarf shrubs, typically Rhododendron ferrugineum (on acid soils) or Rhododendron hirsutum (on basic soils). Above this is the alpine meadow, and even higher, the vegetation becomes more and more sparse. At these higher altitudes, the plants tend to form isolated cushions. In the Alps, several species of flowering plants have been recorded above , including Ranunculus glacialis, Androsace alpina and Saxifraga biflora.


Species common to the Alps. These are most numerous in the 15% of the Alps that are protected in parks and reserves.

The Alps in popular culture

See also

External links


alps in Afrikaans: Alpe
alps in Tosk Albanian: Alpen
alps in Arabic: ألب
alps in Aragonese: Alpes
alps in Franco-Provençal: Arpes
alps in Asturian: Alpes
alps in Bengali: আল্পস্‌ পর্বতমালা
alps in Belarusian: Альпы
alps in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Альпы
alps in Bavarian: Oipn
alps in Bosnian: Alpi
alps in Breton: Alpoù
alps in Bulgarian: Алпи
alps in Catalan: Alps
alps in Czech: Alpy
alps in Welsh: Alpau
alps in Danish: Alperne
alps in German: Alpen
alps in Estonian: Alpid
alps in Modern Greek (1453-): Άλπεις
alps in Emiliano-Romagnolo: Èlp
alps in Spanish: Alpes
alps in Esperanto: Alpoj
alps in Basque: Alpeak
alps in Persian: آلپ
alps in French: Alpes
alps in Western Frisian: Alpen
alps in Irish: Sliabh Alpa
alps in Galician: Alpes
alps in Korean: 알프스 산맥
alps in Hindi: आल्प्स
alps in Croatian: Alpe
alps in Indonesian: Alpen
alps in Icelandic: Alpafjöll
alps in Italian: Alpi
alps in Hebrew: הרי האלפים
alps in Javanese: Alpen
alps in Georgian: ალპები
alps in Swahili (macrolanguage): Alpi
alps in Kurdish: Alp
alps in Latin: Alpes
alps in Latvian: Alpi
alps in Luxembourgish: Alpen
alps in Lithuanian: Alpės
alps in Hungarian: Alpok
alps in Marathi: आल्प्स
alps in Mongolian: Альпийн нуруу
alps in Dutch: Alpen
alps in Nepali: आल्प्स
alps in Japanese: アルプス山脈
alps in Norwegian: Alpene
alps in Norwegian Nynorsk: Alpane
alps in Narom: Alpes
alps in Occitan (post 1500): Alps
alps in Low German: Alpen
alps in Polish: Alpy
alps in Portuguese: Alpes
alps in Romanian: Alpi
alps in Romansh: Alps
alps in Quechua: Alpikuna
alps in Russian: Альпы
alps in Albanian: Alpet
alps in Sicilian: Alpi
alps in Simple English: Alps
alps in Slovak: Alpy
alps in Slovenian: Alpe
alps in Serbian: Алпи
alps in Serbo-Croatian: Alpe
alps in Finnish: Alpit
alps in Swedish: Alperna
alps in Tamil: ஆல்ப்ஸ்
alps in Thai: เทือกเขาแอลป์
alps in Vietnamese: Alps
alps in Tajik: Кӯҳҳои Алп
alps in Turkish: Alpler
alps in Ukrainian: Альпи
alps in Urdu: الپس
alps in Venetian: Alpi
alps in Yiddish: אלפן
alps in Contenese: 阿爾卑斯山
alps in Chinese: 阿尔卑斯山
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