The Caucasus Mountains are a mountain system in West Asia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus region.
The total length of the Caucasus is about 1,200 kilometers (932 miles); middle of the system is comparatively narrow, but its western and eastern ends have widths of 160 km (100 mi) or more.
This mountain range cover an area of 477,488 square kilometers (184,359 square miles).
The Caucasus Mountains include the Greater Caucasus in the north and Lesser Caucasus in the south.
Europe’s highest mountain is Mount Elbrus 5,642 meters (18,510 feet) above sea level in the Caucasus Mountains. Elbrus is 832 m (2,730 ft) higher than Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps and western Europe at 4,810 m (15,780 ft).
The crest of the Caucasus Mountains usually is taken to define the continental divide between Asia and Europe for the region between the Black and Caspian Seas.
The Caucasus Mountains have a varied landscape which mainly changes according to elevation and distance from large bodies of water.
The northern slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains are covered by oak, hornbeam, maple, and ash forests at lower elevations while birch and pine forests take over at higher elevations.
The northern and western slopes of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains are characterized both by Colchian and other deciduous forests at lower elevations while mixed and coniferous forests (mainly spruce and fir) dominate at higher elevations.
The alpine zone replaces the forest around 2,000 meters (6,560) above sea level. The permafrost/glacier line generally starts around 3,000 meters (9,850 feet).
The Caucasus Mountains are known for the high amount of snowfall, although many regions which are not located along the windward slopes do not receive nearly as much snow.
The Caucasus Mountains formed ca. 28.5 to 23.8 million years ago as the result of a tectonic plate collision between the Arabian plate moving northward with respect to the Eurasian plate.
The Western Caucasus has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site based upon its diversity of geology, ecosystems and species. The site is situated 50 km (31 mi) to the north from the Russian resort of Sochi. It is recognized as the “only large mountain area in Europe that has not experienced significant human impact, containing extensive tracts of undisturbed mountain forests unique on the European scale.”
Mountains near Sochi hosted part of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Caucasus is an area that harbors some 6400 species of higher plants, 1600 of which are endemic to the region. Its wildlife includes Persian leopards, brown bears, wolves, bison, marals, golden eagles and hooded crows. Among invertebrates, some 1000 spider species are recorded in the Caucasus.
There are large granite, gneiss, petroleum and numerous natural gas deposits found in the area.
The name “Caucasus” is a Latinized form of Kaukasos, which the ancient Greek geographers and historians used; The ultimate derivation is thought to be from Kaz-kaz, the Hittite name for a people living on the southern shore of the Black Sea.
In Greek mythology the range was the scene of the sufferings of Prometheus, and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece in the land of Colchis (the modern Kolkhida Lowland of Georgia), which nestles against the range on the Black Sea coast.