Interesting facts about the Balkans

The Balkans also known as the Balkan Peninsula, are a geographic area in southeastern Europe.

The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch throughout the whole of Bulgaria.

The Balkans are usually characterized as comprising Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia — with all or part of each of those countries located within the peninsula.

Portions of Greece and Turkey are also located within the geographic region generally defined as the Balkan Peninsula, and many descriptions of the Balkans include those countries too.

The Balkan Peninsula is bordered by the Adriatic Sea in the northwest, the Ionian Sea in the southwest, the Aegean Sea in the south, the Turkish Straits in the east, and the Black Sea in the northeast.

Most of the area is covered by mountain ranges running from the northwest to southeast. The main ranges are the Balkan mountains (Stara Planina in Bulgarian and Serbian), running from the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria to the border with Serbia.

The highest point of the Balkans is Mount Musala, 2,925 metres (9,596 ft), in the Rila mountain range, Bulgaria.

The karst field or polje is a common feature of the landscape.

Over the centuries forests have been cut down and replaced with bush. In the southern part and on the coast there is evergreen vegetation. Inland there are woods typical of Central Europe (oak and beech, and in the mountains, spruce, fir and pine). The tree line in the mountains lies at the height of 1800–2300 meters (5905-7545 feet).

The land provides habitats for numerous endemic species, including extraordinarily abundant insects and reptiles that serve as food for a variety of birds of prey and rare vultures.

Resources of energy are scarce, except in Kosovo (Serbia), where considerable coal, lead, zinc, chromium and silver deposits are located.

The region is a meeting point of Orthodox Christianity, Islam and Roman Catholic Christianity.

Balkan cuisine is one of the most exquisite one. The most popular dishes are cevapi, pljeskavica and sarma.

From classical antiquity through the Middle Ages, the Balkan Mountains were called by the local Thracian name Haemus. According to Greek mythology, the Thracian king Haemus was turned into a mountain by
Zeus as a punishment and the mountain has remained with his name.

The origin of the word Balkan is obscure – it may be related to Persian bālk‘mud’, and the Turkish suffix an‘swampy forest’ or Persian balā-khāna‘big high house’.

Related words are also found in Turkic languages. The term is stated for the first time in Hungarian sources from the 12th century. It was used mainly during the time of the Ottoman Empire. In modern Turkish balkan means ‘chain of wooded mountains’

The earliest mention of the name appears in an early 14th-century Arab map, in which the Haemus mountains are referred to as Balkan.

The first attested time the name “Balkan” was used in the West for the mountain range in Bulgaria was in a letter sent in 1490 to Pope Innocent VIII by Buonaccorsi Callimaco, an Italian humanist, writer and diplomat.

The concept of the Balkan Peninsula was created by the German geographer August Zeune in 1808, who mistakenly considered the Balkan Mountains the dominant mountain system of Southeast Europe spanning from the Adriatic Sea to the Black Sea.

The term Balkan Peninsula was a synonym for Rumelia in the 19th century, the provinces of the Ottoman Empire in Southeast Europe.

In 1878, after years of conflict, the world’s Great Powers redraw the map of the Balkans at the Congress of Berlin. Three new countries, Serbia, Montenegro and Romania are established, but the wishes of local populations are largely ignored.

In 1912-13, two Balkan wars are fought to try to end several centuries of Ottoman rule. All the regional powers, Romanians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks and Albanians are involved.

On December 1, 1918 Yugoslavia, the ‘Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes’ is created from territories formerly occupied by the old Turkish and Austrian empires.

On June 25, 1991 Croatia and Slovenia proclaim independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Serb forces overrun 30 percent of Croatian territory.

On March 3, 1992 Bosnia and Herzegovina proclaims independence. Serb forces seize 70 percent of the country’s territory and lay siege to Sarajevo.