Southern Europe

Some definitions of southern Europe, also known as Mediterranean Europe, include the countries of the Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal), the Italian peninsula, southern France and Greece. Other definitions sometimes include the Balkan countries of southeast Europe, which are geographically in the southern part of Europe, but which have different historical, political, economic, and cultural backgrounds.

Different methods can be used to define southern Europe, including its political, economic, and cultural attributes. Southern Europe can also be defined by its natural features — its geography, climate, and flora.

Geographic features of countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea


    European sub-regions according to EuroVoc (the thesaurus of the European Union). Southern Europe is marked yellow on this map.
    Regions of Europe based on CIA world factbook
      Southeastern Europe
      Southern Europe
      Southwestern Europe

    Geographically, southern Europe is the southern half of the landmass of Europe. This definition is relative, with no clear limits.

    Countries geographically considered part of southern Europe include:

    Southwestern Europe

    Countries whose borders lie within southwestern Europe :

    South-central Europe

    Countries whose borders lie within south-central Europe:

    Southeastern Europe

    Countries whose borders lie within southeastern Europe (Balkan peninsula) :

    Island countries
    Major islands


    Climates in Southern Europe according to the Köppen climate classification:

    Southern Europe's most emblematic climate is that of the , which has become a typically known characteristic of the area. The Mediterranean climate covers much of Portugal, Spain, Southeast France, Italy, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro, and Greece, as well as the Mediterranean islands. Those areas of Mediterranean climate present similar vegetations and landscapes throughout, including dry hills, small plains, pine forests and olive trees.

    Cooler climates can be found in certain parts of Southern European countries, for example within the mountain ranges of Spain and Italy. Additionally, the north coast of Spain experiences a wetter Atlantic climate.


    The European floristic regions
      Mediterrannean agriculture in coastal and peri-coastal regions

    Southern Europe's flora is that of the Mediterranean Region, one of the phytochoria recognized by Armen Takhtajan. The Mediterranean and Submediterranean climate regions in Europe are found in much of Southern Europe, mainly in Southern Portugal, most of Spain, the southern coast of France, Italy, the Croatian coast, much of Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, and the Mediterranean islands.


    Country Area
    (2010 est.)
    (per km²)
     Albania 28,748 2,821,977 111.1 Tirana
     Andorra 468 84,082 179.8 Andorra la Vella
     Bosnia and Herzegovina 51,129 4,613,414 90.2 Sarajevo
     Bulgaria 110,994 7,364,570 77 Sofia
     Croatia 56,594 4,489,409 81 Zagreb
     Gibraltar (UK) 6.8 29,431 4,328 Gibraltar
     Greece 131,990 11,295,002 85.3 Athens
     Italy 301,338 60,418,711 200.5 Rome
     Kosovo 10,908 1,859,203 170.4 Prishtina
     Macedonia 25,713 2,114,550 82.2 Skopje
     Malta 316 412,966 1,306.8 Valletta
     Montenegro 13,812 672,181 50 Podgorica
     Portugal 92,090 11,317,192 114 Lisbon
     San Marino 61 31,716 501 City of San Marino
     Serbia 77,474 7,120,666 102.46 Belgrade
     Slovenia 20,273 2,054,199 99.6 Ljubljana
     Spain 504,030 46,030,109 93 Madrid
      Vatican City 0.44 826 1877 Vatican City
    Total 1,314,930 153,506,431 116.74

    Largest urban areas

    Rank Urban Area State Population Density
    (per km²)
    1 Madrid  Spain 6,171,000 4,600
    2 Milan  Italy 5,257,000 2,800
    3 Barcelona  Spain 4,693,000 4,300
    4 Rome  Italy 3,906,000 3,400
    5 Naples  Italy 3,706,000 3,600
    6 Athens  Greece 3,484,000 5,000
    7 Lisbon  Portugal 2,666,000 2,800
    8 Bucharest  Romania 1,932,000 6,800


    Early history

    Partition of the Roman Empire.

    The period known as classical antiquity began with the rise of the city-states of Ancient Greece. Greek influence reached its zenith under the expansive empire of Alexander the Great, spreading throughout Asia.

    The Roman Empire came to dominate the entire Mediterranean basin in a vast empire based on Roman law and Roman legions. It promoted trade, tolerance, and Greek culture. By 300 AD the Roman Empire was divided into the Western Roman Empire based in Rome, and the Eastern Roman Empire based in Constantinople. The attacks of the Germanic peoples of northern Europe led to the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476, a date which traditionally marks the end of the classical period and the start of the Middle Ages.

    During the Middle Ages, the Eastern Roman Empire survived, though modern historians refer to this state as the Byzantine Empire. In Western Europe, Germanic peoples moved into positions of power in the remnants of the former Western Roman Empire and established kingdoms and empires of their own.

    The period known as the Crusades, a series of religiously motivated military expeditions originally intended to bring the Levant back into Christian rule, began. Several Crusader states were founded in the eastern Mediterranean. These were all short-lived. The Crusaders would have a profound impact on many parts of Europe. Their Sack of Constantinople in 1204 brought an abrupt end to the Byzantine Empire. Though it would later be re-established, it would never recover its former glory. The Crusaders would establish trade routes that would develop into the Silk Road and open the way for the merchant republics of Genoa and Venice to become major economic powers. The Reconquista, a related movement, worked to reconquer Iberia for Christendom.

    The Late Middle Ages represented a period of upheaval in Europe. The epidemic known as the Black Death and an associated famine caused demographic catastrophe in Europe as the population plummeted. Dynastic struggles and wars of conquest kept many of the states of Europe at war for much of the period. In the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire, a Turkish state originating in Anatolia, encroached steadily on former Byzantine lands, culminating in the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

    Post Middle Ages

    Beginning roughly in the 14th century in Florence, and later spreading through Europe with the development of the printing press, a Renaissance of knowledge challenged traditional doctrines in science and theology, with the Arabic texts and thought bringing about rediscovery of classical Greek and Roman knowledge.

    The Reconquista of Portugal and Spain led to a series of oceanic explorations resulting in the Age of Discovery that established direct links with Africa, the Americas, and Asia, while religious wars continued to be fought in Europe, which ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia. The Spanish crown maintained its hegemony in Europe and was the leading power on the continent until the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which ended a conflict between Spain and France that had begun during the Thirty Years' War. An unprecedented series of major wars and political revolutions took place around Europe and indeed the world in the period between 1610 and 1700. Observers at the time, and many historians since, have argued that wars caused the revolutions.Galileo Galilei, invented the telescope and the thermometer which allowed him to observe and describe the solar system. Leonardo da Vinci painted the most famous work in the world.Guglielmo Marconi invented the radio.

    European overseas expansion led to the rise of colonial empires, producing the Columbian Exchange. The combination of resource inflows from the New World and the Industrial Revolution of Great Britain, allowed a new economy based on manufacturing instead of subsistence agriculture.

    The period between 1815 and 1871 saw a large number of revolutionary attempts and independence wars. Balkan nations began to regain independence from the Ottoman Empire. Italy unified into a nation state. The capture of Rome in 1870 ended the Papal temporal power. Rivalry in a scramble for empires spread in what is known as The Age of Empire.

    Twentieth century

    The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 was precipitated by the rise of nationalism in Southeastern Europe as the Great Powers took up sides. The Allies defeated the Central Powers in 1918. During the Paris Peace Conference the Big Four imposed their terms in a series of treaties, especially the Treaty of Versailles.

    The Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, and along with Mussolini's Italy sought to gain control of the continent by the Second World War. Following the Allied victory in the Second World War, Europe was divided by the Iron Curtain. The counties in Southeastern Europe were dominated by the Soviet Union and became communist states. The major non-communist Southern European countries joined a US-led military alliance (NATO) and formed the European Economic Community amongst themselves. The countries in the Soviet sphere of influence joined the military alliance known as the Warsaw Pact and the economic bloc called Comecon. A few small countries were neutral.

    Italy became a major industrialized country again, due to its post-war economic miracle. The European Union involved the division of powers, with taxation, health and education handled by the nation states, while the EU had charge of market rules, competition, legal standards and environmentalism. The Soviet economic and political system collapsed, leading to the end of communism in the satellite countries in 1989, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself in 1991. As a consequence, Europe's integration deepened, the continent became depolarised, and the European Union expanded to include many of the formerly communist European countries.


    The following table shows the languages in Southern Europe that are spoken by at least five million people in the region:

    Language Speakers Principal Southern European
    country / countries
    Italian 59,400,000  Italy
    Spanish 45,000,000+  Spain
    Greek 13,432,490  Greece
    Portuguese 10,000,000  Portugal
    Catalan 10,000,000  Spain

    Romance languages

    The most widely spoken family of languages in southern Europe are the Romance languages, the heirs of Latin, which have spread from the Italian peninsula, and are emblematic of Southwestern Europe. (See the Latin Arch.) By far the most common romance languages in Southern Europe are: Italian, which is spoken by over 50 million people in Italy, San Marino, and the Vatican; and Spanish, which is spoken by over 40 million people in Spain and Gibraltar. Other common romance languages include: Romanian, which is spoken in Romania and Moldova; Portuguese, which is spoken in Portugal; Catalan, which is spoken in eastern Spain; and Galician, which is spoken in northwestern Spain.

    Other languages

    The Hellenic languages or Greek language are widely spoken in Greece and in the Greek part of Cyprus. Additionally, other varieties of Greek are spoken in small communities in parts of other European counties.

    Several South Slavic languages are spoken by millions of people in Southern Europe. Serbian is spoken in Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia; Bulgarian is spoken in Bulgaria; Croatian is spoken in Croatia and Bosnia; Bosnian is spoken in Bosnia; Slovene is spoken in Slovenia; and Macedonian is spoken in Macedonia.

    English is used as a second language in parts of Southern Europe. As a primary language, however, English has only a small presence in Southern Europe, only in Gibraltar (alongside Spanish) and Malta (secondary to Maltese).

    There are other language groupings in Southern Europe. Albanian is spoken in Albania, Kosovo, Macedoonia, and parts of Greece. Maltese is a Semitic language that is the official language of Malta. The Basque language is spoken in the Basque Country, a region in northern Spain and southwestern France.


    The following table shows the busiest airports in Southern Europe in 2013.

    Rank Country Airport City Passengers (2012) Passengers (2013) Change
    1 Spain Barajas Airport Madrid 45,190,528 39,735,618 12.1%
    2 Italy Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport Rome 36,980,911 36,166,345 02.2%
    3 Spain Barcelona El Prat Airport Barcelona 35,144,503 35,216,828 00.2%
    4 Spain Palma de Mallorca Airport Palma de Mallorca 22,666,858 22,768,032 00.4%
    5 Italy Malpensa Airport Milan 18,537,301 17,955,075 03.1%
    6 Portugal Lisbon Portela Airport Lisbon 15,301,176 16,008,848 04.6%
    7 Spain Málaga Airport Málaga 12,581,944 12,925,186 02.7%
    8 Greece Athens International Airport Athens 12,944,041 12,536,057 03.2%
    9 France Nice Côte d'Azur Airport Nice 11,189,896 11,554,195 03.2%


    The religious distribution in 1054

    The predominant religion is southern Europe is Christianity. Christianity spread throughout Southern Europe during the Roman Empire, and Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the year 380 AD. Due to the historical break of the Christian Church into the western half based in Rome and the eastern half based in Constantinople, different branches of Christianity are prodominent in different parts of Europe. Christians in the western half of Southern Europe — e.g., Portugal, Spain, Italy — are generally Roman Catholic. Christians in the eastern half of Southern Europe — e.g., Greece, Macedonia — are generally Greek Orthodox.

    Additionally, there are countries in the eastern part of Southern Europe (e.g., Bosnia, Albania), where Islam is widely practiced.

    Other classifications

    United Nations geoscheme
    Southern Europe as grouped for statistical convenience by the United Nations (marked green):
      Southern Europe

    For its official works and publications, the United Nations Organization groups countries under a classification of regions. The assignment of countries or areas to specific groupings is for statistical convenience and does not imply any assumption regarding political or other affiliation of countries or territories by the United Nations. Southern Europe, as grouped for statistical convenience by the United Nations (the sub-regions according to the UN), includes following countries and territories:

    European Travel Commission classification

    European Travel Commission divides the European region on the basis of Tourism Decision Metrics (TDM) model. Countries which belong to the Southern/Mediterranean Europe are:

    See also