Apls France or the French Alps, are the portions of the Alps mountain range that stand within France, located in the Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur regions. While some of the ranges of the French Alps are entirely in France, other are shared with Switzerland and Italy.
At 4,808 metres (15,774 ft), Mont Blanc (Italian: Monte Bianco), on the French-Italian border, is the highest mountain in the Alps, and the highest Western European mountain. Notable towns in the French Alps include Grenoble, Chamonix, Annecy, Chambéry, Évian-les-Bains and Albertville.
The Alps France are one of the great mountain range systems of Europe stretching approximately 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) across eight Alpine countries from Austria and Slovenia in the east, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, and France to the west, and Italy and Monaco to the south. The mountains were formed over tens of millions of years as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided. Extreme shortening caused by the event resulted in marine sedimentary rocks rising by thrusting and folding into high mountain peaks such as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. Mont Blanc spans the French–Italian border, and at 4,810 m (15,781 ft) is the highest mountain in the Alps. The Alpine region area contains about a hundred peaks higher than 4,000 m (13,123 ft), known as the “four-thousanders”.
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The altitude and size of the range affects the climate in Europe; in the mountains precipitation levels vary greatly and climatic conditions consist of distinct zones. Wildlife such as ibex live in the higher peaks to elevations of 3,400 m (11,155 ft), and plants such as Edelweiss grow in rocky areas in lower elevations as well as in higher elevations. Evidence of human habitation in the Alps goes back to the Paleolithic era.
A mummified man, determined to be 5,000 years old, was discovered on a glacier at the Austrian–Italian border in 1991. By the 6th century BC, the Celtic La Tène culture was well established. Hannibal famously crossed the Alps with a herd of elephants, and the Romans had settlements in the region. In 1800 Napoleon crossed one of the mountain passes with an army of 40,000. The 18th and 19th centuries saw an influx of naturalists, writers, and artists, in particular the Romantics, followed by the golden age of alpinism as mountaineers began to ascend the peaks. In World War II, Adolf Hitler kept a base of operation in the Bavarian Alps throughout the war.
The Alpine region has a strong cultural identity. The traditional culture of farming, cheesemaking, and woodworking still exists in Alpine villages, although the tourist industry began to grow early in the 20th century and expanded greatly after World War II to become the dominant industry by the end of the century. The Winter Olympic Games have been hosted in the Swiss, French, Italian, Austrian and German Alps. At present the region is home to 14 million people and has 120 million annual visitors.
The English word Alps derives from the Latin Alpes (through French). Maurus Servius Honoratus, an ancient commentator of Virgil, says in his commentary (A. X 13) that all high mountains are called Alpes by Celts. The term may be common to Italo-Celtic, because the Celtic languages have terms for high mountains derived from alp.
This may be consistent with the theory that in Greek Alpes is a name of non-Indo-European origin (which is common for prominent mountains and mountain ranges in the Mediterranean region). According to the Old English Dictionary, the Latin Alpes might possibly derive from a pre-Indo-European word *alb “hill”; “Albania” is a related derivation. Albania, a name not native to the region known as the country of Albania, has been used as a name for a number of mountainous areas across Europe. In Roman times, “Albania” was a name for the eastern Caucasus, while in the English language “Albania” (or “Albany”) was occasionally used as a name for Scotland.
It’s likely that alb (“white”) and albus have common origins deriving from the association of the tops of tall mountains or steep hills with snow.
In modern languages the term alp, alm, albe or alpe refers to a grazing pastures in the alpine regions below the glaciers, not the peaks. An alp refers to a high mountain pasture where cows are taken to be grazed during the summer months and where hay barns can be found, and the term “the Alps”, referring to the mountains, is a misnomer. The term for the mountain peaks varies by nation and language: words such as horn, kogel, gipfel, spitz, and berg are used in German speaking regions: mont, pic, dent and aiguille in French speaking regions; and monte or cima in Italian speaking regions.
German Alpen is the accusative in origin, but was made the nominative in Modern German, whence also Alm.
The Alps France are a crescent shaped geographic feature of central Europe that ranges in a 800 km (500 mi) arc from east to west and is 200 km (120 mi) in width. The mean height of the mountain peaks is 2.5 km (1.6 mi). The range stretches from the Mediterranean Sea north above the Po river basin, extending through France from Grenoble, eastward through mid and southern Switzerland. The range continues toward Vienna in Austria, and east to the Adriatic Sea and into Slovenia. To the south it dips into northern Italy and to the north extends to the south border of Bavaria in Germany. In areas like Chiasso, Switzerland, and Neuschwanstein, Bavaria, the demarkation between the mountain range and the flatlands are clear; in other places such as Geneva, the demarkation is less clear. The countries with the greatest alpine territory are Switzerland, France, Austria and Italy.
The highest portion of the range is divided by the glacial trough of the Rhone valley, with the Pennine Alps from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa on the Southern side, and the Bernese Alps on the Northern. The peaks in the easterly portion of the range, in Austria and Slovenia, are smaller than those in the central and western portions.
The variances in nomenclature in the region spanned by the Alps makes classification of the mountains and subregions difficult, but a general classification is that of the Eastern Alps and Western Alps with the divide between the two occurring in eastern Switzerland according to geologist Stefan Schmid, near the Splügen Pass.
The highest peaks of the Western Alps and Eastern Alps, respectively, are Mont Blanc, at 4,810 m (15,780 ft) and Piz Bernina at 4,049 metres (13,284 ft). The second-highest major peaks are Monte Rosa at 4,634 m (15,200 ft) and Ortler at 3,905 m (12,810 ft), respectively
Series of lower mountain ranges run parallel to the main chain of the Alps, including the Alps France or French Prealps in France and the Jura Mountains in Switzerland and France. The secondary chain of the Alps follows the watershed from the Mediterranean Sea to the Wienerwald, passing over many of the highest and most well-known peaks in the Alps. From the Colle di Cadibona to Col de Tende it runs westwards, before turning to the northwest and then, near the Colle della Maddalena, to the north. Upon reaching the Swiss border, the line of the main chain heads approximately east-northeast, a heading it follows until its end near Vienna.
The Alps France have been crossed for war and commerce, and by pilgrims, students and tourists. Crossing routes by road, train or foot are known as passes, and usually consist of depressions in the mountains in which a valley leads from the plains and hilly pre-mountainous zones. In the medieval period hospices were established by religious orders at the summits of many of the main passes. The most important passes are the Col de l’Iseran (the highest), the Brenner Pass, the Mont-Cenis, the Great St. Bernard Pass, the Col de Tende, the Gotthard Pass, the Semmering Pass, and the Stelvio Pass.
Crossing the Italian-Austrian border, the Brenner Pass separates the Ötztal Alps and Zillertal Alps and has been in use as a trading route since the 14th century. The lowest of the Alpine passes at 985 m (3,232 ft), the Semmering crosses from Lower Austria to Styria; since the 12th century when a hospice was built there it has seen continuous use. A railroad with a tunnel 1 mile (1.6 km) long was built along the route of the pass in the mid-19th century. With a summit of 2,469 m (8,100 ft), the Great St. Bernard Pass is one of the highest in the Alps, crossing the Italian-Swiss border east of the Pennine Alps along the flanks of Mont Blanc. The pass was used by Napoleon Bonaparte to cross 40,000 troops in 1800. The Saint Gotthard Pass crosses from Central Switzerland to Ticino; in the late 19th century the 14 km (9 mi) long Saint Gotthard Tunnel was built connecting Lucerne in Switzerland, with Milan in Italy. The Mont Cenis pass has been a major commercial road between Western Europe and Italy. Now the pass has been supplanted by the Fréjus Road and Rail tunnel. At 2,756 m (9,042 ft), the Stelvio Pass in northern Italy is one of the highest of the Alpine passes; the road was built in the 1820s. The highest pass in the alps is the col de l’Iseran in Savoy (France) at 2,770 m (9,088 ft).
Orogeny and geology
Important geological concepts were established as naturalists began studying the rock formations of the Alps in the 18th century. In the mid-19th century the now defunct theory of geosynclines was used to explain the presence of “folded” mountain chains but by the mid-20th century the theory of plate tectonics became widely accepted.
The formation of the Alps (the Alpine orogeny) was an episodic process that began about 300 million years ago. In the Paleozoic Era the Pangaean supercontinent consisted of a single tectonic plate; it broke into separate plates during the Mesozoic Era and the Tethys sea developed between Laurasia and Gondwana during the Jurassic Period. The Tethys was later squeezed between colliding plates causing the formation of mountain ranges called the Alpide belt, from Gibraltar through the Himalayas to Indonesia—a process that began at the end of the Mesozoic and continues into the present. The formation of the Alps was a segment of this orogenic process, caused by the collision between the African and the Eurasian plates that began in the late Cretaceous Period.
Under extreme compressive stresses and pressure, marine sedimentary rocks were uplifted, creating characteristic recumbent folds, or nappes, and thrust faults. As the rising peaks underwent erosion, a layer of marine flysch sediments was deposited in the foreland basin, and the sediments became involved in younger nappes (folds) as the orogeny progressed. Coarse sediments from the continual uplift and erosion were later deposited in foreland areas as molasse. The molasse regions in Switzerland and Bavaria were well-developed and saw further upthrusting of flysch.