Balkan is peninsula on south-east of Europe, surrounded with Adriatic, Ionic, Aegean and Black Sea, with rivers Danube and Sava on the north (those are its geographic borders, and political borders are all the way to Hungary on the north).
Balkan Peninsula, very width on the north, it tapers on the south, especially on the south up to the line that joins Artanic and Thessaloniki Bay, so it has a triangular shape.
From the highest spot on the north, to the lowest spot on the south, peninsula is 950km long, and from Danube to the Aegean Sea its 300km long. Surface of Balkan Peninsula is 530 000 square meters.
On Balkan Peninsula there are Greece, Albania, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Kosovo (not recognized by all the states in the world) and a small part of Turkey. Total population of 50 million residents.
Ancient name of this peninsula is “Old mountain” by mountain chain which extends through Serbia and Bulgaria and Haimos tracki, (Haimos, трачки) which also presents chain.
There are multiple theories about the origin of the name. The most common theory is that the name Balkan origins from Turkish word balacan for timbered mountain, ie. the Turkish brought it. Bulgarians think that the Balkan is of Kelts origin, from bal(h)can, which means great mother.
Southeast Europe is mentioned for the first time under the name Balkan in XV century, in chronicles of Italian writer and diplomat, Philip Kalimaha (Philippus Chalimachus, 1437-1496). Philip Kalimah wrote about heroic acts of a man Vladislav Varnecika, and in a memorandum addressed to pope, in 1490. wrote that people from that area call the forest Balkan.
Eventually, for official use as a geographic term, Balkan, was introduced by german writer Johann August Zeune in the year 1808.
History of Balkan Peninsula
Balkan Peninsula has a very turbulent past because of its geographic position. Balkan is a bridge between Europe and Middle East. Many armies, cultures, trade routes etc. went across the Balkan… all that left impact on Balkan.
Balkan represents “Old Europe”, cradle of Hellenic civilization, Byzantine empire and Orthodox religion. On Balkan Peninsula was formed first civilization in Europe (Ancient Greece), first empire (Macedonian) and after that came and failed other European empires (Byzantine, then Turkish, Habsburg).
On Balkan Peninsula Romans have organized large provinces: Dalmatia (included the Adriatic coast and todays Bosnia and Herzegovina), Panonia, Upper Moesia (today a territory in Serbia) and Macedonia. The mainstay of roman empire was the army. In mentioned provinces there were constantly stationed two legions – IV Flavia in Singidunum (Belegrade) and VII Klaudia in Viminacium (Kostolac). Military camps on the border (limes) become spots around which the cities were build through time, and mines, spas and extraordinary fertile land in the inside were also the cores of urban settlements. These cities had a lot common urban elements: forum, two main streets that joined at a right angle, public buildings (basilisk, temples), residential and commercial parts, bathrooms (terms), ramparts around the city and cemetery. Cities were joined with roads because of economic and military reasons.
Balkan countries began to gain independence in the 19th century, so the Balkan Union of 1912-13 in the Balkan Wars threw Turkey up to its present borders.
The First World War began in 1914 for the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. After the Second World War, the Soviet Union and Communism strongly influenced the Balkans.
During the Cold War, most of the Balkan countries were under Communists. Nevertheless, Yugoslavia (1948) and Albania (1961) broke up with the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia moved closer to the West and established the movement of non-aligned. Albania initially turned to China, and later completely isolated it. The only non-communist countries were Greece and Turkey, which were then (as today) members of the NATO alliance.
In the early 1990s, the region was heavily affected by the wars in the former Yugoslavia, which is why NATO intervened in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia. Today (2005) are all Balkan countries in good relations with the EU and the US. The issue of Kosovo and Albanians is generally partly open.
Historical map of the Balkan (1796-2008)
Balkan was mostly settled by different Indo-European nations:
South Slavic nations:
- Serbs (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia)
- Montenegrins (Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia)
- Bosnians (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia, Albania)
- Croatians (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia)
- Slovenians (Slovenia)
- Macedonians (Republic of Macedonia)
- Bulgarians (Bulgaria)
South Slavic ethnic groups and subgroups:
- Yugoslavs (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
- Muslims (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
- Goranci (Serbia – Kosovo and Metohia, Macedonia, Albania)
- Bunjevci (Serbia, Croatia)
- Shokci (Ili stavi Shokcs) (Serbia, Croatia)
- Torlaci (Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria)
- Shopi (Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia)
- Krashovani (Romania)
- Janyevci (Serbia – Kosovo and Metohia)
- Torbeshi (Macedonia, Albania)
- Pomaks ( Bulgaria, Turkish, Greece)
- Palceni (Romania, Serbia)
West Slovakian nations and ethnic groups:
- Slovaks (Serbia – Vojvodina)
- Rusyns (Serbia – Vojvodina)
Roma nations and ethnic groups:
- Romanians (Romania)
- Vlachs (Serbia)
- Aromanians (Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Serbia)
- Magleno Vlachs (Greece)
- Chichi (Croatia)
The rest of Indo-European nations:
- Albanians (Albania: Serbia – Kosovo and Metohia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece)
- Greeks (Greece, Albania)
- Romani people (Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Greece)
- Egyptians (Serbia – Kosovo and Metohia, Macedonia)
- Ashkali (Serbia – Kosovo and Metohia)
- Turks (Turkish, Greece, Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia, Serbia – Kosovo and Metohia)
- Hungarians (Romania, Serbia)
Balkan traditional cuisine includes a treasury of taste and smell created by the mix of the influence of various people who passed through and lived in this region. As in culture in general, this fusion of different influences has resulted in originality, so the rich Balkan table offers unforgettable tastes that can be felt only on the Balkan Peninsula.
Balkan cuisine is characterized by very diverse, strong and spicy food, which could be roughly said to be a combination of Byzantine-Greek-Mediterranean, Oriental, Bulgarian, Turkish and Austro-Hungarian cuisine. The use of meat, dough, vegetables and dairy products prevails.
Food storage is a special part of the Balkan tradition and culture. In the Balkan villages, the kitchen was also called “kuca”, and the central part was a hearth, which was an important, cultic place, in addition to daily life and the whole family gathered. Preparing food is an essential part of the Balkan tradition and culture. On the Balkan Peninsula, it is usual to eat 3 times a day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), with the remark that the most important and usually the most common meal is lunch.
Drinking coffee is a centuries-old tradition on the Balkan Peninsula, so do not miss the local coffee with a baklava, vanilla or rachat locum, while friendly hosts in your homes will first offer you sweet and water.
For many specialties of the Balkan national cuisine, there is no correct word in the dictionaries of foreign languages, nor the taste with which they can be compared. So it’s best to come and try them out.
Old Slavic religion
The old Slovene faith signifies the folk religion and mythology of the Old Slavs whose roots date back to the III millennium BC and which existed until the Slavs were conceived in the Middle Ages.
Based on today’s available sources, Slovenian mythology is difficult to reconstruct as a whole. It is believed that belief in life after death was common to all Slovenes. The most important deities are Perun, Svetovid, Svarog, and Dabog, but it is impossible, with certainty, to conclude who was the supreme god of the Slovenian pantheon. The existence of sacred sculptures, or Kumyrus, among which the most famous is the Zbruki pillar, is confirmed on the entire Slovene territory, but their shape, appearance, and material of construction vary from climate to climate.   Due to different historical circumstances, the beliefs of the Old Slavs developed separately, which is why they are usually presented and studied today according to the division of Slovene peoples into the Southern, Eastern, Western and today almost disappeared Polapska Slovena (Lužički Srbi).
The main sources for the reconstruction of the beliefs of the Old Slavs are largely according to the Slovene sphere of negativity, Christian chronicles, folk beliefs and archaeological material, but it is impossible to ascertain on the basis of them the functions of certain deities, and the existence of family relations between them or the Slovenian cosmogonic myth.
Nowadays, among the Slovenes, there are non-religious religious organizations, whose beliefs are based on their own interpretations and additions to the scarce sources of the faith of the Old Slavs, most of the scientifically disputable Veles book. Although they generally propagate the return to nature, Pasalism and religious tolerance, among them there are those who represent aggressive right-wing groups that advocate Nazi philosophy of blood and soil.
Christianity is the religion with the biggest percent on Balkan (mainly Orthodox, with a smaller part of Catholics) and Islam. Orthodox religion is present in Serbia, Montenegro, Republic of Srpska, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece and Romania: Catholicism is dominating in Croatia and Slovenia; while Islam is dominating in Turkish, Albania, on Kosovo and Metohia and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The geography of the Balkan peninsula
The geographic boundaries of the Balkans are: in the north, the Danube River and the Sava River, in the south of the Mediterranean Sea, in the east and southeast of the Black Sea, the Marmara and the Aegean Sea, in the west, the Ionian and the Adriatic Sea. It should be noted that the northern boundaries of the Balkan Peninsula, the Sava and the Danube rivers are only delicate because they cannot be accurately determined due to the wide connection that this peninsula has with Central Europe. Its southern shores are very razed. The peninsula is crossed by large mountain systems from the north to the south and southeast, which are trying to connect the Alps, through the Aegean Islands, to the mountain system of Asia Minor. These are the Dinaric-Sharsko-Pindic, Carpathian, Balkan and Rhodopean systems, with altitudes up to 3000 m. (Rila 2925 m, Olimp 2918 m, Pind 2914 m, Korab 2764 m, Shar 2748 m, Prokletije 2694 m, Durmitor 2522 m etc. As early as the ancient times, many Balkan mountains were described and spoken, most certainly Olimp, then Hem and Rodopi, but also Pind, Tajhet, Parnas, etc.
The philosopher and geographer Strabon (66 BC-19) called Shar Mountain (Skardus) “Catena Mundi.” With the arrival of the Slavs to this area, she received the present name-Shara.
Between the mountains are formed smaller or larger wide plains, of which the largest Pannonian plain is in the Danube, Sava, Drava, Tisza and Morava basins. It represents the lowest part of the land in the Pannonian Basin, between the Alps, the Carpathians, the Dinaric and the Rhodopes Mountains. It was created by pulling and swelling the Pannonian lake (sea) through the Djerdap Gorge. The lake was the largest during the Pliocene geological era and gradually swelled from the end of the Pleiocene and the beginning of the Holocene when the last Glacial Ice Age in the Balkans ends at about 10,000. p. n. e. During that time many mountains were under the ice, such as Olimp, Pind, Shar-mountain, Pirin, Rila, Jakupica, Prokletije, Durmitor, Prenj and others.
The other lowlands in Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Thessaly, Peloponnese and others are about 29% of the total land area. Predominantly in the south and west of the Balkans, between steep mountains, the plains interconnect only through narrow passages – usually gorge. This land configuration has been influenced in the past by the formation of smaller human communities, which later turned into smaller ethnic groups by the system of polis states.
The stunted shores of the Balkan Peninsula, many rivers, plains and ravines, provided favorable conditions for early settlement from the south to the north and east to the west, along with the great rivers and fertile plains.
By its geographical position, the Balkan Peninsula has been a bridge from the memorial and the main road between Asia and Europe, the East and the West, which contributed to the multi-ethnic composition, diversity of cultural and political influences and turmoil in history. This is convincingly confirmed by the archaeological findings of various ancient cultures. No less space or more history.
The perception of the Balkans, Europe and the world as a whole in antiquity was best described by Herodotus (IV, 36), the “father of history,” which emphasizes that a man must laugh at how many scientists have plotted the country. They have shown that the earth is round like a circle, that oceans run around it and that there are only three continents: Europe, Asia and Libya (Africa), which are all connected.
In the geographical view of the Danube Region, there is a large area that connects Eastern Western Europe, the Black Sea region and the Mediterranean, through its tributaries and the northern parts of the continent with the central regions of the Balkans. Gigantic Alpine and Carpathian mountain systems share the Danube River in the Alpine or Western, Pannonian or Central and Pontian or Eastern parts. The Danube River also divides the Middle Danube into the western part gravitating to the Dinarides, the Adriatic Sea and the Apennine Peninsula and to the large Pannonian basin in the east. This lowland area, which represents the most significant line of reliefs in Europe, is surrounded on the east by the hilly mountain system of the Carpathians, the Transylvanian Alps and the Old Mountain.
In the South Carpathian region, the Danube passes through the Djerdap Gorge and connects the Pannonian and Vlach-Pontic plains. Djerdap is the largest gorge in Europe, about 100 km long, between Golupac and Kladovo. It shares the small and big Djerdap. The nearest part of the Djerdap is near Kazan, where it has a width of 150-170 m and a depth of 20-50 m, with a length of 9 m, and its greatest depth is 74 m. In the Djerdap Gorge, the Danube has a large drop, totaling about 30 m, speed up to 3 m / s, with an average water flow rate of 5,800-6,000 m3 / s. The sides of the plateau rise about 600-700 m above the river flow. In this part of the Danube, it is very rich in various fish, and above all, by the moron, which drops into the spring.
Climate is Mediterranean on Adriatic and Aegean Sea, oceanic and moist subtropical on the coast of Black Sea, while in the inside of Balkan Peninsula the climate is moderate continental. The north of Peninsula and the mountains have strong and frosty winters, and hot and dry summers. Winters are softer on the south.
Nature and resources
The soil is generally bad, except in the plains, where natural grass, fertile soil and hot summers are suitable for arable land. In a large part of the region, farming is bad due to mountains, hot summers and bad soil, which only favors some agricultural crops (for example, olives and vines).
Energy sources are rare. There is coal, especially in Bulgaria, Serbia and Bosnia. Raspberries are lignite deposits. Oil is rare, although there are small reservoirs in Serbia, Albania and Croatia. There are many hydropower plants.
Most of the raw materials have metallic ores. Iron is rare, but some countries, for example, Bosnia and Herzegovina have significant amounts of copper, zinc, tin, chromium, manganese, magnesite and bauxite. Some metals are exported.
Musala is the highest top of Bulgaria and Balkan Peninsula. The top is at 2.925 meters above sea level.
The name Musala origins from the word “Mus Alah” which means “closer to Allah”. The top got his name during the Ottoman rule. Before that his name was Tangra.
This part of Europe is rich with rivers and lakes.
Rivers: Danube, Sava, Uvac, Vardar, Struma…
Lakes: Skadar, Ohrid, Palic, Bileca, Plitvice, Rgotsko (the cleanest lake in Europe).
Prominent figures (Balkan Peninsula)
From this part of Europe origin many of the prominent figures from the world of sports, culture, science, fashion… Here we will mention only a few names that made a mark on the mankind through the history to this day. Hippocrate (medicine), Pythagoras, Euclid and Archimedes (mathematic), Nikola Tesla (science), Ivo Andrić (literature), Novak Djoković (tennis), Mother Theresa (humanitarian work), Mihajlo Pupin (science), Mileva Marić (science), Dražen Petrović (basketball), Roksanda Ilinčić (fashion)…
11 incredible facts about the Balkan Peninsula
- Mother Teresa is generally celebrated as the only Albanian citizen who won the Nobel Prize, although she was born in Skopje in 1910, in Macedonia.
- In 1885, Sarajevo (the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina) was the first city in Europe and the other in the world that had a full working hour of an electric tram network that was passing through the city, along with San Francisco.
- Bulgarians noddle up and down, which means “no”, and for “yes” it moves right-left.
- The tie, now essentially fashionable for men, was named after one point of Croatian soldiers in the 17th century.
- No one can choose not to vote in Greece. Voting is prescribed by law for every citizen who is 18 years of age or older.
- Italy invented Makjato, but Kosovo has perfected it. Wherever you go to Kosovo, you will encounter a machete that is much better made than the Italians do.
- Ohrid Lake, located in Macedonia, is the oldest lake in Europe and the deepest in the Balkans. It is believed that the lake is four million years old and has more than 200 endemic species.
- Montenegro is the first country in the world to have a national printing. Vladar Zete Đurađ Crnojević brought printing equipment from Venice in 1493, only four years after Gutenberg invented printing possibilities.
- The only gold museum in Europe exists in Central Romania and in its cabinets there are rare raw pieces.
- “Vampire” is the only Serbian word that is accepted worldwide, in Cyrillic.
- In Slovenia, tap water is of good quality and is used for drinking. You can free thirst free from any city fountain.
Popular tourist destinations
On the Balkan Peninsula, there are some of the most famous tourist destinations in Europe. The whole region offers rich history, homemade food, adventures and some of the most beautiful natural environments in the world. With about 15 countries that are part or all of the surface on the Balkan Peninsula, each visitor can choose where to go and certainly will not make a mistake.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
This small alpine town in the northwestern part of Slovenia is located on the shores of Lake Bled, whose blue water surrounds a small island and a small baroque church. After a two-hour stroll around the lake, you should visit the medieval court on the top of the hill for a panoramic view, then return the energy with a local specialty: a cream that has served for years in the Park Hotel.
Plitvice Lakes – Croatia
In one park you can visit great waterfalls, lakes, forests … The colors of the lakes go from azure blue to green and even gray. The color of the water is constantly changing depending on the number of minerals or organisms present in the lake and the level at which the sunlight falls on the water. The sixteen lakes formed in the natural dam by the dam of the sedge are divided into the lower and upper lakes. Plitvice Lakes is certainly a place for the true admiration of nature.
Saint Stephen – Montenegro
Montenegro is a state in the Balkans, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. This is a true Balkan diamond. On the shore, near Budva, there is Saint Stephen resort with rooms in the form of 15th-century cottages, spa offers, restaurant and other hotel facilities.
Meteors – Greece
Meteors are the area in Thessaly (central Greece), and Kalampaka is the city built on the stone towers of Meteora. What makes it special are monasteries on the top of stone towers. These monasteries, the summits to be climbed and the paths for hiking lead many tourists to Meteora.
Mostar – Bosnia and Herzegovina
It is located on the river Neretva and is one of the historic cities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is also one of the few cities with a rich collection of Ottoman-Islamic architecture. The main feature of this city, the Old Bridge, was built on the river Neretva Otomani back in 1556.
Ohrid Lake – Macedonia
Lake Ohrid lay in the valley between Ohrid and Struga, on the border between Macedonia and Albania, and the seventh is the deepest lake in Europe. The water of the Ohrid Lake comes mainly from many sources on the surface and under the earth. That’s why many scientists consider it unique. Ohrid Lake is the number one on the list of tourist destinations in Macedonia, which makes the cities of Ohrid and Struga the most visited cities in this country.
Nessebar – Bulgaria
Nessebar is one of the oldest cities in Bulgaria. The city, located on the peninsula, in the Black Sea, consists of two parts connected by a canal. In one part are the old buildings and churches, and at the entrance to the old part of Nessebar, there are also the remains of the ramparts. In 1983, cultural monuments from this site were added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. Over the last ten years, the resort has turned into a modern European city with attractive hotels and offers excellent conditions for tourists. The beaches are clean, and sea lovers can enjoy a rich offer for swimming, diving and fishing.
Dracula Castle – Romania
Tourists visiting Romania have certainly visited the Drakulin Castle, which is located near Brasov in Romania. It is a popular tourist attraction in this country, and its history dates back to the 13th century.
Sarande – Albania
Saranda is one of the most popular destinations in Albania. It is known for it’s cheerful, elegant and romantic aura, which is special for the loving couples. Saranda is located in an idyllic bay in the Ionian Sea, surrounded by pristine blue waters, sandy beaches and promenades.
Nis – Serbia
Niš is a cultural, industrial and administrative center on the Nisava River in Serbia. The Niš Fortress, the archaeological site and the Celeb Tower are just some attractions in or around Nis to be visited. The Nis Fortress is an important historical monument that rises on the right bank of the river, overlooking the settlements older than two millennia.
There are many more places on the Balkan Peninsula that you should visit and you will not be disappointed!
Maps of Balkan Peninsula