The Alps are one of the great mountain range systems of Europe stretching approximately 750 mi across eight Alpine countries from Austria and Slovenia in the east, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, France to the west and Italy and Monaco to the south. Extreme shortening resulted in marine sedimentary rocks rising by thrusting and folding into high mountain peaks such as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.
- The Alpine region area contains many peaks higher than 4,000 m (13,123 ft), known as the “four-thousanders”.
- 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.
- 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 Alps are subdivided by different lithology (rockcomposition) and nappe structure according to the orogenic events that affected them.
- Peaks in France, Italy and Switzerland lie in the “Houlliere zone”, which consists of basement with sediments from the Mesozoic Era.
- The effect of mountain chains on prevailing winds is to carry warm air belonging to the lower region into an upper zone, where it expands in volume at the cost of a proportionate loss of heat, often accompanied by precipitation in the form of snow or rain.
- The mean precipitation in the Alps ranges from a low of 2600 mm per year to 3600 mm per year with the higher levels occurring at high altitudes.
- Much of the Alpine culture is unchanged since the medieval period when skills that guaranteed survival in the mountain valleys and in the highest villages became mainstays, leading to strong traditions of carpentry, woodcarving, baking and pastry-making, and cheesemaking.