RSSAll Entries in the "The Balkans" Category

post thumbnail


The people who reside in the nations that make up the Balkans regions come from a huge number of different ethnic roots and they hail from a variety of different tribes and civilizations that have come to meet in this region down through the centuries. This part of Europe is among the most mixed of any geographic area in terms of ethnicity, religion and cultural influences. Massive forces in human civilization have met in this part of the world over and over again. This is the place where Latin and Greek roots of the Roman empire have met and intermixed in antiquity. It is also one of the first places human beings traveled to after leaving the area known as the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East. As a result of so much intermixing, it can be difficult to sort out all of the various influences which have combined here to create such a unique blend of heritages. What can be said clearly is that most of the cultures in the Southern part of Europe and the Western part of the Middle East have made their way into the Balkans in one shape or form and left their mark here. Continental European culture, Middle Eastern culture and Mediterranean culture all have played very important roles in shaping each of the populations of the nations that make up the Balkans today.

Many different languages thrive today in the Balkans, whether or not they are official, and most of these spring from two primary sources: Greek language and Slavic tongues of the Southern Slavic language system. No matter whether one is discussing Croatian or Montenegrin language, nearly all of the languages here derive from one of those two roots with significant influences being present from Middle Ages Latin. 

Religions play a very big part of the lives of the people in this region of the world and the dominant forces are Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Roman Catholicism and Islam. In Eastern Orthodoxy, every nation has a state church and the countries which feature these as the primary religion are: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro. The Roman Catholic Church is the dominant religion in Croatia and Slovenia, but it is Islam that holds sway in Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aside from these, there are many other smaller minority religions including variations of the Jewish faith which populate much of this region, albeit in much smaller numbers.

post thumbnail

Nature, Wildlife and Natural Resources

As its name, which means ‘A string of forested mountains’ in Turkish, suggests the Balkans are covered in mountain ranges that make up the vast bulk of the terrain. There are the Sar Mountains, the Pindus Mountains, the Dinaric Alps, which run from north to south; and there are the Balkan Mountains and Rhodope Mountains which run east to west. Out of these mountains, perhaps the most famous is Mount Olympus in Greece which is featured as the mountain of the gods in Greek mythology. The vast majority of the region is heavily forested, but there are also plains regions which are suitable to agriculture and here a great deal of food is produced. 

The climate of the region can be divided out into three primary categories: continental, alpine and coastal. The continental areas of the country are where food is grown and these house the bulk of the population in each of the different Balkan nations. Here the summers are hot and the winters generally feature some level of snowfall, often quite heavy. However, in the upper reaches of the mountainous areas, the snow is much more intense and the winters tend to be much longer than the summers, not to mention far colder. The coastal climates are described as Mediterranean in nature which means that the sun shines more throughout the year and rather than any particular extremes, there is a much balmier type of weather. To the north, the Balkan nations have longer, colder winters than in the milder southern parts of the region.

Due to not only the forest areas, but the vast abundance of both lakes and rivers in this part of the world, there are a huge number of different animals to be found here. The lynx is one of the most impressive of the predatory mammals, eagles have impressed many here throughout history and there are even species of turtles that charm visitors to this part of the world. One of the biggest aspects of wildlife flourishing in this part of the world is the fact that many bird species migrate here during certain parts of the year so in places such as Lake Skadar in Montenegro there can often be seen millions of birds in one location. The biodiversity in the Balkans has made it one of the major stars of the ecotourism industry.

Mining also plays a major role in the economies of many nations here and the resources available include: copper, zinc, tin and bauxite. The harvesting of trees continues, as well, and species such as fir, beech, and oak are prevalent here. Oil and natural gas reserves are not as heavy as in other parts of the world, but they are present.

post thumbnail


The nation of Montenegro is one of the smallest on the Balkan Peninsula, covering just over 5,000 square miles. It derives its name from the Montenegrin word meaning Black Mountain, referring to the fact that the mountainous areas of this country are thick with the classic ‘black forest’ style peaks famous in many parts of Europe.  The capital city of Podgorica is its largest city, as well, home to most of the 600,000 citizens of the country. Most people here speak the official Montenegrin language, but dialects ranging from Serbian to Croatian are generally understood by many, as well. Montenegro shares borders with Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Albania to the southeast, Croatia to the west and Kosovo to the east. Along part of its southwest border lies the Adriatic Sea. 

While Montenegro’s name is a Slavic term first used to describe the region during the 1200’s AD, it held populations far earlier, according to some historians even as far back as the Neolithic period. In 9 AD the Romans arrived and after that time, a huge number of different civilizations would show up and rule for periods of time. Cultures from the Middle Eastern regions of the world, Europe and the Mediterranean all played a large role in shaping the populations here, but more than any other part of this region, Montenegro has ended up with the most diverse population. While ethnic Montenegrins are the greatest percentage of the population, there are many Serbs, Bosniaks, Ethnic Muslims, Croats and Albanians, as well. This has blended to create a distinct culture that manages harmony and variety that is also reflected in its geography.

There are Mediterranean climates along the coast of the Adriatic Sea where it is warm and sunny most of the year. There are alpine regions which receive much snow in the winters, making them home to ski resorts and mountain climbing destinations. In the more central part of the nation there is a more continental climate and rivers which lend to greater agriculture. Over all, this is one of the most highly developed nations in all of the Balkans and a rising star in the tourism industry due to that fact. Massive levels of recent foreign investment have brought in large numbers of world renowned resorts and a rising ecotourism trade has brought about high levels of visitors with over a million people visiting this nation annually in recent years thanks to its transportation system and famed night life in the coastal regions.

post thumbnail

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Formerly a part of the nation known as Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina is the official name of a country which is composed of three main cultures, including Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs. The nation itself is almost entirely inland, with only a short border along the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The countries it neighbors are Montenegro to the southeast, Serbia to the east and Croatia to the north. It has a federal democratic republic style of governance and three official languages: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. For such a small country of just under 20,000 square miles, it has a relatively large population of 4.6 million people. Sarajevo is not only its capital, it is Bosnia and Herzegovina’s largest city, as well.

As in much of the rest of the Balkan regions, the area that composes Bosnia and Herzegovina was first populated during the Stone Age by the Illyrians and then later, 400 years BC, the Celt tribes arrived. Even in those early days, many different civilizations with their own languages called this area home. Rome would eventually rule the land by AD 9, and this would lead to a long and colorful history that includes influences by a number of European and Middle Eastern cultures who have all managed to carve their own niche here. Today, there are several religious traditions alive and well here, including Islam, Serbian Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism. Along with the arts, this country has produced its share of literature, music and cinema. It is also well known for its spicy cuisine which incorporates influences from the palates of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, mixing them with slight influences from continental Europe.

The geographical make up of Bosnia and Herzegovina is highly mountainous, with the Dinaric Alps playing a large role in the topography. The Pannonian Basin provides ample space for agriculture and this is where the majority of the nation’s food is produced. Nearly half of the country is forested and a great many rivers, including the Sava, Bosna and Neretva, all flow through this land. The main cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are Sarajevo, Zenica, Bijeljina, Mostar, and Banja Luka. 

Recently, the tourism industry in this country has expanded at a rapid pace, giving it the third highest rate of increase in tourism in the world. With its many historic, religious and cultural offerings, Sarajevo offers an attractive prospect for many tourists, but ecotourism has taken hold due to the heavy concentration of forests, as well. Whitewater rafting, hiking and skiing are all major activities here now.

post thumbnail


Officially known as the Republic of Bulgaria, this is the 3rd largest country in the Balkan region and shares borders with the nations of Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, along with the Black Sea, and finally, Romania to the north. In all, Bulgaria covers 42,823 square miles and is home to a little over 7.5 million people. The primary language spoken here is Bulgarian and most of the people descend from those ethnic roots. The capital is Sofia and is the largest city, as well. 

There is a rich history to Bulgaria which extends far back into the past since this area of land has played host to several Neolithic cultures such as the Hamangia and Vinca tribes. It continued to be a home for humans throughout the Bronze Age and it would not be until about 7th Century AD that the first true Bulgarian culture, close to how it is recognized today, would arise. After this, many other cultures would pass through and leave traces of their people behind, creating a rich and vast tapestry of influences that has infused Bulgarian history with much lore from other lands. Along with empires from Rome, Greece and Turkey, there were also two distinct Bulgarian Empires that ruled the land. 

Due to its size, there is quite a variety of both geography and climates in Bulgaria. There are the Balkan, Rila and Pirin Mountain ranges which feature alpine climates that hold snow most of the year, but in stark contrast is the warm, mild Black Sea coastal areas. The Danubian Plain has a continental climate that has snowy winters and warm summers. Many lakes, rivers and forests draw significant interest from eco tourists due to their picturesque appearance and biodiversity. The mountains themselves provide vast deposits of mineral wealth such as gold and silver, thus fueling a thriving trade in traditional jewelry and explaining many ancient treasures housed in the museums of this country.

The economy of Bulgaria has been booming in recent times and even throughout the global economic downturn, the nation managed to keep itself in good shape despite what was happening in the world around it. The tremendous amount of manufacturing, production and service business here have seen it through what could have been very tough times. The nation has managed to put itself into the top 40 countries around the globe most popular for tourists and has a regular flow of over 5 million visitors each year.

post thumbnail


Croatia, formally known as The Republic of Croatia, is a country located near the Adriatic Sea, the Balkan Mountain range and the Pannonian plain. To the east of Croatia lies Montenegro and Serbia, to the north Hungary and Slovenia and along its southeastern border lies Herzegovina and Bosnia. The country is 21,851 square miles in total area with a population of just under 4.5 million people in all. The language spoken here is Croatian, a South Slavic language, one of many in the Balkan region. Zagrab is both the largest city in Croatia and the seat of its capital.

While many archaeologists state that the region today known as Croatia was inhabited thousands of years ago, Croats, the original Croatian people, settled in here in the 7th century AD and organized the first true governments of the land. Many fossils remain here from the Neanderthal and Neolithic eras of pre-history which place Croatia high on the list of important places for those interested in the study of early humans who flourished just after the last Ice Age. As with much of the rest of the region, many different cultures have flourished in Croatia from time to time, each leaving their specific imprint on the land and its people, but unlike many other of its neighbors, Croatia was also once its own kingdom. The rich cultural history is a big part of what draws visitors to this land and its museums are some of the most important in the world when it comes to prehistoric and medieval European history and artifacts.

Geographically Croatia resembles the shape of a horseshoe. There are many diverse terrains throughout the country such as plains, rocky coast lines and dense wooded mountain areas. Croatia is well-known for the many national parks it features, many of which attract the growing tide of ecotourists who come to the Balkans each year. There are a huge number of caves here, many of which extend quite deep with the deepest one known to man reaching a full 3,280 feet into the Earth. 

Croatia’s economic is quite well diversified with a heavy emphasis on service, followed by industry. There are shipbuilding, pharmaceutical and other large production businesses thriving here, but it is tourism that is really growing. A full 11 million people visit Croatia each year to enjoy its scenic beauty and this has lead it to be ranked as the 18th most popular destination in the world.

post thumbnail


The Republic of Macedonia is one of the Balkan’s land locked states that was formerly a part of what was known as Yugoslavia. It shares borders with Serbia and Kosovo to the north, Bulgaria on the east, Greece to the south and Albania to the west. The capital city of Macedonia is Skopje which holds nearly 25% of the overall 2.1 million people in this country. Despite its rather large population, the entire country is just under 10,000 square miles in total size. Most of those who live here are Macedonian in heritage, but there is also a significant portion of the population with Albanian roots. The Macedonian language that is primarily spoken in this country is very similar to the Bulgarian language and part of the Slavic language group.

In the centuries prior to the year 1 AD, the region today known as Macedonia was inhabited by a range of different tribal groups including Thracians, Illyrians and Molossians. As a result of the different peoples who have inhabited this country, it has developed a lengthy history that intertwines with many of the countries surrounding it today. However, Macedonia is not as mixed as many of its neighbors in terms of cultural variety. It has been heavily influenced by Greek culture and also, its neighbor Bulgaria. Since the country is a major thoroughfare for goods and people coming from Greece to Eastern, Western and Central Europe, it has significant clout from a geopolitical standpoint. 

The geography of Macedonia is marked by a main valley of the Vardar River which is lined by the Osogovo and Sar Mountains. These scenic mountain ranges are a large part of the tourist draw to this land, but the more than 50 lakes here also play a large role in this, as well. Ecotourism is flourishing in Macedonia, due to its offerings of culturally rich museums, numerous theatrical performances each year and restaurants featuring authentic Macedonian cuisine as well as cutting edge culinary offerings. More than 700,000 visitors arrive in the country each year, visiting not only Skopje, but other cities of importance such as Kumanova, Tetovo, Bitola and Prilep. The famed Macedonian Opera, poetry readings at festivals and plenty of live music bring in visitors not just from the Balkan region, but from all across the world.

The fast growing tech infrastructure of Macedonia has made it an increasingly more attractive place for career seekers to move to and helped its population flourish in recent times. It is in partnership with several neighboring countries to become a major player in the world of e-commerce.

post thumbnail


Located just 45 miles from Italy, Albania shares a border with Greece to the south, Macedonia to the east, Kosovo and Montenegro to the north and has both the Adriatic and Ionian Seas to its west. It is a parliamentary democracy that is currently awaiting membership in the European Union, but is already a member of NATO and the United Nations. Its capital city is Tirana, home to around 727,000 people, but the total population currently stands at 3.6 million people. Tirana is the center of Albania’s financial sphere and the free market here has encouraged a great deal of recent investments from foreign sources to develop energy and transportation services. The country is well known for its red flag which features an eagle with two heads that are pointing away from one another, referencing the nickname of this nation, The Land of the Mountain Eagle.

The history of this country stretches back before the 8th Century BC when it was first colonized by Illyrians along its coast. This civilization was part of what is now modern day Greece, but over time many other civilizations would find their way here, creating a unique tapestry of cultures that is now known simply as ethnic Albanian. The coastal regions are the most inhabited areas of this country simply due to the fact that much of the rest of its territory is taken up by rugged, nearly impenetrable mountains which served for a strong defense in its early days. The coastal areas have a more balmy Mediterranean climate, while the mountain areas are much cooler and drier. Korab is the highest mountain in Albania and is just over 9,000 feet tall. There are many lakes across the country, including the historically important Lake Shkoder, a massive 140 square mile body of water which Albania shares with Montenegro. 

Despite so much of its land being heavily forested, Albania’s primary economic pursuit is agriculture which has flourished here for centuries. Other than agriculture, other industries focus on the harvesting of resources like copper, iron and bauxite. The Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza is Albania’s primary airport which services visitors, but there also motorways throughout the country as well as a network of railroads. 

Most of the people in this country are ethnic Albanians who speak the Albanian language. The religions which flourish here are Islam, Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism. A rich tradition of music, literature and art are found here, as well. The main cities of Albania, aside from the capital of Tirana, are Korce, Durres, Elbasan, Gjirokaster, Shkoder, Kukes and Vlore. 

post thumbnail

The Balkans

With a name derived from the Turkish phrase meaning “range of forested mountains”, the Balkans is a distinct region in Southeastern Europe which is also sometimes referred to as the Balkan Peninsula. The Balkan Mountains stretch from central Bulgaria down to the eastern border of Serbia. While there are many nations that are part of the Balkans today, the region is defined as such due to geopolitical relations and intertwining cultures native to this part of the world. Its borders stretch from the Kolpa, Sava and Danube rivers in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south, with the Black Sea to the east and the Adriatic Sea to the west. Covering over 212,000 square miles and home to 55 million people, there are 8 separate nations here.

Albania shares a border with Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Greece, but it also touches the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas. Its capital is Tirana, which is home to nearly a third of its 3.6 million citizens. Unlike many countries in the Balkan region, most of the people in Albania are descended from the same ethnic heritage: Albanians. The close familial ties play in important role in cultural life here, enriching the traditions of the native peoples, creating very strong families and social identities. The climate here is primarily mild, being separated into the highlands and lowlands areas, each with distinct traits.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a nearly land locked country in this region that shares borders with the nations of Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. The border that it shares with the Adriatic Sea is only 16 miles long. There are a variety of climate types here, from the hot summers and cold winters of the continental inlands to the more balmy Mediterranean weather of the southern end of the nation. The terrain here is equally varied from planes regions to steeply wooded hills. Sarajevo is the capital of this country of nearly 5 million people. The three primary ethnicities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.

Bulgaria borders not only the Black Sea, but also the countries of Romania, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. There are 7.5 million people living here, the vast majority of them sharing Bulgarian ethnic roots. This is the third largest nation in the Balkans after Greece. Its capital is Sofia and it has some of the largest stretch of beach of any country in this region.

Croatia features not only mountains, but the Pannonian Plain and the Adriatic Sea along its edge. The neighboring countries of Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina all share borders with it. The capital city is Zagreb and the total population of this nation is nearly 4.5 million people. The majority of the people speak the Croatian language and descend from that heritage.

Greece is perhaps the most famous of all the Balkan nations, bordering Albania, Turkey, Macedonia and Bulgaria. It’s capital city is Athens and it plays home to 11.3 million people with its balmy climate and Mediterranean coastline. Several islands, including Crete, also belong to Greece.

Kosovo is an entirely landlocked country in the Balkans which shares a border with Serbia, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia. Its capital city is Pristina and its total population is near 1.8 million people. Most of those who live in this nation are of Albanian descent and speak either the Albanian or Serbian language.

Macedonia is another landlocked nation that shares its border with Kosovo, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Albania. Nearly a quarter of its 2.1 million people reside in the capital city of Skopje. The country features many tall mountains and over fifty different lakes.

Montenegro shares borders with Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo, but it also has a coast along the Adriatic Sea. The capital city is Podgorica and a variety of languages are spoken among its nearly 700,000 citizens.

post thumbnail


The nation known as the Republic of Kosovo is connected with the borders of Serbia to the north and east, Macedonia to the south, Montenegro to the northwest and Albania to the west. The country is very small, covering a territory that totals just over 4,000 square miles, but has a booming population of 1.8 million people. Its capital, Pristina, is its largest city with over 600,000 citizens living there. Kosovo got its name from a phrase that, in the Serbian dialect, means ‘field of blackbirds’. Since it is the key link between not only the Adriatic and Black Seas, as well as northern and central Europe, Kosovo wields a considerable level of influence in its region, despite its small size. 

The history of Kosovo as a territory begins long before the first year AD, when the Dardani people first arose here. Until the Roman empire arrived in 160 BC, they were the primary inhabitants, but later the Slavic peoples would move into the area and after this, a progression of empires including the Bulgarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire would bring this territory under their control. As a result, as with most of the Balkan region, Kosovo has a vast diversity of cultural influences that have helped it to develop its own quite distinct presence. Today, the majority of the people here are of Albanian descent, but there are those with Serbian heritage, as well. This is why the two official languages are Albanian and Serbian.

Warm summers and cold, snowy winters are typical of the continental climate in this country. Due to its positioning, most of the land in Kosovo is rugged mountain terrain with the tallest mountain being Deravica, which towers at more than 8,700 feet above sea level. The primary waterways of the country are the Ibar, South Morava, Sitnica White Drin and Erenik rivers, but there are a number of large lakes, too. Forests cover just under 40% of the territory, leaving slightly over half of it suitable for some form of agriculture. 

There is an International Airport in the capital city of Pristina and the primary highway into Kosovo comes from Skopje, Macedonia, acting as the central motorway for incoming visitors. Other cities of size are Kosovska Mitrovica, Pec, Bakovica and Prizren. Thanks to a great deal of foreign investment over the past few years and such eco tourism friendly pursuits as ski resorts in the mountains, Kosovo is increasingly a more attractive place for visitors to vacation and do business, as well.