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Mount Elbrus – where is it?

My attention was drawn to Mount Elbrus in Russia yesterday when a comment to one of our articles which stated that Mont Blanc was the highest peak in Europe was challenged, and I was informed that Mount Elbrus in Russia was…

My first instinct of course was to reply that Russia is not in Europe and I felt that the Russians might feel it a little extreme to suddenly be called Europeans!

However, I decided the subject needed a little research and this brought up the interesting fact that there is some discrepancy over the continental divide between Europe and Asia – the one does not include Mount Elbrus in Europe, whilst the other does

This needed further research. Be warned: you are about to get a Geography lesson here…

The eastern boundary of Europe has been variously defined since antiquity. While Europe is considered a geographical entity, it is done so as a super-peninsula of the mainland of Asia as there is no tectonic plate boundary separating the two; as for example there is with the Indian subcontinent, which does reside on a different tectonic plate to the rest of Asia and Europe but is still considered to be part of Asia.

Some atlases state that the Europe-Asia boundary follows the watershed of the Ural Mountains from near Kara, Russia on the Kara Sea to the source of the Ural River, then follows that river to the Caspian Sea. The border then follows the watershed of the Caucasus Mountains from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea.

Hope you’ve got an atlas beside you!

By this definition, the Greater Caucasus mountains are on the border of Europe and Asia. Mount Elbrus is north of the watershed divide and would be entirely in Europe by this definition, making it the highest point in Europe. The Lesser Caucasus is located entirely in Asia by the same criterion.

However, Russian geographers in mid-18th century (and now the current Russian definition and taught in textbooks in the USSR, now Russia, since 1958),  marked the boundary between Europe and Asia as running along the Mugodzhar Hills, then down the Emba River to the Caspian Sea. From the Caspian Sea it runs to the Black Sea along the Kuma-Manych Depression, marked by the rivers of the same name.

It places all of the Caucasus, including countries of Georgia and Azerbaijan and North Caucasian republics of Chechnya and Dagestan, entirely in Asia.

I could go on forever as it has been a fascinating study, but I think it is for this reason that we can be forgiven, in Europe, for calling Mont Blanc our highest peak… It is possibly incorrect and it is obviously, geographically and historically acceptable, to be open to your own interpretation!

Last but not least, if Mount Elbrus in considered to be in Europe it considerably overshadows Mont Blanc. Elbrus is 5,642m high which overwhelms Mount Blanc’s 4,808m. In the worldwide prominence of peaks, Elbrus stands at 10th and Mont Blanc 11th. It is also the highest peak in Russia.

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