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5 geographical facts that might change the way you look at Europe

You probably know many famous European landmarks, such as Big Ben in London (technically called Elizabeth Tower), the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the Colosseum in Rome. Yet Europe has a lot more to offer, including lesser-known geographical features and astounding geographical facts — like the five below. They just might change the way you look at the continent.

The Mediterranean Sea Was Once a Desert

If you've spent any time on the shores of the Mediterranean, you might find it hard to believe the picturesque seascape was once a desert. Scientists believe the sea dried up about 5 million years ago as a result of upward movement by the Earth's crust. This movement caused the Straits of Gibraltar to act as a dam and seal off the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean. This epoch is also referred to as "The Messinian Salinity Crisis." Before the sea was blocked off, saltwater from the Atlantic rushed into the sea and couldn't escape. When the water dried up, layers of salt created a mile-high salt wall, and all sea life died.

Europe Is Larger Than Australia

Maps distort our perception of the world, especially in terms of country and continent size, because it's difficult to project the circular globe onto a flat surface with total accuracy. For example, the common Mercator map has been criticized for exaggerating the size of countries closer to the poles, while downplaying the size of countries and continents closer to the equator. When you look at the map, Australia appears quite large, making Europe the obvious candidate for the "Smallest Continent Award." To be fair, Australiais a large landmass (it would qualify as the largest island in the world if it wasn't a continent), yet Europe is larger than Australiaby about 30%.

Greenland Is Not Its Own Country

The days of Spanish exploration, the Great British empire, and European geographic colonization are gone, with many countries fighting for independence from their motherland. Yet, some overseas territories still do exist, and Greenland is one of them. Technically, Greenland is an autonomous territory of Denmark, and also the world's largest island — three times the size of Texas.

Europe Has a Rainforest

The thought of a rainforest conjures up images of gorgeous, endless flora and fauna found in the Amazon and other tropical locations; it's likely Europe doesn't cross your mind when you hear the term. Yet if you travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina, you will find Perucica, a rainforest and one of two remaining old-growth forests in Europe. The forest lies within Sutjeska National Park and remains protected. Nicknamed "the Lungs of Europe," Perucica is home to more than 170 species of trees and bushes, including beech, fir, spruce, and mountain maple, as well as more than 1,000 species of herbaceous plants. Visitors especially enjoy the panoramic views from Vidikovac, a lookout point for Skakavac Waterfall, which falls 246 feet into a forest-covered valley

Europe Is Home to the Second-Most Active Volcano in the World

Europe Is Home to the Second-Most Active Volcano in the World

Mt. Etna, located in Sicily, is the second-most active volcano in the world behind Hawaii's Kilauea volcano. Etna has regular volcanic ash eruptions but hasn't had a major eruption since the winter of 2008 and 2009. In 2013, Mt. Etna made the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Those who visit undoubtedly want to hike to the craters, which can be accessed from the north and south side of Mt. Etna with an experienced tour guide. When Etna's activity isn't high or causing earthquakes, adventure seekers can explore the volcano's ancient lava flows, caves, and active fumaroles as they hike along the sides of the volcano.

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