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Carpathian Mountains: Structure, Mineral Resources, Plant and Animal Life, History

Carpathian Mountains are an important mountain system of eastern Europe. Rising near Bratislava, Slovakia, from the valley of the Danube River, which separates them from the Austrian Alps, the Carpathian Mountains swing in a great arc toward the east through parts of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, and Romania.

Then curving sharply westward through Romania in what are known as the Transylvanian Alps, the mountains again approach the Danube (near Orşova, Romania), which separates them from the Balkan Mountains, which are located to the south.

With the Danube as a base, the Carpathians outline a tongue-shaped projection into central Europe, enclosing Hungary and erecting a natural barrier between Slovakia and Poland. In width the mountain system varies from about 7 to 230 miles (11 to 370 km) and in length extends some 800 miles (1,300 km).

The Carpathian system may be roughly divided into the western and eastern Carpathians. The western section includes an imposing mountain knot known as the High Tatra. Gerlachovka Stit, the highest peak in the Carpathians, rising to a height of 8,737 feet (2,700 meters), is located in the High Tatra.

Several other summits of the group reach to more than 8,000 feet (2,400 meters). Negoiul Peak is the culminating point of the eastern Carpathians.

Structure and Mineral Resources

The Carpathian Mountains were mainly formed during the Tertiary period, with the process largely completed by the Miocene epoch. The outer flanks, generally steeper than the inner slopes, are composed largely of shales and sandstones dating from Cretaceous and Tertiary times. Here is found the characteristic building material known as Carpathian sandstone.

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The inner flanks are more complex in structure with Permian and Mesozoic strata overlying a foundation of Carboniferous and older rocks interspersed with outcroppings of Jurassic limestone.

The Carpathians are so rich in mineral deposits that some Slovakian peaks are called "ore mountains." Gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, mercury, and iron are found there. Coal and petroleum are abundant. There are also pockets of rock salt hundreds of feet thick.

Water Resources

The Carpathians form a natural watershed between important river systems such as the Oder, Vistula, and Dniester to the north and east and the southward flowing tributaries of the middle Danube. The annual rainfall ranges from 24 to 56 inches (610-1,420 mm).

Plant and Animal Life

Vegetation, as in other mountainous regions, ascends through definite gradations. Agricultural crops and fruit trees flourish to a height of about 1,500 feet (450 meters), while numerous herds of cattle and sheep find pasturage at higher levels. Forests of oak, beech, and chestnut clothe the slopes to a height of about 4,000 feet (1,220 meters), where they yield to hardier firs and pines.

Above an altitude of 6,000 feet (1,800 meters), only desolate outcroppings of barren rock emerge. The Carpathians provide a natural barrier against chill winds from the north and endow regions to the south with a mild climate. Bears, wolves, and lynxes still lurk in the wilder areas, and birds of prey are common.


The Carpathian Mountains have played an important part in the history of eastern Europe. Although the range appears formidable on the map, the configuration of the land allows for easy passage through and settlement in areas near the mountains.

In the 1st century the southern Carpathians were the center of the Dacian kingdom, which was conquered by Emperor Trajan in 106 and added to the Roman Empire. With the withdrawal of the Roman forces in 271, the numerous peoples -Slavs, Magyars, Germans, and others- who were to populate eastern Europe in modern times, passed through the mountains or settled near them. In World War I and World War II, the area was the scene of major campaigns.

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