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The Alps
(Part 2)


(b) Limits of the Alps

To define the precise limits of the Alps, as well be seen fully in describing the several groups, is a somewhat arbitrary operation. To the W. they extend through a large portion of the French departments of Savoie, Haute-Savoie, Hautes Alpes, and Basses Alpes, being divided from the mountain district of the Cevennes by the broad and deep valley through which the Rhone flows from Lyons to the Mediterranean. The Jura range, usually regarded as distinct from the Alps, is nevertheless closely connected on one side with the outer ranges of the Alps of western Savoy, and on the other with those of northern Switzerland. On the N. side the Alps are definitely bounded by the lake of Constance, the plain of Bavaria, and the low country extending from Salzburg to the neighbourhood of Venna. By these are completely separated from the mountainous districts of central Germany, which extend through western Bohemia and Saxony in one direction to the Hartz mountains, and in the other to the Sudeten, or Riesengebirge, of Silesia. Hence it happens that the drainage of the northern slopes of the Alps flows either to the North Sea through the Rhine, or is diverted through the Danube to the Black Sea, and no portion of it reaches the Baltic. The eastern limit of the Alps is not easily defined with accuracy. The region of high hills, chiefly formed of tertiary strata, that extends from the left bank of the Mur into Hungary is continued by the north side of Lake Balaton to the Danube near buda; and some geographers see in the hilly district that stretches thence to the northern Carpathians a connection between that range and the Alps. For practical purposes it seems that the line of depression, partly formed by the valley of the Mur, through which the railway is carried from Vienna to Laybach, may be considered as the eastern boundary of the Alpine chain. On the southern side the difficulty of fixing the precise limits of the Alpine chain is still more apparent. For a distance of some 350 miles, from the neighbourhood of Turin to that of Gorizia, the boundary is sufficiently obvious. The mountains subside into the continuous plain which includes the greater part of Piedmont, Lombardy, and Venetia; and their drainage is all borne eastward to the Adriatic. But on the west side of Piedmont the Alpine chain dividing Italy from France extends nearly due southward till its approached to the Mediterranean in the neighbourhood of Nice. About 40 miles north of this city, that which, from its superior height and its geological structure, we call the main chain, is bent around from west to east in a curve, slightly convex towards the south, till it becomes parallel to the Mediterranean shore, and is merged in the chain of the Apennines.

For reasons hereafter mentioned it would appear that the limits of the Alps in this direction may best be fixed at the Col d’Altare, west of Savona, though the boundary commonly adopted is that of the Col di Tenda, lying considerably farther to the west. At the south-eastern extremity of the Alpine chain the difficulty of fixing its limits arises rather from the vague use of geographical terms by ancient and modern writers than from the physical structure of the region. Taking no account of the arbitrary proceedings of geographers who have included in the Alps the mountains dividing Bosnia from Croatia and Dalmatia, and regarding only the natural features of the country it seems clear that the south-eastern extremity of the Alps must be looked for in the group of lofty peaks between the head waters of the Isonzo and those of the Save, whose highest summit is the Terglou; and if we are not to include all the mountain ranges of European Turkey and Greece within the same designation, the plateau of the Karst must be held to form the boundary between these and the Alps. Within these limits the Alps extend from about the 44th to the 48th parallel of N. lat, and from about 5° 10’ to 18° 10’ E. long.

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