The Balkan Peninsula, or the Balkans, is a peninsula and a cultural area in Southeastern Europe with various and disputed borders. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch from the Serbia-Bulgaria border to the Black Sea.

The Balkans are bordered by the Adriatic Sea on the northwest, the Ionian Sea on the southwest, the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea on the south and southeast, and the Black Sea on the east and northeast. The highest point of the Balkans is Mount Musala 2,925 metres (9,596 ft) in the Rila mountain range.



In Turkish, Balkan means “a chain of wooded mountains” (Balkan). Another possibility to its etymology is related to Persian bālk meaning “mud”, and the Turkish suffix an, i.e. Muddy Place. The name is still preserved in Central Asia with the Balkan Daglary (Balkan Mountains) and the Balkan Province of Turkmenistan. A less popular hypothesis regarding its etymology is that it derived from the Persian Balā-Khāna, meaning big high house.

In the languages of the region, the peninsula is known as:

  • Slavic languages:
    • Bulgarian: Балкански полуостров, transliterated: Balkanski poluostrov
    • Macedonian: Балкански Полуостров, transliterated: Balkanski Poluostrov
    • Serbian: Balkansko poluostrvo/ Балканско полуострво
    • Croatian: Balkanski poluotok
    • Slovene: Balkanski polotok
    • Bosnian: Balkansko poluostrvo
  • Romance languages:
    • Italian: Penisola balcanica
    • Romanian: Peninsula Balcanică
  • Other languages:
    • Albanian: Gadishulli Ballkanik and Siujdhesa e Ballkanit
    • Greek: Βαλκανική χερσόνησος, transliterated: Valkaniki chersonisos
    • Turkish: Balkan Yarımadası (or alternatively: Balkanlar)

The Balkan Peninsula

The Balkan Peninsula has a combined area of about 470,000 km2 (181,000 sq mi) (slightly smaller than Spain). It is more or less identical to the region known as Southeastern Europe.

As of 1920 until World War II, Italy included Istria and some Dalmatian areas (like Zara, known as Zadar) that are within the general definition of the Balkan peninsula. The current territory of Italy includes only the small area around Trieste inside the Balkan Peninsula. However, the regions of Trieste and Istria are not usually considered part of the Balkans by Italian geographers, due to a definition of the Balkans that limits its western border to the Kupa River.

Share of land area within the Balkan Peninsula by country by the Danube-Sava definition:

Entirely within the Balkans:

  •  Albania: 27,390 km2 (>99% of total land)
  •  Bulgaria : 108,400 km2 (>99%)
  •  Bosnia and Herzegovina: 51,180 km2 (>99%)
  •  Kosovo[a]: 10,908 km2 (>99%)
  •  Macedonia: 25,430 km2 (>99%)
  •  Montenegro: 13,440 km2 (>99%)

Mostly or partially within the Balkans:

  •  Croatia (south mainland): 30,000 km2 (54%)
  •  Greece (mainland): 104,470 km2[27] (80%)
  •  Italy (Trieste and Monfalcone): 300 km2 (0.1%)
  •  Romania (Dobruja ‘s mainland): 12,000 km2 (5%)
  •  Serbia (south part excl. Vojvodina and North Belgrade): 66,000 km2 (75%)
  •  Slovenia (southwest part): 10,000 km2 (50%)
  •  Turkey (European part): 23,000 km2 (3%)



The region is a meeting point of Orthodox Christianity, Islam and Roman Catholic Christianity. Eastern Orthodoxy is the majority religion in both the Balkan peninsula and the Balkan region. A variety of different traditions of each faith are practiced, with each of the Eastern Orthodox countries having its own national church. A part of the population in the Balkans defines itself as irreligious.

Territories in which the principal religion is Eastern Orthodoxy (with national churches in parentheses) Religious minorities of these territories
Bulgaria: 59% (Bulgarian Orthodox Church) Islam (7%) and undeclared (31%)
Greece: 98% (Greek Orthodox Church) Islam (1%), Catholicism, other and undeclared
Macedonia: 64% (Macedonian Orthodox Church) Islam (33%), Catholicism
Montenegro: 72% (Serbian Orthodox Church, Montenegrin Orthodox Church) Islam (19%), Catholicism (3%), other and undeclared (5%)
Serbia: 84% (Serbian Orthodox Church) Catholicism (5%), Islam (3%), Protestantism (1%), other and undeclared (6%)
Territories in which the principal religion is Catholicism Religious minorities of these territories
Croatia (86%) Eastern Orthodoxy (4%), Islam (1%), other and undeclared (7%)
Slovenia (57%) Islam (2%), Orthodox (2%), other and undeclared (36%)
Territories in which the principal religion is Islam[ Religious minorities of these territories
Albania (58%) Catholicism (10%), Orthodoxy (7%), other and undeclared (24%)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (51%) Orthodoxy (31%), Catholicism (15%), other and undeclared (14%)
Kosovo (95%) Roman Catholicism (2%), Eastern Orthodoxy (1%)
Turkey (99%) Catholicism and Orthodoxy


The Balkan region today is a very diverse ethno-linguistic region, being home to multiple Slavic, and Romance languages, as well as Albanian, Greek, Turkish, and others. Romani is spoken by a large portion of the Romanis living throughout the Balkan countries. Throughout history many other ethnic groups with their own languages lived in the area, among them Thracians, Illyrians, Romans, Celts and various Germanic tribes. All of the aforementioned languages from the present and from the past belong to the wider Indo-European language family, with the exception of the Turkic languages (e.g., Turkish and Gagauz).

State Principal language Linguistic minorities
 Albania 98% Albanian 2% other
 Bosnia and Herzegovina 53% Bosnian 31% Serbian, 15% Croatian, 2% other
 Bulgaria 78% Bulgarian 8% Turkish, 4% Romani, 1% other, 10% unspecified
 Croatia 96% Croatian 1% Serbian, 3% other
 Greece 99% Greek 1% other
 Kosovo 94% Albanian 2% Bosnian, 2% Serbian, 1% Turkish, 1% other
 Macedonia 67% Macedonian 25% Albanian, 4% Turkish, 2% Romani, 1% Serbian, 2% other
 Montenegro 43% Serbian 37% Montenegrin (official), 5% Bosnian, 5% Albanian, 5% other, 4% usnepcified
 Romania 91% Romanian 7% Hungarian, 1% Romani
 Serbia 88% Serbian 3% Hungarian, 2% Bosnian, 1% Romani, 3% other, 2% unspecified
 Slovenia 91% Slovene 5% Serbo-Croatian, 4% other
 Turkey 84% Turkish 12% Kurdish, 4% other and unspecified




Below is a list of largest and urbanized cities:

City Country Population Agglomeration Year
Istanbul*  Turkey 9,000,000 10,000,000 2014
Bucharest  Romania 1,883,425 2,272,163 2011
Sofia  Bulgaria 1,260,120 1,681,666 2014
Belgrade  Serbia 1,166,763 1,659,440 2011
Zagreb  Croatia 688,163 1,113,111 2011
Athens  Greece 664,046 3,753,783 2011
Skopje  Macedonia 444,800 506,926 2014
Tirana  Albania 418,495 800,986 2011
Plovdiv  Bulgaria 341,567 404,665 2014
Varna  Bulgaria 335,949 344,775 2014
Thessaloniki  Greece 325,182 1,012,297 2011
Cluj-Napoca  Romania 324,576 411,379 2011
Timișoara  Romania 319,279 384,609 2011
Iași  Romania 290,422 382,484 2011
Constanța  Romania 283,872 425,916 2011
Ljubljana  Slovenia 278,789 278,789 2015
Novi Sad  Serbia 277,522 341.625 2011
Sarajevo Bosnia and HerzegovinaBosnia 275,524 355,170 2013
Craiova  Romania 269,506 420,000 2011
Çorlu  Turkey 253,500 273,362 2014
Brașov  Romania 253,200 369,896 2011

* Only the European part of Turkey is a part of the Balkans. It is home to two thirds of the city’s 14,025,646 inhabitants.



Time Zones

The time zones in the Balkans are defined as the following:

  • Territories in the time zone of UTC+01:00: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia
  • Territories in the time zone of UTC+02:00: Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and Turkey




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