Pack your virtual luggage for a quick trip around the globe. We are going to find out a little about each of the seven continents, and what makes them unique.
Asia is the largest continent with the greatest number of people—60% of the world’s people live in Asia. It is thousands of years old, the birthplace of many ancient civilizations starting with Sumeria. The total population of all the countries inside, with the biggest being China is: Population: 3,335,672,000.
Asia is also home to the most languages in the world, over two thousand from popular Mandarin to Javanese. Their biggest city, Tokyo, Japan is the most populated city with over 28 million people. Rich in natural resources like forests and petroleum, Asia also boasts a manmade landmark that can be seen from outer space: The Great Wall of China. Asia has seen many wars throughout its history and millions of its people have lived under communism. Today Asian cities are modern with industrious people.
Africa is the second largest landmass with the most countries, 53 and a population of 732 million. It straddles the equator, is home to the largest desert, the Sahara, and the longest river, the Nile. The natural features of the land are stunning with mountain ranges—the highest Mt. Kilimanjaro, to the lowest point, below sea level—in Egypt.
A diverse continent, the climate is made up of hot deserts, tropical wet jungles, arid plains, and many coastal cities. Africa is home to many exotic animals from gorilla to zebra to exotic birds and more. Coffee plantations as well as bananas, cocoa beans, corn, cotton, olives, palm nuts, sugarcane, dates and nuts abound in the warm climate.
The Egyptian empire with its pharaohs and pyramids were one of its oldest cultures. African people have had many hardships and in history many were kidnapped from their tribes and villages and forced into slavery. Most people in Africa are poor and suffer the hardships that come under many regimes that torture the people and make them leave their homes only to become refugees. It has always been a country that has been exploited.
North America is next in size with 24,256,000 sq. km or an area of 9,355,000 square miles. It is comprised of the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean Islands and Greenland. The climate runs the gamut from freezing Polar Regions to tropical air masses. Much of the landmass contains lakes and fresh water, more than any other continent. The topography can be mountainous, marine areas, highlands, interior plains, tropical—and because of so much direct contact with both polar and tropical air, has frequent natural hazards as tornadoes, drought, floods and winter blizzards.
The main languages are English, Spanish, and French. The two largest (population) cities are Mexico City and New York City. North America has been inhabited for thousands of years but was discovered by Europeans in 1492 through a voyage undertaken by Christopher Columbus. This “New World" developed into an economic and technological wonder.
Little known fact: North America and South America are treated as separate continents. However, in earlier times they were viewed as a single continent known as America— the Organization of American States—and are still perceived that way in Spain, Portugal and other Latin American countries.
South America is next in size with 12 countries inside and it resides in the southern half of the two West Hemisphere continents, linked together by the narrow land of Central America. It is home to the Amazon River, the largest in terms of water volume, and has the highest lake, Lake Titicaca in the Andes Mountains at about 12500 feet (3810 m) above sea level.
The population is 327 million with Spanish and Portuguese the dominant languages. The land areas are often fertile and the jungle rain forest regions hold one-fifth of the world’s birds and many exotic creatures. South America had its own ancient cultures: the Inca, the Maya and the Aztecs, three great civilizations. Farming, cattle, and technology—airplane building—are juxtaposed against coffee farms, where Colombia is the leading coffee producer.
The second smallest continent after Australia, Europe has 46 countries. It is bounded by the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Black and Mediterranean seas but it also claims thousands of offshore islands. With approximately 742,400,000 people, the countries are diverse in custom and ethnicity. Home to many languages from Russian, German, French, Italian, Polish, Spanish and more, Europe has a many-citied, cosmopolitan feel with much great heritage—a history of knights and kings—and lots of national architecture. The largest cities are: Moscow, London, Istanbul, St. Petersburg and Berlin.
Historically, the Greeks and the Romans were the most prominent ancient civilizations and their influence can be felt today in the art, buildings, churches, and even with aqueducts and ancient sewer systems. The industrial revolution started in Europe and moved the inhabitants from medieval times into the modern world. Devastated by two World Wars, many cities had to be rebuilt. The roots of many trades—weaving, baking, printing etc., make them an industrious people. The land also has many great mountain systems and skiing and snow activities are popular.
Australia is the smallest of all the continents. It is the only country-continent that has its own capital, Canberra. It is also referred to as Oceania or Australasia, because it can encompass various islands in the Pacific Ocean. Home to little more than 18,675,700 people, the commonwealth of Australia is mostly desert or semi-arid grounds—one third is the tropics—with the oldest and least fertile of soils. On the coast however, it is home to The Great Barrier Reef, the largest coral reef in the world. Mainly an English-speaking people, it is also home to an ancient aboriginal population, which has dwindled to about 500 tribes or 265,000 people. Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are the largest cities.
History tells us that Australia was a prison island as in the 17th and 18th century. The British often banished their criminals halfway round the world and dropped them off. Sheep farming is huge in Australia and wool is one of their largest exports along with wheat, meat and rich mineral deposits. Tourism is important and their surfs, natural plants, kangaroo and koala are popular attractions. The outback, a large open desert, is full of strange creatures.
Antarctica has a continental landmass of almost 6 million square miles—12 percent of the earth—covered by an icecap between 6,000 and 14,000 feet thick except where the mountain peaks break through the ice. Almost the entire continent is covered by ice. There are no residents except for a few mites; microscopic rotifers and tiny wingless insects who can survive the cold. The coasts and offshore waters, however, are home to penguins, petrels, fulmars—sea birds—and other marine mammals. The temperature is 18 to 27-degrees Fahrenheit. (Shown in blue at left.)
BONUS: For a complete continent map showing all continents, along with latitude and longitude lines and colored topography that you can download, go here: World Map
- Images: Oceania: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ContinentalAustralia.png,
- Images: Wikimedia Commons/US government [Public domain]
- Continents: http://library.thinkquest.org/J002719/home.html
- The New American Desk Encyclopedia. Signet, Penguin Putnam, 1997.