Europe's True Size (Is Smaller Than You Might Think)
Europe's True Size (Is Smaller Than You Might Think)

Europe's True Size (Is Smaller Than You Might Think)

Australia is so big compared to Europe! Brazil is so big compared to Europe! DR Congo is so big compared to Europe! - Maybe something else is happening...


This is a globe. And this is the only way to have a true representation of the size and locations of the countries of the world. Any map or 2D representation is gonna be off in some way, whether it's the size or the location or something else that's really strange.

Now, the Mercator projection is one of the most famous maps out there. And what it does it it distorts the map in size the further away from the equator you get. That leads us to things like mega Greenland and infinity Antarctica. And Europe's a place that's unusual. Yes, it's exaggerated on maps like this, but it's also become a weird point of reference and something that I think should change.

And I grew up down here in a small town at the bottom of Australia, and I had to move to university. And the closest major university, well, as according to Google Maps, 778 kilometers away. So about an eight-hour drive or 148-hour walk. And this might seem far, 778 Ks as the crow flies is about the same distance as London to Denmark or Rome to Munich or Budapest to Greece.

Australia can feel like a big place. And most Australians will have heard a story about someone coming from overseas and arriving in a place like Sydney and then asking how much a taxi would be to get Perth, a journey that would takes days and days and days and days from people who just don't understand the size of the country.

So I guess to cash in on this phenomenon, we've started to sell postcards like this and this that show the size of the country compared to Europe. This isn't a new phenomenon. Maps like this go back to the 1930s. I actually remember planning my first trip to Europe, looking at maps and thinking, "Vienna is just so close to Berlin, "which is so close to Paris, which is so close to London," and just thinking the whole place felt small.

And Australia isn't the only country to get this compared to Europe treatment. Brazil's had them for decades, old maps like this just showing how many European countries you can jam in. In 2019, this tweet from a former New Zealand prime minister got a lot of attention showing that small old New Zealand could reach all the way from Copenhagen down the south of France. But who knows, maybe the New Zealanders were just excited that their country was being shown on a map for a change.

New Zealand is disappearing off world maps. Disappearing? It's all over the internet. What?

The excellent website Brilliant Maps put out an article called "Chile Is a Ridiculously Long Country." And how did they show that? Well, you guessed it, overlaid across Europe. At that was their choice. There's lots of ways you could show that Chile is a long country, by comparing it, for example, to 1 million back-to-back Volkswagen Beetles. Or covering an election campaign in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the BBC put out this map to show the size of the country. And that's just a few examples. There's heaps more out there. In fact, it's become so common that it's actually become a meme. And something which I kinda love.

[TV] Hello, people. Welcome to "What Fits into Russia." Yesterday, the last country we put in place was Angola. And look! Ha! With these other countries, not even half filling Mother Russia because of its enormous size.

So what's happening here? Well, part of it is about communication. If you're European, it probably makes more sense to think of something from the distance from Portugal to Denmark than it is to think about 1 million VWs lined up in a row. And this kinda gets to a core question. How big is Europe? And this is where things get a little bit complicated. Europe is a continent, and continents, as far as geographic phenomena go, is a little bit arbitrary. It's defined as "a large, discrete continuous mass of land "ideally separated by an expanse of water." Now, this isn't the case with Europe where the boundary isn't necessarily clear.

But not everyone considers Europe a continent at all. Yes, it makes the cut in the seven-continent model, but a lot of people, particularly in Russia and Japan, consider a six-continent model where Europe is part of broader Eurasia. If we go with the standard definition, then Europe runs to the Ural Mountains and has a total area of around 10 million square kilometers. This definition does mean that some countries which you may not think of as European are part of that area, including Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and notably that 40% of the European land mass is actually in Russia.

So if you see a map of Europe that doesn't include a significant chunk of Russia, then it's even smaller again. And there's a great website called True Size Of where you can drag around different countries to see how big they are if they were on different locations on the Mercator projection.

And what most people do is pick up countries and take them over Europe to see how big they compare. So here's my theory. What happens if rather than being shocked that all of these countries are so big, what if Europe is just small? And this has come about because historically the world's had a very Europe-centric approach, from timezones to directions and yes, the size of countries.

So my thought is why don't we turn this on the head, have the same feeling that I had when I was researching my trip to Europe, to think that, "Europe, it's diverse, it's beautiful, "it's interesting, but yes, it's small."

Thanks for watching. I'm Julian O'Shea. Feel free to comment about how big your country is in units of Liechtensteins or Spains. And if you see people on the internet just blow away by how big your country is, feel free to send this video their way. Take care.