Mountains and Rivers
Map of southeastern Europe

Map of southeastern Europe (c) USIP

Southeastern Europe is marked by topographical contrasts defined by its mountain ranges and river valleys. Historically, the movement of peoples and armies has been shaped by the realities of the landscape. These factors have also had an impact on the development of strong central authorities and their ability to retain control over territory. Mountains and rivers have also served as the boundary markers between states and empires.

Key topography

There are some key differences between the regions of southeastern Europe.

  • Across Montenegro, Northern Albania, Northwestern Macedonia and Western Bosnia, the terrain is mountainous, with many peaks over 2000 meters.
  • On the western side, the mountains drop to the sea in some places; in others, they yield to a coastal plain.
  • Inland, the landscape softens, most markedly in the north. The city of Zagreb is low-lying on the river Sava, which flows through Sisak and Brcko in eastern Bosnia before joining the Danube in Belgrade.
  • The Danube flows south and east through rich farmland, past the Croatian town of Vukovar before reaching Novi Sad, the capital of Vojvodina, and then Belgrade.
  • Southwards from Belgrade, the main road and rail links follow the south Morava River to Vranje and then go on to Skopje.
  • From Macedonia's capital, the Vardar river valley provides a route to the rich lowlands around Thessaloniki in Greece.