The Lands of Eastern Europe
Physical Survey and Resource Base
THE MAP of Eastern Europe at first glance presents four striking physical phenomena. To the north there is the broad North European (sometimes called North German) Plain which forms the southern coast of the Baltic Sea. This region ranges from about 250 to 350 miles in depth and is open to both east and west. The southern perimeter of the plain is marked by the northernmost extension of the Carpathian Mountains, a huge serpentine chain which traverses the central part of Eastern Europe from north to south in a broad, eastward-sweeping curve. To the west of these mountains begins the great Danube River valley which, with its tributaries and attendant plains, runs first north-south and then eastward to cut through the Carpathians and enter the Black Sea. The fourth region is the rugged landscape of the Balkan Peninsula, delineated on the north by the Danube valley, to the west and south by the Adriatic and the Aegean seas, and to the east by the Black Sea. 1
Poland is one of the few countries of Eastern Europe which has a fairly uniform landscape. Of the country's 121,000 square miles (roughly the size of New Mexico), about 90 percent is in the North European Plain; the remainder, at the extreme southern edge, is in the Carpathian and Sudeten Mountains. Poland has well-defined frontiers to the north (the Baltic) and the south (the Carpathians). To the east and the west, however, Poland has no obvious physical boundaries.
The absence of natural east-west barriers has ensured that the ethnic and political frontiers of Poland have been without historical continuity.