Although modern Austria has a varied climate and a wide range of vegetation, its mountains have shaped much of its history. The eastern Alps, their foothills, and the Carpathian foothills, near Austria’s border with Slovakia, account for almost 75 percent of the territory of the modern Federal Republic. The Grossglockner, rising 3,740 meters (12,270 feet), is the highest peak and lies between the East Tyrol and Carinthia.
   Geologically a very young chain, the Austrian Alps are limestone, granite, and sandstone formations, depending on the region where they arose. Some of their most distinctive features appeared during the Ice Ages; the numerous glaciers, which still cut through their surfaces, are a product of these periods.
   Negotiating the Alps on a north–south axis has challenged humankind from prehistoric times. The Romans broke through the Brenner passage during the emperorship of Septimus Severus around the beginning of the third century. A way over the Semmering from Lower Austria to Styria was found during the Middle Ages, and the passage from Leoben to Hieflau in Styria appears to have been traversed very early. The tunneling of the chain for rail and automotive traffic took place in the 19th and 20th centuries.
   From an economic perspective, the Alps have both helped and hindered Austrian development. They have left the country with relatively little arable land—only about 20 percent of its surface. In earlier times, famine was a common occurrence in the mountainous parts of the country. Some regions of the Alps, however, have been the source of rich mineral deposits, particularly silver. These were concentrated in the Tyrol around Schwaz and Hall, though they had substantially run out by the 17th century. Today the greatest value of the Alps, aside from tourism and recreation, is their role in the generation of hydroelectric energy both for export and domestic consumption.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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