Europe-Asia Boundary Shapefile
Here is an ultra-precise shapefile of the boundary between Europe and Asia. Anyone may use it for any purpose, as long as they cite Sasha Trubetskoy and, if possible, link to this site.Download .shp Download GeoJSON
There is no obvious or natural border between Europe and Asia. Many have been proposed, but they are all arbitrary. As of 2020, there is a consensus in Western cartography about where the border is generally located, and this file attempts to represent that. The line is said to follow the Aegean Sea, go through the Turkish Straits and the Black Sea, follow the crest line of the Caucasus, cross the Caspian to find the Ural River and follow it up to some point, follow the crest line of the Urals, and enter the Kara Sea. Beyond this vague description there is not much else.
Sometimes, when analyzing data, a more precise line is needed. For instance, if you are calculating the “population of Europe” and have defined Europe as a physical entity (as opposed to something like the EU), how do you decide if a city is in Asia or in Europe? After searching in vain for some spatial data on this boundary, I just made one myself.
Here is a more precise description of the boundary line.
1. Greece-Turkey maritime border
Looking purely at physical geography, a border between Europe and Asia would run through the Aegean Sea, putting Greek islands like Rhodes, Lesbos and Kos in Asia. Certainly Kastellorizo and nearby islands would belong in Asia. However, Greece is not generally considered a trans-continental country, and there is a very strong cultural conception that Greece and its islands are an integral part of Europe, even if those islands are closer to the Asian mainland. Therefore I was forced to take the maritime boundary between Greece and Turkey as the first section of the Eurasian border.
While it is annoying to put Kastellorizo in “Europe” while Kara Ada remains “Asian”, I must remind myself that this whole border is ultimately arbitrary and hardly subject to logical principles, and that my goal is merely to represent the consensus, rather than to advance a proposal or prove a point.
2. Turkish straits
This is a very straightforward division with a fairly well-established consensus. I take the approximate centerline between either Turkish coast, passing through the Dardanelles, Sea of Marmara and Bosphorus.
3. Black Sea
I extend the line emanating from the Bosphorus out into the Black Sea until I reach the maritime border of the Turkish EEZ, which I follow, until I split off towards Anapa. EEZ border comes from the Flanders source.
4. Caucasus ridgeline
This is a more-or-less straightforward definition which is widely accepted. Here I worked from the middle out. Much of the Georgia-Russia border is already based on the Caucasus ridgeline, which clearly divides a watershed flowing north from a watershed flowing south. I take that info from OSM.
Going west, near Ritsa Relict National Park, the Georgia-Russia border riverges from the ridgeline, but we continue westward, putting in Asia the cities of Sochi, Tuapse, Gelendzhik, and even Novorossiysk. The line enters the Black Sea near the Varvarovskaya Shchel’ (“Barbara’s Gulch”).
Going east, we follow the border except for a small area around Tebulosmta mountain, continuing along the Russia-Azerbaijan border until Mount Bazardüzü. There, the Russian border goes north, while the ridgeline continues east. We follow it all the way through Altiaghaj National Park, the village of Khizi, and then across the E119 highway. The highway runs along a flat coastal strip, but to the north of the boundary there is a stream running north, while to the south is a stream (or possibly a canal) running south in the direction of Baku. I have seen some maps continue the ridgeline along a more southern course, practically to Sumqayit, but there is no obvious place to enter the Caspian using that route.
5. Caspian Sea
I extend the Caucasus ridgeline into the Caspian while keeping distance from the peninsula that Baku is on. I then join the Kazakhstan-Russia maritime border (taken from Flanders). Going north, I diverge from that border to find the mouth of the Ural River.
6. Ural River
The Ural River is almost universally featured on Western maps as the Eurasian border. There is a fairly extensive delta at the mouth of the Ural, but there appears to be a dredged canal which forms the river’s main course, and that is what I use for the border. At this point I am manually tracing satellite images. We go up the river through Atyrau, beyond which there are many bends and oxbows. Here I take some liberty and avoid following the river precisely (which would have taken too much time). Instead I generalize, making sure that villages and settlements along the river are on the correct side of my generalized line. I take extra care in larger cities like Oral (Uralsk), Orenburg and Orsk.
At some point we hit the Ural foothills. Some maps take the boundary northward here and attempt to follow one ridgeline or another (apparently around Novouralsk or Novotroitsk). I have some flexibility to choose which standard to follow, since no consensus seems to exist. My choice is to continue along the Ural River to its source, which corresponds with some Western maps and all Soviet/Russian maps. It is a much clearer definition than choosing any one of the undulating ridges.
The Ural River’s headwaters are near the border of Bashkortostan and Chelyabinsk Oblast, very close to a ridgeline, which I subsequently follow.
7. Ural Mountains
We go north along the ridgeline from the Ural River’s source.
The Ural region in Russia is famous for being between Europe and Asia, and there are many monuments to this fact. Some are placed very carefully on an actual mountain pass or ridgeline. In Russia, there is a clear understanding that Zlatoust is in Europe, while Miass is in Asia. This matches nicely with the approach that takes the Ural headwaters ridgeline and continues northwards, following the division of two watersheds: one flowing west into the Kama, one flowing east into various lake basins.
This ridgeline continues north towards Yekaterinburg and is marked by various monuments. The line passes just west of Yekaterinburg (which is indeed considered to be in Asia) but east of Pervouralsk. From there it is a fairly straightfoward track north past Nizhny Tagil, through Vishersky National Park, to the tripoint of the Komi Republic, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug (KMAO)and Sverdlovsk Oblast. From there we follow the KMAO-Komi border (taken from OSM) and continue along the Yamalo-Nenets-Komi border.
When the YNAO-Komi border reaches the Kara river headwaters, it follows that river, but we maintain the Ural ridgeline north all the way to the Kara Sea. Where the enter the Kara Sea is slightly arbitrary because the Urals frament into many lines of foothills, but I chose the best path going for maximum elevation as well as clear watershed division.
8. Kara Sea
We then enter the Kara Sea near the end of Baydaratskaya Bay. The line continues very roughly equidistant from both shores of the bay, entering into the wider Kara Sea. It then continues equidistant from Novaya Zemlya (Europe) and the Yamal Peninsula (Asia). Finally, it goes north, passing between Vize and Ushakov islands (Asia) and Franz Josef Land (Europe).