Page:Africa (Volume I).djvu/19

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
8
MOUNTAINS.

the northern and eastern seas. Its very size, estimated at nearly 12,000,000 square miles, or over three times that of Europe and four times that of Australia, contributes to its heavy uniform aspect. Notwithstanding its greater bulk, its coastline is considerably less than that of Europe. Exclusive of a thousand smaller inlets, such as the Scandinavian fjords and the firths of Scotland, the latter has a periphery of about 19,000 miles, the former not more than 15,000, much of which is unbroken by a single creek or bay. Its general form is that of an ellipsoid, disposed in the direction from north to south, and bulging out westwards in a still less varied semi-elliptical mass between Cape Bon and the Gulf of Guinea. The prevailing uniformity is modified on the east side chiefly by the sharp peninsida terminating at Cape Gardafui, on the west by the retreating curve of the coastline, by which the Atlantic basin is suddenly doubled in width. The eastern projection, which is separated by the Gulf of Aden from Hadramaut, follows the direction of the south-eastern extremity of Arabia, a region which in its climate and other respects forms a land of transition between the two continents.


Mountains.


From its regular contour, Africa might seem to be built on a generally uniform and simple plan. But such is not the case. Europe, notwithstanding its countless indentations, may be compared to an organism furnished with a backbone and members; Asia also groups its boundless plains and peninsulas around a culminating nucleus, the Great Pamir, or "Roof of the World;" while both Americas have their western Cordilleras, and in the east vast alluvial plains and river basins separated one from the other by scarcely perceptible parting lines. But Africa is comparatively speaking an almost shapeless mass, with a rudimentary organisation destitute alike of central uplands and regular watersheds. Nevertheless the eastern coast ranges, running parallel with the Indian Ocean, may in some respects be regarded as forming, if not a backbone, at least the border chain of one great continental highland system. Spite of the broad gaps pierced by the Limpopo, Zambezi, and Juba rivers, the broken fragments of a vast Cordillera may be recognised in the uplands stretching interruptedly from the Cape northwards to the Abyssinian highlands. In this zone of border ranges occur the culminating points of the continent, the extinct Kilima-njaro and Kenia volcanoes, perhaps the summits known to the ancients as the "Mountains of the Moon." West of these peaks the plateau is intersected by a parallel chain of other volcanoes, some of which are said still to emit smoke; while beyond Victoria Nyanza a third range, dominated by Mfumbiro and Gambaragara, would seem to form a western border system or water-parting between the Upper Nile and Congo basins. Here the plateau expands to a breadth of 550 miles, terminating northwards in the Abyssinian highlands, a rocky citadel whose base exceeds those of all the other continental orographic systems. These Ethiopian heights stand over against those of Yemen, and like them are a remnant of the border range sweeping round the Indian and