Discovering Europe: 35 Fascinating Facts About the Continent’s Past and Present

1Euro Bridges

Euro Bridges

The euro currency was designed featuring images of fictitious bridges to represent architectural styles throughout time in Europe. They had to be careful not to feature one country over the others, but the Netherlands then went on to build these bridges printed on Euro.



2. In 552 A.D. two monks successfully smuggled silkworm eggs in their walking sticks from China to the Byzantine Empire, essentially ending the silk monopolies of China and Persia, and bringing silk manufacturing to Europe.



3. Mandatory right-hand traffic was introduced in Europe by Napoleon with the aim of deterring sword fighting on horseback, and because the traditional left-hand traffic was seen as aristocratic. Since he never conquered Britain, left-hand driving would remain there.



4. Approximately 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. The 25% of people who aren't are generally of North European descent.



5. Adolf Hitler was the first European leader to ban human zoos, a popular attraction in Europe where exotic peoples were paid to be on exhibit for onlookers, with recreated habitats and shows. Belgium was the last to ban them, in 1958.



61755 Earthquake

1755 Earthquake

In 1755 a massive earthquake hit Lisbon, Portugal on a major Catholic holiday, destroying the city's churches while sparing its brothels. Tens of thousands of worshipers were killed. The event profoundly shook the belief in a merciful God and the power of the church across Europe.



7. Jewish communities had lower death rates during the 14th century Plague due to their hygienic practices. This in part inspired a wave of anti-Semitic violence in Christian Europe, where some communities attributed the pandemic to a Jewish conspiracy.



8. Lions inhabited many areas of Europe until they were hunted to extinction around 100 B.C.



9. In the 1700s, when tomatoes were introduced to Europe, they were thought to be poisonous because people died after eating them. The real issue was people using pewter plates and the acidity of tomatoes leached lead out of them causing lead poisoning.



10. One man’s gene from 4000-6000 years ago contributes to approximately 50% of the male population in 11 European countries.



11Chocolate Consumption

Chocolate Consumption

An average Chinese consumer has only 70g of chocolate a year while the average European consumer has 7kg.



12. Despite being universally considered as part of Europe due to cultural and geopolitical reasons, the island of Sicily in Italy is actually part of the African Tectonic Plate.



13. All the “ancient” crystal skulls of Central America were actually created in Europe during the 19th century. The Brazilian quartz deposit the skulls are made of was unknown during ancient times and likely crafted in the 19th-century German workshop renowned for crafting objects of Brazilian quartz.



14. Many major cities in Europe offer ‘Sanisettes’: private, self-contained, self-cleaning, public bathrooms. After the user has exited, a wash cycle begins and the entire floor and toilet fixture are automatically sprayed, scrubbed and disinfected.



15. The plagues of the middle ages have made around 10% of Europeans resistant to HIV. These individuals carry a genetic mutation (known as CCR5-Ä32) that prevents the virus from entering the cells of the immune system. Plagues played a part in creating these mutations.



16Barber-Butchers

Barber-Butchers

In medieval Europe “barber-butchers” were barbers that practiced surgery as well, a profession ranging from amputations to haircuts. The red and white ‘barber swirl’ in front of most barbershops today signifies blood and bandages which was common in their trade.



17. There is an ancient old-growth forest bordering Poland called Białowieża Forest. It resembles what most of Europe looked like before the 14th century. This story of conservation has been well documented over the last 500 years and is almost as rich as the ecosystem the forest supports.



18. 10-20% of Americans and a higher percent of Europeans are infected with a brain parasite from cats that makes them 2.5 times more likely to get in a car accident, change in personality traits, contribute to schizophrenia, and may cause sexual attraction to cat urine.



19. The European Union banned the marketing of products as “superfood” unless accompanied by an authorized health claim supported by factual scientific evidence.



20. Teens in the United States and Europe have similar levels of sexual activity. However, European teens are more likely than U.S. teens to use contraceptives generally and to use the most effective methods. They, therefore, have substantially lower pregnancy rates.



21Black Swans

Black Swans

Until they were discovered in Australia, black swans were known in Europe as a metaphor for something that could not exist.



22. Jesus’ foreskin is called the “Holy Prepuce” and several European churches have claimed to be in possession of it and that it has miraculous powers.



23. Pantone 448 C, the “world's ugliest color” according to research, is used by many European countries on their tobacco products to dissuade people from smoking.



24. Unlike most bronze sculptures of Roman emperors, the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius was not melted down during the Middle Ages because Europeans of that time thought it was a statue of Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome.



25. Dutch people, currently the tallest population in the world, actually used to be the shortest population in Europe just 150-200 years ago.