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Asia (/ˈʒə, ˈʃə/ (About this soundlisten)) is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern and Northern Hemispheres. It shares the continental landmass of Eurasia with the continent of Europe and the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with both Europe and Africa. Asia covers an area of 44,579,000 square kilometres (17,212,000 sq mi), about 30% of Earth's total land area and 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area. The continent, which has long been home to the majority of the human population, was the site of many of the first civilizations. Asia is notable for not only its overall large size and population, but also dense and large settlements, as well as vast barely populated regions. Its 4.5 billion people () constitute roughly 60% of the world's population.

In general terms, Asia is bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the Indian Ocean, and on the north by the Arctic Ocean. The border of Asia with Europe is a historical and cultural construct, as there is no clear physical and geographical separation between them. It is somewhat arbitrary and has moved since its first conception in classical antiquity. The division of Eurasia into two continents reflects East–West cultural, linguistic, and ethnic differences, some of which vary on a spectrum rather than with a sharp dividing line. The most commonly accepted boundaries place Asia to the east of the Suez Canal separating it from Africa; and to the east of the Turkish Straits, the Ural Mountains and Ural River, and to the south of the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian and Black Seas, separating it from Europe.

China and India alternated in being the largest economies in the world from 1 to 1800 CE. China was a major economic power and attracted many to the east, and for many the legendary wealth and prosperity of the ancient culture of India personified Asia, attracting European commerce, exploration and colonialism. The accidental discovery of a trans-Atlantic route from Europe to America by Columbus while in search for a route to India demonstrates this deep fascination. The Silk Road became the main east–west trading route in the Asian hinterlands while the Straits of Malacca stood as a major sea route. Asia has exhibited economic dynamism (particularly East Asia) as well as robust population growth during the 20th century, but overall population growth has since fallen. Asia was the birthplace of most of the world's mainstream religions including Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, as well as many other religions.

Selected panorama

Panoramic view of the Great Court of Baalbek temple complex, in Lebanon
Credit: Guillaume Piolle

Baalbek is a town in the Beqaa Valley of Lebanon situated east of the Litani River. It is famous for its exquisitely detailed yet monumentally scaled temple ruins of the Roman period, when Baalbek, then known as Heliopolis, was one of the largest sanctuaries in the Empire.

Featured picture

Rambutan
Credit: Muhammad Mahdi Karim

An unpeeled and a peeled rambutan, the fruit of the rambutan tree. The plant is native to the Malay Archipelago and can be found through much of Southeast Asia, although its exact distribution remains unknown. The name is derived from the Malay word rambut, which literally means 'hairy'. The fruit flesh is translucent, whitish or very pale pink, with a sweet, mildly acidic flavour.

Featured biography

Phan Xich Long
Phan Xích Long, also known as Hồng Long, born Phan Phát Sanh (1893–1916), was a 20th-century Vietnamese mystic and geomancer who claimed to be the Emperor of Vietnam. He attempted to exploit religion as a cover for his own political ambitions, having started his own ostensibly religious organisation. Claiming to be a descendant of Emperor Ham Nghi, Long staged a ceremony to crown himself, before trying to seize power in 1913 by launching an armed uprising against the colonial rule of French Indochina. His supporters launched an attack on Saigon in March 1913, drinking potions that purportedly made them invisible and planting bombs at several locations. The insurrection against the French colonial administration failed when none of the bombs detonated and the supposedly invisible supporters were apprehended.The French authorities imprisoned Long and many of his supporters, who openly admitted their aim of overthrowing French authorities at the trial. During the 1916 Cochinchina uprisings against French rule, many of Long's supporters attempted to break him out of jail. The French easily repelled the attack on the jail, decimating Long's movement. Following the attempted breakout, Long and his key supporters were put to death. Many of the remnants of his support base went on to join what later became the Cao Dai, a major religious sect in Vietnam.


Featured article

C. sativus blossom with crimson stigmas
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. Crocus is a genus in the family Iridaceae. Each saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm (8–12 in) and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas, which are each the distal end of a carpel. Together with the styles, or stalks that connect the stigmas to their host plant, the dried stigmas are used mainly in various cuisines as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron, long among the world's most costly spices by weight, is native to Southwest Asia and was first cultivated in Greece. As a genetically monomorphic clone, it was slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North Africa, North America, and Oceania. The saffron crocus, unknown in the wild, likely descends from Crocus cartwrightianus, which originated in Crete or Central Asia; C. thomasii and C. pallasii are other possible precursors. The saffron crocus is a triploid that is "self-incompatible" and male sterile; it undergoes aberrant meiosis and is hence incapable of independent sexual reproduction—all propagation is by vegetative multiplication via manual "divide-and-set" of a starter clone or by interspecific hybridisation. If C. sativus is a mutant form of C. cartwrightianus, then it may have emerged via plant breeding, which would have selected for elongated stigmas, in late Bronze-Age Crete.Saffron's bitter taste and iodoform- or hay-like fragrance result from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal.It also contains a carotenoid dye, crocin, which imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles. Its recorded history is attested in a 7th-century BC Assyrian botanical treatise compiled under Ashurbanipal, and it has been traded and used for over four millennia. Iran now accounts for the lion's share, or around 90%, of world production. Research into its many possible medicinal benefits, ranging from cancer suppression to mood improvement and appetite reduction, is ongoing.


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Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore

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