hidden europe 56

Drawing a Line in the Water: The Caspian Sea

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The Caspian Sea — the world’s largest inland body of water (photo © Alexandr Malyshev / dreamstime.com).


Is the Caspian a sea or a lake? Aristotle averred it was certainly a lake. Pliny and Strabo suggested it was a sea. No other trans-boundary body of water throws up quite the same issues as the Caspian. We take a look at international frontiers that bisect lakes (or seas!).

Lakes that span international frontiers are always interesting and our travels around Europe have taken us to many of them. Think of Lake Geneva, its north bank entirely Swiss but with a substantial part of the lake’s south bank belonging to France. From Lausanne, on a clear day, one might gaze over Lake Geneva to the French town of Évian-les-Bains on the far side of the lake.

Lake Constance is another well-known trans-boundary lake, one in which three countries have an interest: Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore both belong partly to Italy and partly to Switzerland.

Waters may mingle, but frontiers on lakes are generally just as well defined as on land. It’s not that the three riparian states around Lake Constance share the lake. On the contrary, each country knows exactly which part of the lake falls within its own territory, although in the case of Lake Constance all three riparian states share the fishing rights over the entirety of the lake.

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