In 1887 geographers from the Austro-Hungarian Empire erected a pillar at the small village of Dilove, close to the city of Rakhiv in the Carpathian region of southwestern Ukraine. It contained a Latin inscription, in addition to the latitude and longitude of the marker’s spot. Over a century later, the newly formed nation of Ukraine declared that the pillar stood at the geographical center of Europe. Since that proclamation, critics have questioned this claim. They say that the inscription on the pillar was mistranslated and that the pillar was not erected to mark the center of Europe, instead it was a fixed triangulation point, one of several used for surveying purposes. (See note at end of this article for a translation of the inscription) The critics might have a valid point, but why steal this otherwise unknown spot’s claim to fame.
Eastward to the Center
If Dilove is not the center of Europe then where exactly is it? The easy answer is that there is no clear answer. The list of candidates is less than notable. Such bizarrely named villages as Babruysk, Purnuskes, Suchowola and Kremnicke Bane are not anymore well known than, Dilove. Finding the center of Europe is highly dependent on how the midpoint is measured. For instance, it can shift dramatically depending on whether or not islands are taken into account. Sometimes it even ends up on an island, such as Saaremaa which is part of Estonia. Hungary, well known for its cleverness, makes its claim not on the basis of geography, but instead geometry. The geometric center of Europe happens to be in the village of Tallya in the northeastern part of that country. For this achievement it received the obligatory monument. Such honors elicit a collective shrug of indifference from all but the most eccentric geographers.
On the other hand, would it be any more interesting if the geographical center of Europe was in Vienna or Prague. In such a case it would almost be certainly forgotten. These places are actually known for something, they have made history. They are not trying to make it up. And besides any respectable European knows that the center of Europe is in Berlin, specifically in the Chancellery, where ever Angela Merkel happens to be standing. At least that’s what everyone suspects and every good German secretly acknowledges.
All joking aside, we are probably better off with the villages already nominated (or self-nominated). Intriguingly all the different places posited as the center lie within Eastern Europe. This has much to do with the size and scale of western Russia which dwarfs even the largest European nations. It pulls the midpoint eastward until it comes to a halt in at least four different countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. Thus, should the geographic center of Europe be:
1) Babruysk or Vitebsk or Polotsk or near Lake Sho, Belarus – with four candidates Belarus is really trying to muscle their way to the crown. This befits Europe’s last dictatorship (though Russia is working hard to become number two). If a nation cannot even decide on which center should be the center than something is really backward. That sounds like Belarus for sure.
2) Purnuskes or Bernotai, Lithuania – well both are close to Vilnius which is a wonderfully cosmopolitan city, sophisticated and filled with cultural attractions. I doubt the same can be said for these two villages.
3) Suchowola, Poland – its claim goes all the way back to a late 18th century astronomer. Plus, it has rose from the ashes. The town’s population was nearly obliterated in World War II, lost its town status, but won it back just before the turn of the 21st century.
4) Kremnicke Bane or Krahule, Slovakia – neighboring villages. They represent Central Europe’s conflicted 20th century history. Settled by Germans all the way back in the mid-14th century, their nearly six hundred year presence came to an end following World War II. Almost of all whom fled or were removed due to the Benes Decrees, which called for the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia. This is a striking example of Germany moving west in the post-war period, both in a literal and figurative sense.
5) Tallya, Hungary – geometry is not quite geography, but who cares. Their sculpture even comes with a table on it that states, “Geometric Center of Europe” in case there was ever any question.
6) Saaremaa Island, Estonia – Way, way out there, but we have to take its candidacy seriously since it survived being hit by huge pieces of a meteorite several thousand years ago. One of the explosions set off by the impact has been estimated as equal to the power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
7) Dilove, Ukraine – back to where we started. Dilove is on the edge of both the EU and the Ukraine. It is only a short hop from the monument across the banks of the Tysz River into Romania and EU territory. It is in a province which borders on four countries: Poland, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. In the last hundred years it has been part of Austria-Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the Soviet Union and Ukraine. It’s a stone’s throw from the EU, yet it has little chance of being part of that project. An insider and outsider, perpetually stuck in the middle. Unknown, forgotten, remote. This is the center of Europe, stuck between East and West.
Note: Regarding the inscription on the Center of Europe pillar, the Rakhiv website states that “According to the translation by the academician M.Tarasov the following words is carved: “Constant, Exact, Eternal place. Very exactly, with a special apparatus which is made in Austria and Hungary with a scale of meridians and parallels the Centre of Europe is fixed here 1887.”