Satellite image of the Iberian Peninsula.
|Area||596,740 km2 (230,400 sq mi)|
|Highest elevation||3,478 m (11,411 ft)|
|Population||ca. 53 million|
The Iberian Peninsula //,[a] also known as Iberia,[b] is located in the southwest corner of the European continent. The peninsula is principally divided between Spain and Portugal, comprising most of their territory, as well as a small area of France (the French Cerdagne), Andorra and the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. With an area of approximately 596,740 square kilometres (230,400 sq mi), and a population of roughly 53 million, it is the second largest European peninsula by area, after the Scandinavian Peninsula.
The word Iberia is a noun adapted from the Latin word "Hiberia" originating in the Ancient Greek word Ἰβηρία (Ibēríā), used by Greek geographers under the rule of the Roman Empire to refer to what is known today in English as the Iberian Peninsula. At that time, the name did not describe a single geographical entity or a distinct population; the same name was used for the Kingdom Kartli in the Caucasus, the core region of what would become the Kingdom of Georgia. It was Strabo who first reported the delineation of "Iberia" from Gaul (Keltikē) by the Pyrenees and included the entire land mass southwest (he says "west") from there. With the fall of the Roman Empire and the establishment of the new Castillian language in Spain, the word "Iberia" continued the Roman word "Hiberia" and the Greek word "Ἰβηρία".
The ancient Greeks reached the Iberian Peninsula, of which they had heard from the Phoenicians, by voyaging westward on the Mediterranean. Hecataeus of Miletus was the first known to use the term Iberia, which he wrote about circa 500 BC. Herodotus of Halicarnassus says of the Phocaeans that "it was they who made the Greeks acquainted with […] Iberia." According to Strabo, prior historians used Iberia to mean the country "this side of the Ἶβηρος (Ibēros)" as far north as the river Rhône in France, but currently they set the Pyrenees as the limit. Polybius respects that limit, but identifies Iberia as the Mediterranean side as far south as Gibraltar, with the Atlantic side having no name. Elsewhere he says that Saguntum is "on the seaward foot of the range of hills connecting Iberia and Celtiberia."
According to Charles Ebel, the ancient sources in both Latin and Greek use Hispania and Hiberia (Greek: Iberia) as synonyms. The confusion of the words was because of an overlapping in political and geographic perspectives. The Latin word Hiberia, similar to the Greek Iberia, literally translates to "land of the Hiberians". This word was derived from the river Ebro, which the Romans called Hiberus. Hiber (Iberian) was thus used as a term for peoples living near the river Ebro. The first mention in Roman literature was by the annalist poet Ennius in 200 BC. Virgil refers to the Ipacatos Hiberos ("restless Iberi") in his Georgics. The Roman geographers and other prose writers from the time of the late Roman Republic called the entire peninsula Hispania.
In Greek and Roman antiquity, the name Hesperia was used for both the Italian and Iberian Peninsula; in the latter case Hesperia Ultima (referring to its position in the far west) appears as form of disambiguation from the former among Roman writers.
As they became politically interested in the former Carthaginian territories, the Romans began to use the names Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior for 'near' and 'far' Hispania. At the time Hispania was made up of three Roman provinces: Hispania Baetica, Hispania Tarraconensis, and Hispania Lusitania. Strabo says that the Romans use Hispania and Iberia synonymously, distinguishing between the near northern and the far southern provinces. (The name "Iberia" was ambiguous, being also the name of the Kingdom of Iberia in the Caucasus.)
The modern phrase "Iberian Peninsula" was coined by the French geographer Jean-Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent on his 1823 work "Guide du Voyageur en Espagne". Prior to that date, geographers had used the terms Spanish Peninsula or Pyrenaean Peninsula
The Iberian Peninsula has always been associated with the River Ebro (Ibēros in ancient Greek and Ibērus or Hibērus in Latin). The association was so well known it was hardly necessary to state; for example, Ibēria was the country "this side of the Ibērus" in Strabo. Pliny goes so far as to assert that the Greeks had called "the whole of Spain" Hiberia because of the Hiberus River. The river appears in the Ebro Treaty of 226 BC between Rome and Carthage, setting the limit of Carthaginian interest at the Ebro. The fullest description of the treaty, stated in Appian, uses Ibērus. With reference to this border, Polybius states that the "native name" is Ibēr, apparently the original word, stripped of its Greek or Latin -os or -us termination.
The early range of these natives, which geographers and historians place from the present southern Spain to the present southern France along the Mediterranean coast, is marked by instances of a readable script expressing a yet unknown language, dubbed "Iberian." Whether this was the native name or was given to them by the Greeks for their residence near the Ebro remains unknown. Credence in Polybius imposes certain limitations on etymologizing: if the language remains unknown, the meanings of the words, including Iber, must also remain unknown. In modern Basque, the word ibar means "valley" or "watered meadow", while ibai means "river", but there is no proof relating the etymology of the Ebro River with these Basque names.
The Iberian Peninsula has been inhabited for at least 1.2 million years as remains found in the sites in the Atapuerca Mountains demonstrate. Among these sites is the cave of Gran Dolina, where six hominin skeletons, dated between 780,000 and one million years ago, were found in 1994. Experts have debated whether these skeletons belong to the species Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, or a new species called Homo antecessor.
Around 200,000 BP, during the Lower Paleolithic period, Neanderthals first entered the Iberian Peninsula. Around 70,000 BP, during the Middle Paleolithic period, the last glacial event began and the Neanderthal Mousterian culture was established. Around 37,000 BP, during the Upper Paleolithic, the Neanderthal Châtelperronian cultural period began. Emanating from Southern France, this culture extended into the north of the peninsula. It continued to exist until around 30,000 BP, when Neanderthal man faced extinction.
About 40,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans entered the Iberian Peninsula from Southern France. Here, this genetically homogeneous population (characterized by the M173 mutation in the Y chromosome), developed the M343 mutation, giving rise to Haplogroup R1b, still the most common in modern Portuguese and Spanish males. On the Iberian Peninsula, modern humans developed a series of different cultures, such as the Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian cultures, some of them characterized by the complex forms of the art of the Upper Paleolithic.
During the Neolithic expansion, various megalithic cultures developed in the Iberian Peninsula. An open seas navigation culture from the east Mediterranean, called the Cardium culture, also extended its influence to the eastern coasts of the peninsula, possibly as early as the 5th millennium BC. These people may have had some relation to the subsequent development of the Iberian civilization.
In the Chalcolithic (c. 3000 BC), a series of complex cultures developed that would give rise to the peninsula's first civilizations and to extensive exchange networks reaching to the Baltic, Middle East and North Africa. Around 2800 – 2700 BC, the Beaker culture, which produced the Maritime Bell Beaker, probably originated in the vibrant copper-using communities of the Tagus estuary in Portugal and spread from there to many parts of western Europe.
Bronze Age cultures developed beginning c. 1800 BC, when the civilization of Los Millares was followed by that of El Argar. From this centre, bronze technology spread to other cultures like the Bronze of Levante, South-Western Iberian Bronze and Las Cogotas.
In the Late Bronze Age, the urban civilisation of Tartessos developed in the area of modern western Andalusia, characterized by Phoenician influence and using the Southwest Paleohispanic script for its Tartessian language, not related to the Iberian language.
Early in the first millennium BC, several waves of Pre-Celts and Celts migrated from Central Europe, thus partially changing the peninsula's ethnic landscape to Indo-European-speaking in its northern and western regions. In Northwestern Iberia (modern Northern Portugal, Asturias and Galicia), a Celtic culture developed, the Castro culture, with a large number of hill forts and some fortified cities.
By the Iron Age, starting in the 7th century BC, the Iberian Peninsula consisted of complex agrarian and urban civilizations, either Pre-Celtic or Celtic (such as the Lusitanians, Celtiberians, Gallaeci, Astures, Celtici and others), the cultures of the Iberians in the eastern and southern zones and the cultures of the Aquitanian in the western portion of the Pyrenees.
As early as the 12th century BC, the Phoenicians, a thalassocratic civilization originally from the East Mediterranean, began to explore the coastline of the peninsula, interacting with the metal-rich communities in the southwest of the peninsula (contemporarily known as the semi-mythical Tartessos). Around 1100 BC, Phoenician merchants founded the trading colony of Gadir or Gades (modern day Cádiz). Phoenicians established a permanent trading port in the Gadir colony circa 800 BC in response to the increasing demand of silver from the Assyrian Empire.
The seafaring Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians successively settled along the Mediterranean coast and founded trading colonies there over a period of several centuries. In the 8th century BC, the first Greek colonies, such as Emporion (modern Empúries), were founded along the Mediterranean coast on the east, leaving the south coast to the Phoenicians. The Greeks coined the name Iberia, after the river Iber (Ebro). In the sixth century BC, the Carthaginians arrived in the peninsula while struggling with the Greeks for control of the Western Mediterranean. Their most important colony was Carthago Nova (modern-day Cartagena, Spain).
In 218 BC, during the Second Punic War against the Carthaginians, the first Roman troops occupied the Iberian Peninsula; however, it was not until the reign of Augustus that it was annexed after 200 years of war with the Celts and Iberians. The result was the creation of the province of Hispania. It was divided into Hispania Ulterior and Hispania Citerior during the late Roman Republic, and during the Roman Empire, it was divided into Hispania Tarraconensis in the northeast, Hispania Baetica in the south and Lusitania in the southwest.
Hispania supplied the Roman Empire with silver, food, olive oil, wine, and metal. The emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and Theodosius I, the philosopher Seneca the Younger, and the poets Martial and Lucan were born from families living on the Iberian Peninsula.
During their 600-year occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, the Romans introduced the Latin language that influenced many of the languages that exist today in the Iberian peninsula.
In the early fifth century, Germanic peoples occupied the peninsula, namely the Suebi, the Vandals (Silingi and Hasdingi) and their allies, the Alans. Only the kingdom of the Suebi (Quadi and Marcomanni) would endure after the arrival of another wave of Germanic invaders, the Visigoths, who occupied all of the Iberian Peninsula and expelled or partially integrated the Vandals and the Alans. The Visigoths eventually occupied the Suebi kingdom and its capital city, Bracara (modern day Braga), in 584–585. They would also occupy the province of the Byzantine Empire (552–624) of Spania in the south of the peninsula and the Balearic Islands.
In 711, a Muslim army conquered the Visigothic Kingdom in Hispania. Under Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Islamic army landed at Gibraltar and, in an eight-year campaign, occupied all except the northern kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula in the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. Al-Andalus (Arabic: الإندلس, tr. al-ʾAndalūs, possibly "Land of the Vandals"), is the Arabic name given to Muslim Iberia. The Muslim conquerors were Arabs and Berbers; following the conquest, conversion and arabization of the Hispano-Roman population took place,  (muwalladum or Muladi). After a long process, spurred on in the 9th and 10th centuries, the majority of the population in Al-Andalus eventually converted to Islam. The Muslims were referred to by the generic name Moors. The Muslim population was divided per ethnicity (Arabs, Berbers, Muladi), and the supremacy of Arabs over the rest of group was a recurrent causal for strife, rivalry and hatred, particularly between Arabs and Berbers. Arab elites could be further divided in the Yemenites (first wave) and the Syrians (second wave). Christians and Jews were allowed to live as part of a stratified society under the dhimmah system, although Jews became very important in certain fields. Some Christians migrated to the Northern Christian kingdoms, while those who stayed in Al-Andalus progressively arabised and became known as musta'arab (mozarabs). The slave population comprised the Ṣaqāliba (literally meaning "slavs", although they were slaves of generic European origin) as well as Sudanese slaves.
The Umayyad rulers faced a major Berber Revolt in the early 740s; the uprising originally broke out in North Africa (Tangier) and later spread across the peninsula. Following the Abbasid takeover from the Umayyads and the shift of the economic centre of the Islamic Caliphate from Damascus to Baghdad, the western province of al-Andalus was marginalised and ultimately became politically autonomous as independent emirate in 756, ruled by one of the last surviving Umayyad royals, Abd al-Rahman I.
Al-Andalus became a center of culture and learning, especially during the Caliphate of Córdoba. The Caliphate reached its height of its power under the rule of Abd-ar-Rahman III and his successor al-Hakam II, becoming then, in the view of Jaime Vicens Vives, "the most powerful state in Europe". Abd-ar-Rahman III also managed to expand the clout of Al-Andalus across the Strait of Gibraltar, waging war, as well as his successor, against the Fatimid Empire.
Between the 8th and 12th centuries, Al-Andalus enjoyed a notable urban vitality, both in terms of the growth of the preexisting cities as well as in terms of founding of new ones: Córdoba reached a population of 100,000 by the 10th century, Toledo 30,000 by the 11th century and Seville 80,000 by the 12th century.
During the Middle Ages, the North of the peninsula housed many small Christian polities including the Kingdom of Castile, the Kingdom of Aragon, the Kingdom of Navarre, the Kingdom of León or the Kingdom of Portugal, as well as a number of counties that spawned from the Carolingian Marca Hispanica. Christian and Muslim polities fought and allied among themselves in variable alliances.[c] The Christian kingdoms progressively expanded south taking over Muslim territory in what is historiographically known as the "Reconquista" (the latter concept has been however noted as product of the claim to a pre-existing Spanish Catholic nation and it would not necessarily convey adequately "the complexity of centuries of warring and other more peaceable interactions between Muslim and Christian kingdoms in medieval Iberia between 711 and 1492").
The Caliphate of Córdoba subsumed in a period of upheaval and civil war (the Fitna of al-Andalus) and collapsed in the early 11th century, spawning a series of ephemeral statelets, the taifas. Until the mid 11th century, most of the territorial expansion southwards of the Kingdom of Asturias/León was carried out through a policy of agricultural colonization rather than through military operations; then, profiting from the feebleness of the taifa principalities, Ferdinand I of León seized Lamego and Viseu (1057–1058) and Coimbra (1064) away from the Taifa of Badajoz (at times at war with the Taifa of Seville); Meanwhile, in the same year Coimbra was conquered, in the Northeastern part of the Iberian Peninsula, the Kingdom of Aragon took Barbastro from the Hudid Taifa of Lérida as part of an international expedition sanctioned by Pope Alexander II. Most critically, Alfonso VI of León-Castile conquered Toledo and its wider taifa in 1085, in what it was seen as a critical event at the time, entailing also a huge territorial expansion, advancing from the Sistema Central to La Mancha. In 1086, following the siege of Zaragoza by Alfonso VI of León-Castile, the Almoravids, religious zealots originally from the deserts of the Maghreb, landed in the Iberian Peninsula, and, having inflicted a serious defeat to Alfonso VI at the battle of Zalaca, began to seize control of the remaining taifas.
The Almoravids in the Iberian peninsula progressively relaxed strict observance of their faith, and treated both Jews and Mozarabs harshly, facing uprisings across the peninsula, initially in the Western part. The Almohads, another North-African Muslim sect of Masmuda Berber origin who had previously undermined the Almoravid rule south of the Strait of Gibraltar, first entered the peninsula in 1146.
By the beginning of the 13th century, a power reorientation took place in the Iberian Peninsula (parallel to the Christian expansion in Southern Iberia and the increasing commercial impetus of Christian powers across the Mediterranean) and to a large extent, trade-wise, the Iberian Peninsula reorientated towards the North away from the Muslim World.
During the Middle Ages, the monarchs of Castile and León, from Alfonso V and Alfonso VI (crowned Hispaniae Imperator) to Alfonso X and Alfonso XI tended to embrace an imperial ideal based on a dual Christian and Jewish ideology.
Merchants from Genoa and Pisa were conducting an intense trading activity in Catalonia already by the 12th century, and later in Portugal. Since the 13th century, the Crown of Aragon expanded overseas; led by Catalans, it attained an overseas empire in the Western Mediterranean, with a presence in Mediterranean islands such as the Balearics, Sicily and Sardinia, and even conquering Naples in the mid-15th century. Genoese merchants invested heavily in the Iberian commercial enterprise with Lisbon becoming, according to Virgínia Rau, the "great centre of Genoese trade" in the early 14th century. The Portuguese would later detach their trade to some extent from Genoese influence. The Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, neighbouring the Strait of Gibraltar and founded upon a vassalage relationship with the Crown of Castile, also insinuated itself into the European mercantile network, with its ports fostering intense trading relations with the Genoese as well, but also with the Catalans, and to a lesser extent, with the Venetians, the Florentines, and the Portuguese.
Between 1275 and 1340, Granada became involved in the "crisis of the Strait", and was caught in a complex geopolitical struggle ("a kaleidoscope of alliances") with multiple powers vying for dominance of the Western Mediterranean, complicated by the unstable relations of Muslim Granada with the Marinid Sultanate. The conflict reached a climax in the 1340 Battle of Río Salado, when, this time in alliance with Granada, the Marinid Sultan (and Caliph pretender) Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Othman made the last Marinid attempt to set up a power base in the Iberian Peninsula. The lasting consequences of the resounding Muslim defeat to an alliance of Castile and Portugal with naval support from Aragon and Genoa ensured Christian supremacy over the Iberian Peninsula and the preeminence of Christian fleets in the Western Mediterranean.
The 1348–1350 bubonic plague devastated large parts of the Iberian Peninsula, leading to a sudden economic cease. Many settlements in northern Castile and Catalonia were left forsaken. The plague had the start of the hostility and downright violence towards religious minorities (particularly the Jews) as additional consequence in the Iberian realms.
The 14th century was a period of great upheaval in the Iberian realms. After the death of Peter the Cruel of Castile (reigned 1350–69), the House of Trastámara succeeded to the throne in the person of Peter's half brother, Henry II (reigned 1369–79). In the kingdom of Aragón, following the death without heirs of John I (reigned 1387–96) and Martin I (reigned 1396–1410), a prince of the House of Trastámara, Ferdinand I (reigned 1412–16), succeeded to the Aragonese throne. The Hundred Years' War also spilled over into the Iberian peninsula, with Castile particularly taking a role in the conflict by providing key naval support to France that helped lead to that nation's eventual victory.
During the 15th century, Portugal, which had ended its southwards territorial expansion across the Iberian Peninsula in 1249 with the conquest of the Algarve, initiated an overseas expansion in parallel to the rise of the House of Aviz, conquering Ceuta (1415) arriving at Porto Santo (1418), Madeira and the Azores, as well as establishing additional outposts along the North-African coast.
By the end of the 15th century (1490) the Iberian kingdoms (including here the Balearic Islands) had an estimated population of 6.525 million (Crown of Castile, 4.3 million; Portugal, 1.0 million; Principality of Catalonia, 0.3 million; Kingdom of Valencia, 0.255 million; Kingdom of Granada, 0.25 million; Kingdom of Aragon, 0.25 million; Kingdom of Navarre, 0.12 million and the Kingdom of Mallorca, 0.05 million).
For three decades in the 15th century, the Hermandad de las Marismas, the trading association formed by the ports of Castile along the Cantabrian coast, resembling in some ways the Hanseatic League, fought against the latter, an ally of England, a rival of Castile in political and economic terms. Castile sought to claim the Gulf of Biscay as its own. In 1419, the powerful Castilian navy thoroughly defeated a Hanseatic fleet in La Rochelle.
After the accession of Henry III to the throne of Castile, the populace, exasperated by the preponderance of Jewish influence, perpetrated a massacre of Jews at Toledo. In 1391, mobs went from town to town throughout Castile and Aragon, killing an estimated 50,000 Jews, or even as many as 100,000, according to Jane Gerber. Women and children were sold as slaves to Muslims, and many synagogues were converted into churches. According to Hasdai Crescas, about 70 Jewish communities were destroyed.
The last Muslim stronghold, Granada, was conquered by a combined Castilian and Aragonese force in 1492. As many as 100,000 Moors died or were enslaved in the military campaign, while 200,000 fled to North Africa. Muslims and Jews throughout the period were variously tolerated or shown intolerance in different Christian kingdoms. After the fall of Granada, all Muslims and Jews were ordered to convert to Christianity or face expulsion—as many as 200,000 Jews were expelled from Spain. Historian Henry Kamen estimates that some 25,000 Jews died en route from Spain. The Jews were also expelled from Sicily and Sardinia, which were under Aragonese rule, and an estimated 37,000 to 100,000 Jews left.
In 1497, King Manuel I of Portugal forced all Jews in his kingdom to convert or leave. That same year he expelled all Muslims that were not slaves, and in 1502 the Catholic Monarchs followed suit, imposing the choice of conversion to Christianity or exile and loss of property. Many Jews and Muslims fled to North Africa and the Ottoman Empire, while others publicly converted to Christianity and became known respectively as Marranos and Moriscos (after the old term Moors). However, many of these continued to practice their religion in secret. The Moriscos revolted several times and were ultimately forcibly expelled from Spain in the early 17th century. From 1609–14, over 300,000 Moriscos were sent on ships to North Africa and other locations, and, of this figure, around 50,000 died resisting the expulsion, and 60,000 died on the journey.
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Challenging the conventions about the advent of modernity, Immanuel Wallerstein pushed back the origins of the capitalist modernity to the Iberian expansion of the 15th century. During the 16th century Spain created a vast empire in the Americas, with a state monopoly in Seville becoming the center of the ensuing transatlantic trade, based on bullion. Iberian imperialism, starting by the Portuguese establishment of routes to Asia and the posterior transatlantic trade with the New World by Spaniards and Portuguese (along Dutch, English and French), precipitated the economic decline of the Italian peninsula. The 16th century was one of population growth with increased pressure over resources; in the case of the Iberian Peninsula a part of the population moved to the Americas meanwhile Jews and Moriscos were banished, relocating to other places in the Mediterranean Basin. Most of the Moriscos remained in Spain after the Morisco revolt in Las Alpujarras during the mid-16th century, but roughly 300,000 of them were expelled from the country in 1609–1614, and emigrated en masse to North Africa.
In 1580, after the political crisis that followed the 1578 death of King Sebastian, Portugal became a dynastic composite entity of the Hapsburg Monarchy; thus, the whole peninsula was united politically during the period known as the Iberian Union (1580–1640). During the Iberian union, the "first great wave" of the transatlantic slave trade happened, according to Enriqueta Vila Villar, as new markets opened because of the unification gave thrust to the slave trade.
By 1600, the percentage of urban population for Spain was roughly a 11.4%, while for Portugal the urban population was estimated as 14.1%, which were both above the 7.6% European average of the time (edged only by the Low Countries and the Italian Peninsula). Some striking differences appeared among the different Iberian realms. Castile, extending across a 60% of the territory of the peninsula and having 80% of the population was a rather urbanised country, yet with a widespread distribution of cities. Meanwhile, the urban population in the Crown of Aragon was highly concentrated in a handful of cities: Zaragoza (Kingdom of Aragon), Barcelona (Principality of Catalonia), and, to a lesser extent in the Kingdom of Valencia, in Valencia, Alicante and Orihuela. The case of Portugal presented an hypertrophied capital, Lisbon (which greatly increased its population during the 16th century, from 56,000-60,000 inhabitants by 1527, to roughly 120,000 by the third quarter of the century) with its demographic dynamism stimulated by the Asian trade, followed at great distance by Porto and Évora (both roughly accounting for 12,500 inhabitants).
The 17th century has been largely considered as a very negative period for the Iberian economies, seen as a time of recession, crisis or even decline.
Geography and geology
The Iberian Peninsula is the westernmost of the three major southern European peninsulas—the Iberian, Italian, and Balkan. It is bordered on the southeast and east by the Mediterranean Sea, and on the north, west, and southwest by the Atlantic Ocean. The Pyrenees mountains are situated along the northeast edge of the peninsula, where it adjoins the rest of Europe. Its southern tip is very close to the northwest coast of Africa, separated from it by the Strait of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Iberian Peninsula extends from the southernmost extremity at Punta de Tarifa to the northernmost extremity at Punta de Estaca de Bares over a distance between lines of latitude of about 865 km (537 mi) based on a degree length of 111 km (69 mi) per degree, and from the westernmost extremity at Cabo da Roca to the easternmost extremity at Cap de Creus over a distance between lines of longitude at 40° N latitude of about 1,155 km (718 mi) based on an estimated degree length of about 90 km (56 mi) for that latitude. The irregular, roughly octagonal shape of the peninsula contained within this spherical quadrangle was compared to an ox-hide by the geographer Strabo.
|Punta de Estaca de Bares
|Cabo da Roca
|Cap de Creus|
|Punta de Tarifa
About three quarters of that rough octagon is the Meseta Central, a vast plateau ranging from 610 to 760 m in altitude. It is located approximately in the centre, staggered slightly to the east and tilted slightly toward the west (the conventional centre of the Iberian Peninsula has long been considered Getafe just south of Madrid). It is ringed by mountains and contains the sources of most of the rivers, which find their way through gaps in the mountain barriers on all sides.
The coastline of the Iberian Peninsula is 3,313 km (2,059 mi), 1,660 km (1,030 mi) on the Mediterranean side and 1,653 km (1,027 mi) on the Atlantic side. The coast has been inundated over time, with sea levels having risen from a minimum of 115–120 m (377–394 ft) lower than today at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to its current level at 4,000 years BP. The coastal shelf created by sedimentation during that time remains below the surface; however, it was never very extensive on the Atlantic side, as the continental shelf drops rather steeply into the depths. An estimated 700 km (430 mi) length of Atlantic shelf is only 10–65 km (6.2–40.4 mi) wide. At the 500 m (1,600 ft) isobath, on the edge, the shelf drops off to 1,000 m (3,300 ft).
The submarine topography of the coastal waters of the Iberian Peninsula has been studied extensively in the process of drilling for oil. Ultimately, the shelf drops into the Bay of Biscay on the north (an abyss), the Iberian abyssal plain at 4,800 m (15,700 ft) on the west, and Tagus abyssal plain to the south. In the north, between the continental shelf and the abyss, is an extension called the Galicia Bank, a plateau that also contains the Porto, Vigo, and Vasco da Gama seamounts, which form the Galicia interior basin. The southern border of these features is marked by Nazaré Canyon, which splits the continental shelf and leads directly into the abyss.
The major rivers flow through the wide valleys between the mountain systems. These are the Ebro, Douro, Tagus, Guadiana and Guadalquivir. All rivers in the Iberian Peninsula are subject to seasonal variations in flow.
The Tagus is the longest river on the peninsula and, like the Douro, flows westwards with its lower course in Portugal. The Guadiana river bends southwards and forms the border between Spain and Portugal in the last stretch of its course.
- The Pyrenees and their foothills, the Pre-Pyrenees, crossing the isthmus of the peninsula so completely as to allow no passage except by mountain road, trail, coastal road or tunnel. Aneto in the Maladeta massif, at 3,404 m, is the highest point
- The Cantabrian Mountains along the northern coast with the massive Picos de Europa. Torre de Cerredo, at 2,648 m, is the highest point
- The Galicia/Trás-os-Montes Massif in the Northwest is made up of very old heavily eroded rocks. Pena Trevinca, at 2,127 m, is the highest point
- The Sistema Ibérico, a complex system at the heart of the peninsula, in its central/eastern region. It contains a great number of ranges and divides the watershed of the Tagus, Douro and Ebro rivers. Moncayo, at 2,313 m, is the highest point
- The Sistema Central, dividing the Iberian Plateau into a northern and a southern half and stretching into Portugal (where the highest point of Continental Portugal (1,993 m) is located in the Serra da Estrela). Pico Almanzor in the Sierra de Gredos is the highest point, at 2,592 m
- The Montes de Toledo, which also stretches into Portugal from the La Mancha natural region at the eastern end. Its highest point, at 1,603 m, is La Villuerca in the Sierra de Villuercas, Extremadura
- The Sierra Morena, which divides the watershed of the Guadiana and Guadalquivir rivers. At 1,332 m, Bañuela is the highest point
- The Baetic System, which stretches between Cádiz and Gibraltar and northeast towards Alicante Province. It is divided into three subsystems:
- Prebaetic System, which begins west of the Sierra Sur de Jaén, reaching the Mediterranean Sea shores in Alicante Province. La Sagra is the highest point at 2,382 m.
- Subbaetic System, which is in a central position within the Baetic Systems, stretching from Cape Trafalgar in Cádiz Province across Andalusia to the Region of Murcia. The highest point, at 2,027 m (6,650 ft), is Peña de la Cruz in Sierra Arana.
- Penibaetic System, located in the far southeastern area stretching between Gibraltar across the Mediterranean coastal Andalusian provinces. It includes the highest point in the peninsula, the 3,478 m high Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada.
The Iberian Peninsula contains rocks of every geological period from the Ediacaran to the Recent, and almost every kind of rock is represented. World-class mineral deposits can also be found there. The core of the Iberian Peninsula consists of a Hercynian cratonic block known as the Iberian Massif. On the northeast, this is bounded by the Pyrenean fold belt, and on the southeast it is bounded by the Baetic System. These twofold chains are part of the Alpine belt. To the west, the peninsula is delimited by the continental boundary formed by the magma-poor opening of the Atlantic Ocean. The Hercynian Foldbelt is mostly buried by Mesozoic and Tertiary cover rocks to the east, but nevertheless outcrops through the Sistema Ibérico and the Catalan Mediterranean System.
The Iberian peninsula has two dominant climate types. One of these is the oceanic climate seen in the Atlantic coastal region resulting in evenly temperatures with relatively cool summers. However, most of Portugal and Spain have a Mediterranean climate with various precipitation and temperatures depending on latitude and position versus the sea. There are also more localized semi-arid climates in central Spain, with temperatures resembling a more continental Mediterranean climate. In other extreme cases highland alpine climates such as in Sierra Nevada and areas with extremely low precipitation and desert climates or semi-arid climates such as the Almería area, Murcia area and southern Alicante area. In the Spanish interior the hottest temperatures in Europe are found, with Córdoba averaging around 37 °C (99 °F) in July. The Spanish Mediterranean coast usually averages around 30 °C (86 °F) in summer. In sharp contrast A Coruña at the northern tip of Galicia has a summer daytime high average at just below 23 °C (73 °F). This cool and wet summer climate is replicated throughout most of the northern coastline. Winter temperatures are more consistent throughout the peninsula, although frosts are common in the Spanish interior, even though daytime highs are usually above the freezing point. In Portugal, the warmest winters of the country are found in the area of Algarve, very similar to the ones from Huelva in Spain, while most of the Portuguese Atlantic coast has fresh and humid winters, similar to Galicia.
|Location||Coldest month||April||Warmest month||October|
|Madrid||9.8 °C (49.6 °F)
2.7 °C (36.9 °F)
|18.2 °C (64.8 °F)
7.7 °C (45.9 °F)
|32.1 °C (89.8 °F)
19.0 °C (66.2 °F)
|19.4 °C (66.9 °F) |
10.7 °C (51.3 °F)
|Barcelona||14.8 °C (58.6 °F)
8.8 °C (47.8 °F)
|19.1 °C (66.4 °F)
12.5 °C (54.5 °F)
|29.0 °C (84.2 °F)
23.1 °C (73.6 °F)
|22.5 °C (72.5 °F) |
16.5 °C (61.7 °F)
|Valencia||16.4 °C (61.5 °F)
7.1 °C (44.8��°F)
|20.8 °C (69.4 °F)
11.5 °C (52.7 °F)
|30.2 °C (86.4 °F)
21.9 °C (71.4 °F)
|24.4 °C (75.9 °F) |
15.2 °C (59.4 °F)
|Seville||16.0 °C (60.8 °F)
5.7 °C (42.3 °F)
|23.4 °C (74.1 °F)
11.1 °C (52.0 °F)
|36.0 °C (96.8 °F)
20.3 °C (68.5 °F)
|26.0 °C (78.8 °F) |
14.4 °C (57.9 °F)
|Lisbon||14.8 °C (58.6 °F)
8.3 °C (46.9 °F)
|19.8 °C (67.6 °F)
11.9 °C (53.4 °F)
|28.3 °C (82.9 °F)
18.6 °C (65.5 °F)
|22.5 °C (72.5 °F) |
15.1 °C (59.2 °F)
|Porto||13.8 °C (56.8 °F)
5.2 °C (41.4 °F)
|18.1 °C (64.6 °F)
9.1 °C (48.4 °F)
|25.7 °C (78.3 °F)
15.9 °C (60.6 °F)
|20.7 °C (69.3 °F) |
12.2 °C (54.0 °F)
Major modern countries
The current political configuration of the Iberian Peninsula now comprises the bulk of Spain and Portugal, the whole microstate of Andorra, a small part of the French department of Pyrénées-Orientales (the French Cerdagne) and the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.
French Cerdagne is on the south side of the Pyrenees mountain range, which runs along the border between Spain and France. For example, the Segre river, which runs west and then south to meet the Ebro, has its source on the French side. The Pyrenees range is often considered the northeastern boundary of Iberian Peninsula, although the French coastline converges away from the rest of Europe north of the range.
Regarding Spain and Portugal, this chiefly excludes the Macaronesian archipelagos (Azores and Madeira vis-à-vis Portugal and the Canary Islands vis-à-vis Spain), the Balearic Islands (Spain); and the Spanish territories in North-Africa (most conspicuously the cities of Ceuta and Melilla), as well as unpopulated islets and rocks.
Political divisions of the Iberian Peninsula:
|Arms||Flag||Country or territory||Capital||Area||Mainland
|Andorra||Andorra la Vella||468 km2
(181 sq mi)
(208 sq mi)
(British Overseas Territory)
(2.7 sq mi)
(34,369 sq mi)
(190,030 sq mi)
Major metropolitan regions
|Metropolitan region||State||Population (2019)|
|List of cities in the Iberian Peninsula by population|
|City/Town||Region & Country||Population (2011–12)||City/Town||Region & Country||Population (2011–12)|
|1||Madrid||Madrid, Spain||3,233,527||11||Córdoba||Andalusia, Spain||328,841|
|2||Barcelona||Catalonia, Spain||1,620,943||12||Valladolid||Castile and León, Spain||311,501|
|3||Valencia||Valencia, Spain||809,267||13||Vigo||Galicia, Spain||297,733|
|4||Seville||Andalusia, Spain||702,355||14||Vila Nova de Gaia||Norte, Portugal||288,749|
|5||Zaragoza||Aragon, Spain||679,624||15||Gijón||Asturias, Spain||277,554|
|6||Málaga||Andalusia, Spain||567,433||16||L'Hospitalet||Catalonia, Spain||257,057|
|7||Lisbon||Lisboa, Portugal||547,631||17||A Coruña||Galicia, Spain||246,146|
|8||Murcia||Murcia, Spain||441,354||18||Vitoria-Gasteiz||Basque Country, Spain||242,223|
|9||Bilbao||Basque Country, Spain||351,629||19||Porto||Norte, Portugal||237,591|
|10||Alicante||Valencia, Spain||334,678||20||Granada||Andalusia, Spain||237,540|
Various other notable cities (populations given are for the cities proper not the metro areas or municipalities) are also present on the peninsula, such as: Elche (228,647) (part of the Alicante-Elche-Elda metro area), Oviedo (225,973), Badalona (220,977) and Terrassa (215 678) in Spain; and Braga (192,494), Amadora (175,558), Almada (174,030), Odivelas (144,549) and Coimbra (143,397) in Portugal.
The woodlands of the Iberian Peninsula are distinct ecosystems. Although the various regions are each characterized by distinct vegetation, there are some similarities across the peninsula.
While the borders between these regions are not clearly defined, there is a mutual influence that makes it very hard to establish boundaries and some species find their optimal habitat in the intermediate areas.
East Atlantic flyway
The Iberian Peninsula is an important stopover on the East Atlantic flyway for birds migrating from northern Europe to Africa. For example, curlew sandpipers rest in the region of the Bay of Cádiz.
In addition to the birds migrating through, some seven million wading birds from the north spend the winter in the estuaries and wetlands of the Iberian Peninsula, mainly at locations on the Atlantic coast. In Galicia are Ría de Arousa (a home of grey plover), Ria de Ortigueira, Ria de Corme and Ria de Laxe. In Portugal, the Aveiro Lagoon hosts Recurvirostra avosetta, the common ringed plover, grey plover and little stint. Ribatejo Province on the Tagus supports Recurvirostra arosetta, grey plover, dunlin, bar-tailed godwit and common redshank. In the Sado Estuary are dunlin, Eurasian curlew, grey plover and common redshank. The Algarve hosts red knot, common greenshank and turnstone. The Guadalquivir Marshes region of Andalusia and the Salinas de Cádiz are especially rich in wintering wading birds: Kentish plover, common ringed plover, sanderling, and black-tailed godwit in addition to the others. And finally, the Ebro delta is home to all the species mentioned above.
With the sole exception of Basque, which is of unknown origin, all modern Iberian languages descend from Vulgar Latin and belong to the Western Romance languages. Throughout history (and pre-history), many different languages have been spoken in the Iberian Peninsula, contributing to the formation and differentiation of the contemporaneous languages of Iberia; however, most of them have become extinct or fallen into disuse. Basque is the only non-Indo-European surviving language in Iberia and Western Europe.
In modern times, Spanish (cf. 30 to 40 million speakers),[dubious ] Portuguese (cf. around 10 million speakers), Catalan (cf. around 9 million speakers), Galician (cf. around 3 million speakers) and Basque (cf. around 1 million speakers) are the most widely spoken languages in the Iberian Peninsula. Spanish and Portuguese have expanded beyond Iberia to the rest of world, becoming global languages.
Both Spain and Portugal have traditionally used a non-standard rail gauge (the 1,668 mm Iberian gauge) since the construction of the first railroads in the 19th century. Spain has progressively introduced the 1,435 mm standard gauge in its new high-speed rail network (one the most extensive in the world), inaugurated in 1992 with the Madrid–Seville line, followed to name a few by the Madrid–Barcelona (2008), Madrid–Valencia (2010), an Alicante branch of the latter (2013) and the connection to France of the Barcelona line. Portugal however suspended all the high-speed rail projects in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, putting an end for the time being to the possibility of a high-speed rail connection between Lisbon, Porto and Madrid.
Handicapped by a mountainous range (the Pyrenees) hindering the connection to the rest of Europe, Spain (and subsidiarily Portugal) only has two meaningful rail connections to France able for freight transport, located at both ends of the mountain range. An international rail line across the Central Pyrenees linking Zaragoza and the French city of Pau through a tunnel existed in the past; however, an accident in the French part destroyed a stretch of the railroad in 1970 and the Canfranc Station has been a cul-de-sac since then.
The prospect of the development (as part of a European-wide effort) of the Central, Mediterranean and Atlantic rail corridors is expected to be a way to improve the competitiveness of the ports of Tarragona, Valencia, Sagunto, Bilbao, Santander, Sines and Algeciras vis-à-vis the rest of Europe and the World.
In 1980, Morocco and Spain started a joint study on the feasibility of a fixed link (tunnel or bridge) across the Strait of Gibraltar, possibly through a connection of Punta Paloma with Cape Malabata. Years of studies have, however, made no real progress thus far.
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Major industries include mining, tourism, small farms, and fishing. Because the coast is so long, fishing is popular, especially sardines, tuna and anchovies. Most of the mining occurs in the Pyrenees mountains. Commodities mined include: iron, gold, coal, lead, silver, zinc, and salt.
- In the local languages:
- Spanish, Portuguese, Galician and Asturian: Península Ibérica (mostly rendered in lowercase in Spanish: península ibérica)
- Catalan: Península Ibèrica
- Eastern Catalan: [pəˈninsulə iˈβɛɾikə]
- Aragonese and Occitan: Peninsula Iberica
- French: Péninsule Ibérique [penɛ̃syl ibeʁik]
- Mirandese: Península Eibérica [pɨˈnĩsulɐ ejˈβɛɾikɐ]
- Basque: Iberiar penintsula [iβeɾiar penints̺ula]
- In the local languages:
- Spanish, Aragonese, Asturian and Galician: Iberia
- Portuguese and Mirandese: Ibéria
- Catalan and Occitan: Ibèria
- French: Ibérie [ibeʁi]
- Basque: Iberia [iβeɾia]
- Christian forces were usually better armoured than their Muslim counterparts, with noble and non-noble milites and cavallers wearing mail hauberks, separate mail coifs and metal helmets, and armed with maces, cavalry axes, sword and lances.
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And also the other Iberians use an alphabet, though not letters of one and the same character, for their speech is not one and the same.
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