The Iberian Peninsula /aɪˈbɪəriən pəˈnɨnsjʉlə/, also known as Iberia /aɪˈbɪəriə/, is located in the southwest corner of Europe and is divided among three states: Spain, Portugal, and Andorra; as well as Gibraltar, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. With an area of approximately 582,000 km2 (225,000 sq mi), it is the third largest European peninsula, after the Scandinavian and Balkan peninsulas.
The English word Iberia was adapted from the use of the Ancient Greek word Ιβηρία (Ibēría) 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 political entity or a distinct population of people. Strabo's Iberia was delineated from Keltikē (Gaul) by the Pyrenees and included the entire land mass southwest (he says "west") of there.
The ancient Greeks discovered the Iberian Peninsula by voyaging westward.Hecataeus of Miletus was the first known to use the term around 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."
Strabo refers to the Carretanians as people "of the Iberian stock" living in the Pyrenees, who are to be distinguished from either Celts or Celtiberians.
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 Ebron, which the Romans called Hiberus. Hiber (Iberian) was thus used as a term for peoples living near the river Ebron. The first mention in Roman literature was by the annalist poet Quintus Ennius in 200 BC. The Romans had broad experience with the peoples on the peninsula acquired during the long conflict with Carthage. 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.
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 (Southern Spain), Hispania Tarraconensis (Northern Spain), and Hispania Lusitania (Southern, most of modern Portugal). Strabo says that the Romans use Hispania and Iberia synonymously, distinguishing between the near northern and the far southern provinces. Whatever language may generally have been spoken on the peninsula soon gave way to Latin, except for that of the Vascones, which was preserved as a language isolate by the barrier of the Pyrenees.
The Iberian Peninsula has always been associated with the Ebro River, 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, stated by the geographers and historians to be from southern Spain to 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 on 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 at Atapuerca 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 BC, during the Lower Paleolithic period, Neanderthals first entered the Iberian Peninsula. Around 70,000 BC, during the Middle Paleolithic period, the last glacial event began and the Neanderthal Mousterian culture was established. Around 35,000 BC, 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 28,000 BC, when Neanderthal man faced extinction.
At about the 40th millennium BC, 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 the R1b Haplogroup, 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 complex forms of Paleolithic art.
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 or Copper Age (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 Bell 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 areas, such as those of the Bronze of Levante, South-Western Iberian Bronze and Cogotas I.
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 Tartessian script for its Tartessian language, not related to the Iberian language.
Some scholars believe that 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 in its northern and western regions. In Northwestern Iberia (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, Astur, 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.
The seafaring Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians successively settled along the Mediterranean coast and founded trading colonies there over a period of several centuries. Around 1100 BC, Phoenician merchants founded the trading colony of Gadir or Gades (modern day Cádiz) near Tartessos. 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 6th 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 (Latin name of modern-day Cartagena).
In 218 B.C., during the Second Punic war against the Carthaginians, the first Roman troops invaded the Iberian Peninsula and annexed it under Augustus after two centuries of war with the Celtic and Iberian tribes and the Phoenician, Greek and Carthaginian colonies, resulting in 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 Taraconensis in the northeast, Hispania Baetica in the south and Lusitania in the southwest.
Hispania supplied the Roman Empire with food, olive oil, wine, and metal. The emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Theodosius I, the philosopher Seneca, and the poets Martial and Lucan were born from families living on the peninsula.
In the early 5th century, Germanic tribes invaded the peninsula, namely the Suebi, the Vandals (Silingi and Hasdingi) and their allies, the Sarmatian Alans. Only the kingdom of the Suebi (Quadi and Marcomanni) would endure after the arrival of another wave of Germanic invaders, the Visigoths, who conquered all of the Iberian Peninsula and expelled or partially integrated the Vandals and the Alans. The Visigoths eventually conquered the Suebi kingdom and its capital city Bracara (modern day Braga) in 584–585. They would also conquer the province of the Byzantine Empire (552–624) of Spania in the south of the peninsula and the Balearic Islands.
In AD 711, a Muslim army invaded the Visigothic Kingdom in Hispania. Under Tariq ibn-Ziyad, the Islamic army landed at Gibraltar and brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic control in an eight-year campaign. Al-Andalus (Arabic: الإندلس, tr. Al-ʾAndalūs, possibly "Land of the Vandals"), is the Arabic name given the Iberian Peninsula by its Muslim Berber and Arab conquerors.
From the 8th–15th centuries, the Iberian Peninsula was incorporated into the Islamic world and became a center of culture and learning, especially during the Caliphate of Cordoba, which reached its height under the rule of Abd ar-Rahman III. The Muslims, which were initially Arabs and Berbers, included local Iberian converts, the so-called Muladi, who formed the majority of the Iberian population by the year 1100. The Muslims were referred to by the generic name, Moors. Thus, before the so-called Reconquista gained momentum, the Iberian Peninsula had been transformed from a mainly Romance-speaking Christian land into a mainly Arabic-speaking Muslim land. However, pockets of Arabic and Romance-speaking Christians called Mozarabs survived throughout Al-Andalus, in addition to a large minority of Arabic-speaking Jews.
Many of the ousted Gothic nobles took refuge in the unconquered north Asturian highlands. From there, they aimed to reconquer their lands from the Moors; this war of reconquest is known as the Reconquista. Christian and Muslim kingdoms fought and allied among themselves. The Muslim taifa kings competed in patronage of the arts, the Way of Saint James attracted pilgrims from all Western Europe, and the Jewish population set the basis of Sephardic culture.
During the Middle Ages, the peninsula housed many small states including Castile, Aragon, Navarre, León and Portugal. The peninsula was part of the Islamic Almohad empire until they were finally uprooted. The last major Muslim stronghold was Granada, which was conquered by a combined Castilian and Aragonese force in 1492. Muslims and Jews throughout the period were variously tolerated or shown intolerance in different Christian kingdoms. However, after the conquest of Granada, all Muslims and Jews were ordered to convert to Christianity or face expulsion. 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. 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.
The small states gradually amalgamated over time, with the exception of Portugal, even if for a brief period (1580–1640) the whole peninsula was united politically under the Iberian Union. After that point, the modern position was reached and the peninsula now consists of the countries of Spain and Portugal (excluding their islands—the Portuguese Azores and Madeira Islands and the Spanish Canary Islands and Balearic Islands; and the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla), Andorra, French Cerdagne and Gibraltar.
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 , and on the north, west, and southwest by the Atlantic Ocean. The Pyrenees mountains form the northeast edge of the peninsula, separating it from the rest of Europe. Its southern tip is very close to the northwest coast of Africa, separated from it by the Strait of Gibraltar.
The Iberian Peninsula extends from the southernmost extremity at Punta de Tarifa ( ) to the northernmost extremity at Estaca de Bares Point ( ) 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.
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 to be 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, the Galicia Bank, a plateau also containing the Porto, Vigo and Vasco da Gama seamounts, creating the Galicia interior basin. The southern border of these features is marked by Nazaré Canyon, splitting the continental shelf and leading 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 in the peninsula and, like the Douro, flows westwards with its lower course in Portugal. The Guadiana bends southwards and forms the border between Spain and Portugal in the last stretch of its course.
The terrain of the Iberian Peninsula is largely mountainous. The major mountain systems are:
- 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 shores in Alicante Province. 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 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 Betic Foldchain. 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 Iberian Chain and the Catalan Coastal Ranges.
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, pretty much all of Portugal and most of Spain have 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 precitipation such as the Almería area can be found. 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 some way above the freezing point.
|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||13.6 °C (56.5 °F)
4.7 °C (40.5 °F)
|18.0 °C (64.4 °F)
9.4 °C (48.9 °F)
|28.5 °C (83.3 °F)
20.2 °C (68.4 °F)
|22.1 °C (71.8 °F)
13.5 °C (56.3 °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)
|24.3 °C (75.7 °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)
Modern countries and territories
Political divisions of the Iberian Peninsula sorted by area:
|Mainland population||km2||sq mi||%||Share|
|Spain||43,000,000 approx.||493,519||190,549||85%||occupies most of the peninsula|
|Portugal||10,000,000 approx.||89,261||34,464||15%||occupies most of the west of the peninsula|
|France||12,035||540||210||<1%||French Cerdagne is in the south side of the Pyrenees range between Spain and France, so it is technically located in the Iberian Peninsula|
|Andorra||84,082||468||181||<1%||a northern edge of the peninsula in the south side of the Pyrenees range between Spain and France|
|Gibraltar||29,431||7||3||<1%||a British overseas territory near the southernmost tip of the peninsula|
Major urban areas
|Urban Area||Country||Region||Population||Globalization Index|
|Madrid||Spain||Community of Madrid||6,321,398||Alpha|
|Valencia||Spain||Community of Valencia||1,564,145||Gamma|
Various other notable cities are also present on the peninsula, such as: Elche (230,354), Oviedo (225,973), Badalona (220,977) and Terrassa (215 678) in Spain; and Braga (181,874), Amadora (175,558), Coimbra (102,455) and Setúbal (90,640) 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
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 Ria 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, ringed plover, grey plover and little stint. Ribatejo Province on the Tagus River 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, greenshank and turnstone. The Marismas de Guadalquivir region of Andalusia and the Salinas de Cádiz are especially rich in wintering wading birds: Kentish plover, 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.
Except for Basque, which is of unknown origin, most modern Iberian languages descend from Vulgar Latin. 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), 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.