Iberian Peninsula

The Iberian Peninsula, also known as Iberia, is located in the southwest corner of Europe, defining the westernmost edge of Eurasia. The peninsula is principally divided between Spain and Portugal, comprising most of their territory, as well as a small area of Southern France, Andorra and Gibraltar. With an area of approximately, and a population of roughly 53 million, it is the second largest European peninsula by area, after the Scandinavian Peninsula.


Greek name

The word Iberia is a noun adapted from the Latin word "Hiberia" originating in the Ancient Greek word Ἰβηρία, 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 by the Pyrenees and included the entire land mass southwest 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 " 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 distinct from either Celts or Celtiberians.

Roman names

According to Charles Ebel, the ancient sources in both Latin and Greek use Hispania and Hiberia 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 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 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 appears as form of disambiguation from the former among Roman writers.
Also since Roman antiquity, Jews gave the name Sepharad to the peninsula.
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.
Whatever languages 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.

Modern name

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. 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, 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, 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 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, 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, 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. Around 1100 BC, Phoenician merchants founded the trading colony of Gadir or Gades. 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, 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. 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.


Roman rule

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.

Pre-modern Iberia

In the early fifth century, Germanic peoples occupied the peninsula, namely the Suebi, the Vandals and their allies, the Alans. Only the kingdom of the Suebi 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, in 584–585. They would also occupy the province of the Byzantine Empire 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, 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, . 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, 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 and the Syrians. 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. The slave population comprised the Ṣaqāliba 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 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. The Christian kingdoms progressively expanded south taking over Muslim territory in what is historiographically known as the "Reconquista".
The Caliphate of Córdoba subsumed in a period of upheaval and civil war 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 and Coimbra away from the Taifa of Badajoz ; 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.
Somewhat straying from the trend taking place in other locations of the Latin West since the 10th century, the period comprising the 11th and 13th centuries was not one of weakening monarchical power in the Christian kingdoms. The relatively novel concept of "frontier", already reported in Aragon by the second half of the 11th century become widespread in the Christian Iberian kingdoms by the beginning of the 13th century, in relation to the more or less conflictual border with Muslim lands.
By the beginning of the 13th century, a power reorientation took place in the Iberian Peninsula 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 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 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 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 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, the House of Trastámara succeeded to the throne in the person of Peter's half brother, Henry II. In the kingdom of Aragón, following the death without heirs of John I and Martin I, a prince of the House of Trastámara, Ferdinand I, 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. 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.
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 arriving at Porto Santo, Madeira and the Azores, as well as establishing additional outposts along the North-African coast.
During the Late Middle Ages, the Jews acquired considerable power and influence in Castile and Aragon.
Throughout the late middle ages, the Crown of Aragon took part in the mediterranean slave trade, with Barcelona, Valencia and, to a lesser extent, Palma de Mallorca, becoming dynamic centres in this regard, involving chiefly eastern and muslim peoples. Castile engaged later in this economic activity, rather by adhering to the incipient atlantic slave trade involving sub-saharan people thrusted by Portugal since the mid 15th century, with Seville becoming another key hub for the slave trade. Following the advance in the conquest of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, the seizure of Málaga entailed the addition of another notable slave centre for the Crown of Castile.
By the end of the 15th century the Iberian kingdoms had an estimated population of 6.525 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.
In the late 15th century, the imperial ambition of the Iberian powers was pushed to new heights by the Catholic Monarchs in Castile and Aragon, and by Manuel I in Portugal.
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. 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.
The change of relative supremacy from Portugal to the Hispanic Monarchy in the late 15th century has been described as one of the few cases of avoidance of the Thucydides Trap.

Modern Iberia

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, 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. During the reign of Phillip II of Spain, the Councils of Portugal, Italy, Flanders and Burgundy were added to the group of counselling institutions of the Hispanic Monarchy, to which the Councils of Castile, Aragon, Indies, Chamber of Castile, Inquisition, Orders, and Crusade already belonged, defining the organization of the Royal court that underpinned the through which the empire operated. 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. 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, Barcelona, and, to a lesser extent in the Kingdom of Valencia, in Valencia, Alicante and Orihuela. The case of Portugal presented an hypertrophied capital, Lisbon with its demographic dynamism stimulated by the Asian trade, followed at great distance by Porto and Évora. Throughout most of the 16th century, both Lisbon and Seville were among the Western Europe's largest and most dynamic cities.
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, the urban dynamism chiefly moving to Northern Europe. A dismantling of the inner city network in the Castilian plateau took place during this period, with only New Castile resisting recession in the interior. Regarding the Atlantic façade of Castile, aside from the severing of trade with Northern Europe, inter-regional trade with other regions in the Iberian Peninsula also suffered to some extent. In Aragon, suffering from similar problems than Castile, the expelling of the Moriscos in 1609 in the Kingdom of Valencia aggravated the recession. Silk turned from a domestic industry into a raw commodity to be exported. However, the crisis was uneven, as both Portugal and the Mediterranean coastline recovered in the later part of the century by fuelling a sustained growth.
The aftermath of the intermittent 1640–1668 Portuguese Restoration War brought the House of Braganza as new ruling dinasty in the Portuguese territories across the world, putting an end to the Iberian Union.
Despite both Portugal and Spain starting their path towards modernization with the liberal revolutions of the first half of the 19th century, this process was, concerning structural changes in the geographical distribution of the population, relatively tame compared to what took place after World War II in the Iberian Peninsula, when strong urban development ran in parallel to substantial rural flight patterns.

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 encompasses 583,254 km2 and has very contrasting and uneven relief. The mountain ranges of the Iberian Peninsula are mainly distributed from west to east, and in some cases reach altitudes of approximately 3000 mamsl, resulting in the region having the second highest mean altitude in Western Europe.
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 based on a degree length of 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 based on an estimated degree length of about 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
. 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, on the Mediterranean side and on the Atlantic side. The coast has been inundated over time, with sea levels having risen from a minimum of lower than today at the Last Glacial Maximum 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 length of Atlantic shelf is only wide. At the isobath, on the edge, the shelf drops off to.
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, the Iberian abyssal plain at 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 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 highest peak in the Iberian Peninsula
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 features one of the largest Lithium deposits belts in Europe, scattered along the Iberian Massif's and. Also in the Iberian Massif, and similarly to other Hercynian blocks in Europe, the peninsula hosts some uranium deposits, largely located in the Central Iberian Zone unit.
The Iberian Pyrite Belt, located in the SW quadrant of the Peninsula, ranks among the most important volcanogenic massive sulphide districts on Earth, and it has been exploited for millennia.


The Iberian Peninsula's location and topography, as well as the effects of large atmospheric circulation patterns induce a NW to SE gradient of yearly precipitation.
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 and Portuguese interior the hottest temperatures in Europe are found, with Córdoba averaging around in July. The Spanish Mediterranean coast usually averages around in summer. In sharp contrast A Coruña at the northern tip of Galicia has a summer daytime high average at just below. 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.
LocationColdest monthAprilWarmest monthOctober






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 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, the Balearic Islands ; and the Spanish territories in North Africa, as well as unpopulated islets and rocks.
Political divisions of the Iberian Peninsula:


The Iberian city network is dominated by 3 international metropolises and four regional metropolises. The relatively weak integration of the network favours a competitive approach vis-à-vis the inter-relation between the different centres. Among these metropolises, Madrid stands out within the global urban hierarchy in terms of its status as a major service centre and enjoys the greatest degree of connectivity.

Major metropolitan regions

According to Eurostat, the metropolitan regions with a population over one million are listed as follows:

Metropolitan regionStatePopulation
A CoruñaSpain1122006



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.
The endangered Iberian lynx is a symbol of the Iberian mediterranean forest and of the fauna of the Iberian Peninsula altogether.

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, 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, 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, Portuguese, Catalan, Galician and Basque 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.
Other minority romance languages with some degree of recognition include the several varieties of Astur-leonese, collectively amounting to about 0.6 million speakers, and the Aragonese.


Both Spain and Portugal have traditionally used a non-standard rail 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, inaugurated in 1992 with the Madrid–Seville line, followed to name a few by the Madrid–Barcelona, Madrid–Valencia, an Alicante branch of the latter 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 hindering the connection to the rest of Europe, Spain 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.
There are four points connecting the Portuguese and Spanish rail networks: Valença do Minho–Tui, Vilar Formoso–Fuentes de Oñoro, Marvão-Beirã–Valencia de Alcántara and Elvas–Badajoz.
The prospect of the development 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 across the Strait of Gibraltar, possibly through a connection of with Cape Malabata. Years of studies have, however, made no real progress thus far.
A transit point for many submarine cables, the Fibre-optic Link Around the Globe, Europe India Gateway, and the SEA-ME-WE 3 feature landing stations in the Iberian Peninsula. The West Africa Cable System, Main One, SAT-3/WASC, Africa Coast to Europe also land in Portugal. MAREA, a high capacity communication transatlantic cable, connects the north of the Iberian Peninsula to North America, while EllaLink is an upcoming high-capacity communication cable expected to connect the Peninsula to South America and the mammoth 2Africa project intends to connect the peninsula to the United Kingdom, Europe and Africa by 2023–24.
Two gas pipelines: the Pedro Duran Farell pipeline and the Medgaz link the Maghreb and the Iberian Peninsula, providing Spain with Algerian natural gas.


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.
Regarding their role in the global economy, both the microstate of Andorra and the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar have been described as tax havens.
The Galician region of Spain, in the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula, became one of the biggest entry points of cocaine in Europe, on a par with the Dutch ports. Hashish is smuggled from Morocco via the Strait of Gibraltar.


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