Iberian Peninsula

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The Iberian Peninsula (Asturian, Galician, Leonese, Mirandese, Portuguese and Template:Lang-es, Template:Lang-ca, Aragonese and Template:Lang-oc, Template:Lang-fr, Template:Lang-eu), commonly called Iberia, is a peninsula located in the extreme southwest of Europe and includes the modern-day sovereign states of Spain, Portugal and Andorra, as well as the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar. It is the westernmost of the three major southern European peninsulas—the Iberian, Italian, and Balkan peninsulas. 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 form the northeast edge of the peninsula, separating it from the rest of Europe. In the south, it approaches the northern coast of Africa. It is the second-largest peninsula in Europe, with an area of approximately Template:Convert.



Greek name

The English word Iberia was adapted from the use of the Ancient Greek word Ιβηρία (Ibēría) by the Greek geographers under the Roman Empire to refer to what is known today in English as the Iberian Peninsula.<ref>First known use in that sense dates to 1618. Template:Cite encyclopedia</ref> At that time the name did not describe a single political entity or a distinct population of people.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> Strabo's Iberia was delineated from Keltikē by the Pyrenees and included the entire land mass south-west (he named it "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.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> Herodotus of Halicarnassus says of the Phocaeans that "it was they who made the Greeks acquainted with ... Iberia."<ref>I.163.</ref> According to Strabo<ref name= "III.4.19">III.4.19.</ref> prior historians used Iberia to mean the country "this side of the Ἶβηρος (Ibēros)" as far north as the Rhone river in France but currently they set the Pyrenees as the limit. Polybius respects that limit<ref>III.37.</ref> but identifies Iberia as the Mediterranean side as far south as Gibraltar, with the Atlantic side having no name. Elsewhere<ref>III.17.</ref> he says that Saguntum is "on the seaward foot of the range of hills connecting Iberia and Celtiberia."

Strabo<ref>III.4.11.</ref> refers to the Carretanians as people "of the Iberian stock" living in the Pyrenees, who are to be distinguished from either Celts or Celtiberians.

Roman names

Template:Main When the Romans encountered the Greek geographers they used Iberia poeticallyTemplate:Clarify and spoke of the Iberi.<ref>Template:Cite encyclopedia</ref> First mention was in 200 BC by the poet Quintus Ennius. The Romans had already had independent experience with the peoples on the peninsula during the long conflict with Carthage. 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 territories of Carthage, the Romans came to use Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior for 'near' and 'far Spain'. Even at that time large sections of it were Lusitania (Portugal south of Douro river and Extremadura in western Spain), Gallaecia (Northern Portugal and Galicia in Spain), Celtiberia (central Spain), Baetica (Andalusia), Cantabria (northwest Spain) and the Vascones (Basques). Strabo says<ref name="III.4.19"/> that the Romans use Hispania and Iberia synonymously, and distance them as near and far. He was living in a time when the peninsula was divided into Roman provinces, of which Baetia was supervised by the Senate, whereas the others were governed on behalf of the Emperor. Whatever language may have been spoken on the peninsula soon gave way to Latin, except for Basque, protected by the Pyrenees.


Northeast Iberian script from Huesca.

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 river Hiberus.<ref>III.3.21.</ref> 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,<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> uses Ibērus. With reference to this border, Polybius<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> 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 remain unknown also. In modern basque language the word ibar means valley or watered meadow, while ibai means river, but there insn't also any proof relating the etimology of the Ebro river with these basque names.



File:Arte esquemático-Cigüeña.png
Schematic rock art from the Iberian peninsula.
File:Iberia Late Bronze.gif
Iberian Late Bronze Age since c. 1300 BC


The Iberian Peninsula has been inhabited for at least 1,000,000 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 ice age 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, coming from Southern FranceTemplate:Citation needed. 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, which would give rise to the peninsula's first civilizations and to extensive exchange networks reaching to the Baltic, the Middle East and North Africa. At around 2800 - 2700 BC the Bell Beaker culture producing the Maritime Bell Beaker probably originated in the vibrant copper--using communities of the Tagus estuary in Portugal around 2800 - 2700 BC and spread from there to many parts of western Europe. <ref name=case>Template:Cite book</ref>

Bronze Age

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.

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 into Indo-European space 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, the Celtiberians, the Gallaeci, the Astur, or the Celtici, amongst 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).


File:Conquista Hispania.svg
Roman conquest of Hispania
File:Hispania 560 AD.PNG
Iberian Peninsula in 560
File:Spanish reconquista.gif
The Reconquista, 790-1300
File:Carte historique des Royaumes d'Espagne et Portugal.jpg
Map of Spain and Portugal, Atlas historique, dated approximately 1705-1739, of H.A. Chatelain.

Roman rule


In 219 BC the first Roman troops invaded the Iberian Peninsula, during the Second Punic war against the Carthaginians, 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.

Germanic kingdoms


In the early 5th century, Germanic tribes invaded the peninsula, namely the Suevi, the Vandals (Silingi and Hasdingi) and their allies, the Sarmatian Alans. Only the kingdom of the Suevi (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 Suevi 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.

Islamic rule


In AD 711, a North African Moorish Umayyad army invaded Visigothic Christian Hispania. Under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad, they landed at Gibraltar and brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. Al-ʾAndalūs (Arabic الإندلس : Land of the Vandals) is the Arabic name given the Iberian Peninsula by its Muslim conquerors and its subsequent inhabitants.

From the 8th-15th centuries, parts of the Iberian Peninsula were ruled by the Moors (mainly Berber and Arab) who had crossed over from North Africa.



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.Template:Citation needed

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 eliminated by a combined Castilian and Aragonese force in 1492.

Post reconquest


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.



Overall characteristics

File:Iberian Peninsula antique map.jpg
An 18th century map of the peninsula depicting various topographical features of the land, as published in Robert Wilkinson's General Atlas, circa 1794.

The Iberian Peninsula extends from the southernmost extremity at Punta de Tarifa (Template:Coord) to the northernmost extremity at Estaca de Bares Point (Template:Coord) over a distance between lines of latitude of about Template:Convert based on a degree length of Template:Convert per degree, and from the westernmost extremity at Cabo da Roca (Template:Coord) to the easternmost extremity at Cap de Creus (Template:Coord) over a distance between lines of longitude at 40° N latitude of about Template:Convert based on an estimated degree length of about Template:Convert 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.<ref>III.1.3.</ref>

About three quarters of that rough octagon is the Meseta Central, a low and rolling plateau of up to several hundred metres in altitude.<ref>Template:Cite book Downloadable Google Books</ref> 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 Template:Convert, Template:Convert on the Mediterranean side and Template:Convert on the Atlantic side.<ref>These figures sum the figures given in the Wikipedia articles on the geography of Spain and Portugal. Most figures from Internet sources on Spain and Portugal include the coastlines of the islands owned by each country and thus are not a reliable guide to the coastline of the peninsula. Moreover, the length of a coastline may vary significantly depending on where and how it is measured.</ref> The coast has been inundated over time, with sea levels having risen from a minimum of Template:Convert lower than today at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) to its current level at 4000 years BP.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> 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 Template:Convert length of Atlantic shelf is only Template:Convert wide. At the Template:Convert isobath, on the edge, the shelf drops off to Template:Convert.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

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 Template:Convert 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 containing also the Porto, Vigo and Vasco da Gama seamounts, creating the Galicia interior basin. The southern border of these features is marked by Nazare Canyon, splitting the continental shelf and leading directly into the abyss.


Mountains consist mainly of serrated ridges aligned in an east-west direction, due to the orogenic factors of the region's geologic history. Rivers generally flow through the valleys between the ridges. In a counterclockwise direction, the major mountain ranges are: the Pyrenees crossing the isthmus of the peninsula so completely as to allow no passage except by mountain road or trail or coastal road, the Cantabrian Mountains perched on the northern coastline, the Sistema Ibérico, the Sistema Central, the Montes de Toledo, the Sierra Morena and the Sierra Nevada.



Modern countries and territories

Political divisions of the Iberian Peninsula sorted by area:

Country/</br>Territory Population<ref>Population includes only the inhabitants of mainland Spain (excluding the Balearic Islands, Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla), mainland Portugal (excluding Madeira and Azores), Andorra and Gibraltar.</ref> km2 sq mi sq mi % Share
Template:Flagicon Spain 46,500,000 Template:Convert 85% occupies most of the peninsula
Template:Flagicon Portugal 11,000,000 Template:Convert 15% occupies most of the west of the peninsula
Template:Flagicon France 12,035 Template:Convert <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<ref>For example, the Segre river, which goes west and then south to meet the Ebro, has its source in the French side.</ref>
Template:Flagicon Andorra 84,082 Template:Convert <1% a northern edge of the peninsula in the south side of the Pyrenees range between Spain and France
Template:Nowrap 29,431 Template:Convert <1% a British overseas territory near the southernmost tip of the peninsula


Major cities


List of cities in the Iberian Peninsula by population
City/Town Region & Country Population (2009) City/Town Region & Country Population (2009)
1 Madrid Madrid, Spain 3,273,049   11 Córdoba Andalusia, Spain 325,453
2 Barcelona Catalonia, Spain 1,621,537   12 Valladolid Castile and León, Spain 317,864
3 Valencia Valencia, Spain 809,267   13 Vigo Galicia, Spain 297,124
4 Seville Andalusia, Spain 704,198   14 Vila Nova de Gaia Norte, Portugal 288,749
5 Zaragoza Aragon, Spain 701,090   15 Gijón Asturias, Spain 275,699
6 Málaga Andalusia, Spain 568,507   16 L'Hospitalet de Llobregat Catalonia, Spain 253,782
7 Lisbon Lisbon, Portugal 547,631   17 A Coruña Galicia, Spain 246,056
8 Murcia Murcia, Spain 442,573   18 Porto Norte, Portugal 237,559
9 Bilbao Basque Country, Spain 353,187   19 Vitoria-Gasteiz Basque Country, Spain 235,661
10 Alicante Valencia, Spain 334,418   20 Granada Andalusia, Spain 234,325


Various other notable cities are also present on the peninsula, like Elche, Oviedo, Badalona and Terrassa (in Spain), and Braga, Sintra, Coimbra and Setúbal (in Portugal).

Major metropolitan areas

The main metropolitan areas and conurbations over a million are: Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Valencia, Porto, Seville, Bilbao and Málaga.




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 which makes it very hard to establish boundaries and some species find their optimal habitat in the intermediate areas.

East Atlantic flyway

The Iberian Peninsula in an important stopover on the East Atlantic flyway for birds migrating from northern Europe to Africa. For example, Calidis ferruginea rests in the region of Cadiz Bay.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

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 the Ria de Arousa (a home of Pluvialis squatarola), Ria de Ortigueira, Ria de Corme and Ria de Laxe. In Portugal the Aveiro Lagoon hosts Recurvirostra avosetta, Charadrius hiaticula, Pluvialis squatarola and Calidris minuta. Ribatejo Province on the Tagus River supports Recurvirostra arosetta, Pluvialis squatarola, Culidris alpina, Limosa lapponica and Tringa totanus. In the Estuário do Sado are Calidris alpina, Numenius arquata, Pluvialis squatarola and Tringa totanus. The Algarve hosts Calidris canutus, Tringa nebularia and Arenaria interpres. The Marismas de Guadalquivir region of Andalusia and the Salinas de Cádiz are especially rich in wintering wading birds: Charadrius alexandrinus, Charadrius hiaticula, Calidris alba, and Limosa limosa in addition to the others. And finally, the Ebro delta is home to all the species mentioned above.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>



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 Catalonian Coastal Ranges.


Template:Main Template:Further

Most modern languages of Iberia descend from Vulgar Latin, except for Basque which is of unknown origin. Throughout history (and pre-history), many different languages have been spoken in the Iberian Peninsula contributing to the formation and differentiation of the contemporanean 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 half a million speakers) are the most widely spoken languages in the Iberian Peninsula. Out of these languages; only two, Spanish and Portuguese, have expanded beyond Iberia to the rest of world, thus becoming global languages.

See also



External links

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