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Geography of Kingdom of Spain
Kingdom of Spain
Continent Europe
Region Southern Europe
Iberian Peninsula
Coordinates 40°00'N 4°00' W
Area Ranked 50th
504,782 km2 (194,897.4 sq mi)
98.96% land
1.04 % water
Borders Total land borders:
1,917.8 km (1,191.7 mi)
1,214 km (754 mi)
623 km (387 mi)
63.7 km (39.6 mi)
Morocco (Melilla):
9.6 km (5.97 mi)
Morocco (Ceuta):
6.3 km (3.91 mi)
1.2 km (0.75 mi)
Highest point Teide (Canary Islands)
3,718 m (12,198 ft)
Mulhacén (Iberian Peninsula)
3,477 m (11,407 ft)
Lowest point Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea
0 m (0 ft) (Sea level)
Longest river Tagus
Largest lake Lago de Sanabria

Spain is located in southwestern Europe and comprises about 84 percent of the Iberian Peninsula. Its total area is 504,782 km2 (194,897 sq mi) of which 499,542 km2 (192,874 sq mi) is land and 5,240 km2 (2,023 sq mi) is water ( H2O ).[1] , and the Atlantic coast is 710 km (441 mi) long. The Pyrenees mountain range, extends 435 km (270 mi) from the Mediterranean to the Bay of Biscay. In the extreme south of Spain lie the Straits of Gibraltar, which separate Spain and the rest of Europe from Morocco in north Africa; at its narrowest extent, Spain and Morocco are separated by only 13 km (8.1 mi).

Off the Iberian Peninsula there are several other Spanish areas: the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands to the southwest, 108 km (67 mi) off northwest Africa, and five places of sovereignty (plazas de soberanía) on and off the coast of Morocco: Ceuta, Melilla, Islas Chafarinas, Peñón de Alhucemas, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera.


External boundaries and landform regions

Map of Spain

Most of Spain's boundaries are water: the Mediterranean Sea on the south and east from Gibraltar to the French border and the Atlantic Ocean on the northwest and southwest (in the south as the Golfo de Cádiz and in the north as the Bay of Biscay). Spain also shares land boundaries with France and Andorra along the Pyrenees in the northeast, with Portugal on the west, and with the small British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar near the southernmost tip. The affiliation of Gibraltar has continued to be a contentious issue between Spain and Britain and so is the sovereignty of the plazas de soberanía, claimed by Morocco.

Spain also has a small exclave inside France called Llívia.

The majority of Spain's peninsular region consists of the Meseta Central, a highland plateau rimmed and dissected by mountain ranges. Other landforms include narrow coastal plains and some lowland river valleys, the most prominent of which is the Andalusian Plain in the southwest. The country can be divided into ten natural regions or subregions: the dominant Meseta Central, the Cordillera Cantabrica and the northwest region, the Ibérico region, the Pyrenees, the Penibético region in the southeast, the Andalusian Plain, the Ebro Basin, the coastal plains, the Balearic Islands, and the Canary Islands. These are commonly grouped into four types: the Meseta Central and associated mountains, other mountainous regions, lowland regions, and islands.


The Inner Plateau and associated mountains

The Meseta Central ("Inner Plateau") is a vast plateau in the heart of peninsular Spain, has elevations that range from 610 to 760 m. Rimmed by mountains, the Meseta Central slopes gently to the west and to the series of rivers that form some of the border with Portugal. The Sistema Central, described as the "dorsal spine" of the Meseta Central, divides the Meseta into northern and southern subregions, the former higher in elevation and smaller in area than the latter. The Sistema Central rims the capital city of Madrid with peaks that rise to 2,400 m north of the city and to lower elevations south of it. West of Madrid, the Sistema Central shows its highest peak, Pico Almanzor, of 2,592 m. The mountains of the Sistema Central, which continue westward into Portugal, display some glacial features; the highest of the peaks are snow-capped for most of the year. Despite their height, however, the mountain system does not create a major barrier between the northern and the southern portions of the Meseta Central because several passes permit road and railroad transportation to the northwest and the northeast.

The southern portion of the Meseta is further divided by twin mountain ranges, the Montes de Toledo running to the east and the Sierra de Guadalupe, to the west. Their peaks do not rise much higher than 1,500 m. With many easy passes, including those that connect the Meseta with the Andalusian Plain, the Montes de Toledo and the Sierra de Guadalupe do not present an obstacle to transportation and communication. The two mountain ranges are separated from the Sistema Central to the north by the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula: the Tagus River.

The Picos de Europa in Northern Spain

The mountain regions that rim the Meseta Central and are associated with it are the Sierra Morena, the Cordillera Cantábrica, and the Sistema Ibérico. Forming the southern edge of the Meseta Central, the Sierra Morena merges in the east with the southern extension of the Sistema Iberico and reaches westward along the northern edge of the Rio Guadalquivir valley to join the mountains in southern Portugal. The massif of the Sierra Morena extends northward to the Río Guadiana, which separates it from the Sistema Central. Despite their relatively low elevations, seldom surpassing 1,300 m, the mountains of the Sierra Morena are rugged.

The Cordillera Cantábrica, a limestone formation, runs parallel to, and close to, the northern coast near the Bay of Biscay. Its highest points are the Picos de Europa, surpassing 2,600 m. The Cordillera Cantábrica extends 182 km and abruptly drops 1,500 m some 30 km from the coast. To the west lie the hills of the northwest region and to the east the Basque mountains that link them to the Pyrenees.

The Sistema Ibérico extends from the Cordillera Cantábrica southeastward and, close to the Mediterranean, spreads out from the Río Ebro to the Río Júcar. The barren, rugged slopes of this mountain range cover an area of close to 21,000 square kilometers. The mountains exceed 2,000 m in their northern region and reach a maximum height of over 2,300 m east of the headwaters of the Rio Duero. The extremely steep mountain slopes in this range are often cut by deep, narrow gorges.

Other mountainous regions

External to the Meseta Central lie the Pyrenees in the northeast and the Sistema Penibético in the southeast. The Pyrenees, extending from the eastern edge of the Cordillera Cantábrica to the Mediterranean Sea, form a solid barrier and a natural border between Spain and both France and Andorra that, throughout history, has effectively isolated the countries from each other. Passage is easy in the relatively low terrain at the eastern and western extremes of the mountain range; it is here that international railroads and roadways cross the border. In the central section of the Pyrenees, however, passage is difficult. In several places, peaks rise above 3,000 m; the highest, Pico de Aneto, surpasses 3,400 m.

The Sistema Penibético extends northeast from the southern tip of Spain, running parallel to the coast until it merges with the southern extension of the Sistema Ibérico near the Rio Júcar and with the eastern extension of the Sierra Morena. The Sierra Nevada, part of the Sistema Penibético south of Granada, includes the highest mountain on the peninsula and continental Spain, Mulhacén, which rises to 3,479 m. Other peaks in the range also surpass 3,000 m.

Lowland regions

The major lowland regions are the Andalusian Plain in the southwest, the Ebro Basin in the northeast, and the coastal plains. The Andalusian Plain is essentially a wide river valley through which the Río Guadalquivir flows. The river broadens out along its course, reaching its widest point at the Golfo de Cadiz. The Andalusian Plain is bounded on the north by the Sierra Morena and on the south by the Sistema Penibético; it narrows to an apex in the east where these two mountain chains meet. The Ebro Basin is formed by the Río Ebro valley, contained by mountains on three sides--the Sistema Ibérico to the south and west, the Pyrenees to the north and east, and their coastal extensions paralleling the shore to the east. Minor low-lying river valleys close to the Portuguese border are located on the Tagus and the Río Guadiana.

The Coastal Plains regions are narrow strips between the coastal mountains and the seas. They are broadest along the Golfo de Cádiz, where the coastal plain adjoins the Andalusian Plain, and along the southern and central eastern coasts. The narrowest coastal plain runs along the Bay of Biscay, where the Cordillera Cantábrica ends close to shore.

The islands

The remaining regions of Spain are the Balearic and the Canary Islands, the former located in the Mediterranean Sea and the latter in the Atlantic Ocean. The Balearic Islands, encompassing a total area of 5,000 square kilometers, lie 80 kilometers off Spain's central eastern coast. The mountains that rise up above the Mediterranean Sea to form these islands are an extension of the Sistema Penibetico. The archipelago's highest points, which reach 1,400 meters, are in northwestern Majorca, close to the coast. The central portion of Majorca is a plain, bounded on the east and the southeast by broken hills.

The Canary Islands, ninety kilometers off the west coast of Africa, are of volcanic origin. The large central islands, Gran Canaria and Tenerife, have the highest peaks. Pico de Las Nieves, on Gran Canaria, rises to 1,949 meters, and the Teide, on Tenerife, to 3,717 meters. Teide, a dormant volcano, is the highest peak of Spain.


The River Guadalquivir in Cordoba

Of the roughly 1,800 rivers and streams in Spain, only the Tagus is more than 960 kilometers long; all but 90 extend less than 96 kilometers. These shorter rivers carry small volumes of water on an irregular basis, and they have seasonally dry river beds; however, when they do flow, they often are swift and torrential. Most major rivers rise in the mountains rimming or dissecting the Meseta Central and flow westward across the plateau through Portugal to empty into the Atlantic Ocean. One significant exception is the river with the most abundant flow in Spain, the Ebro, which flows eastward to the Mediterranean. Rivers in the extreme northwest and in the narrow northern coastal plain drain directly into the Atlantic Ocean. The northwestern coastline is also truncated by rias, waterbodies similar to fjords.

The major rivers flowing westward through the Meseta Central include the Duero, the Tagus, the Guadiana, and the Guadalquivir. The Rio Guadalquivir is one of the most significant rivers in Spain because it irrigates a fertile valley, thus creating a rich agricultural area, and because it is navigable inland, making Seville the only inland river port for ocean-going traffic in Spain. The major river in the northwest region is the Miño.

El Atazar Dam is a major dam built near Madrid to provide a water supply.


Spanish climate areas

Due to both its geographical situation which exposes only its northern part to the Jet Stream's typical path and its orographic conditions, the climate in Spain is extremely diverse.

Peninsular Spain experiences three major climatic types: Continental, Oceanic, and Mediterranean.

Continental climate

The locally generated tempered continental climate covers the majority of peninsular Spain, influencing the Meseta Central, the adjoining mountains to the east and the south, and the Ebro Basin. A continental climate is characterized by wide diurnal and seasonal variations in temperature and by low, irregular rainfall with high rates of evaporation that leave the land arid. Annual rainfall generally is 300 to 640 mm (11.8 to 25.2 in); most of the Meseta region receives about 500 mm (19.7 in). The northern Meseta, the Sistema Central, and the Ebro Basin have two rainy seasons, one in spring (April-June) and the other in autumn (October-November ), with late spring being the wettest time of the year. In the southern Meseta also, the wet seasons are spring and autumn, but the spring one is earlier (March), and autumn is the wetter season. Even during the wet seasons, rain is irregular and unreliable. Continental winters are cold at −1 °C (30.2 °F), with strong winds and high humidity, despite the low precipitation. Except for mountain areas, the northern foothills of the Sistema Iberico are the coldest area, and frost is common. Summers are warm and cloudless, producing average daytime temperatures that reach 21 °C (69.8 °F) in the northern Meseta and 24 °C (75.2 °F) to 27 °C (80.6 °F) in the southern Meseta; nighttime temperatures range from 7 °C (44.6 °F) to 10 °C (50 °F). The Ebro Basin, at a lower altitude, is extremely hot during the summer, and temperatures can exceed 40 °C (104 °F). Summer humidities are low in the Meseta Central and in the Ebro Basin, except right along the shores of the Río Ebro, where humidity is high.

Oceanic climate

"Green Spain"

An oceanic climate prevails in the northern part of the country, often called "Green Spain", from the Pyrenees to the northwest region, characterized by relatively mild winters, warm but not hot summers, and generally abundant rainfall at 1,000 mm (39.4 in) spread out over the year, with the driest month above 30 mm (1.2 in). Temperatures vary only slightly, both on a diurnal and a seasonal basis, averages range from 9 °C (48.2 °F) in January to
21 °C (69.8 °F) in July. The moderating effects of the sea, however, abate in the inland areas, where temperatures are more extreme than temperatures on the coast. Distance from the Atlantic Ocean also affects precipitation, and there is less rainfall in the east than in the west. Autumn (October through December) is the wettest season, while July is the driest month. The high humidity and the prevailing off-shore winds make fog and mist common along the northwest coast, this phenomenon is less frequent a short distance inland, however, because the mountains form a barrier keeping out the sea moisture.

Mediterranean climate

The Mediterranean climate region roughly extends from the Andalusian Plain along the southern and eastern coasts up to the Pyrenees, on the seaward side of the mountain ranges that parallel the coast. Total rainfall in this region is concentrated mostly in late autumn-winter and spring periods. The rain pattern is often irregular which make drought periods likely. Temperatures in the Mediterranean region are higher in winter, and diurnal temperature changes more limited, than those of the continental inland region. Temperatures in January normally average 10 °C (50 °F) to 13 °C (55.4 °F) in most of the Mediterranean region, getting cooler in the northeastern coastal area north of Barcelona. In winter, temperatures inland in the Andalusian Plain are slightly lower than those on the coasts. Temperatures in July and August average 22 °C (71.6 °F) to 27 °C (80.6 °F) on the coast and 29 °C (84.2 °F) to 31 °C (87.8 °F) farther inland, with high humidity. The Mediterranean region is marked by Leveche winds: hot, dry, easterly or southeasterly air currents that originate over North Africa. Episodes of these winds, which sometimes carry fine Saharan dust are more likely in spring, associated to a sudden, usually short-lived, rise of the temperatures. A cooler easterly wind, the Levante, funnels between the Sistema Penibetico and the Atlas Mountains of North Africa. These easterly winds are the ones which most influence the Mediterranean climate, for they are mild in temperature and humid.

Other climate types

Besides the above three major types, there are important exceptions, as follows:

  • A Semiarid climate in the Southeasternmost part of Spain (covering most of Alicante, Murcia and Almería provinces). Summers here are hot to very hot and winters mild to cool. Very dry, virtually sub-desertic, rainfall as low as 150 mm (5.9 in) a year in the Cabo de Gata which is reported to be the driest place in Europe.
  • The highest section of the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada qualify as Alpine climate.
  • The Canary Islands are a Subtropical climate in terms of temperature, being these mild and stable (18 °C/64.4 °F to
    24 °C/75.2 °F) throughout the year. In terms of precipitation, the Eastern islands are semiarid and moister the westernmost ones, with some very wet areas in the mountains of Gomera and La Palma, the cloud forest known as laurisilva. Then, the southern Mediterranean coast (Malaga and Granada's coastal strip) shares traits with both Mediterranean and Subtropical.

Extreme temperature records in selected cities

The record of temperatures in Spain have been, -32°C in Lago Estangento in the Pyrenees (Lerida) for the coldest, for the hottest 47°C in Seville and Murcia.[2]

Location Record highs Record lows
C) F) C) F)
Murcia   47.2 °C     117.0 °F      –6.0 °C       21.2 °F  
Malaga   44.2 °C     111.6 °F      –3.8 °C       25.1 °F  
Valencia   42.5 °C     108.5 °F      –7.2 °C       19 °F  
Alicante   41.4 °C     106.5 °F      –4.6 °C       23.7 °F  
Palma   40.6 °C     105.1 °F 
Barcelona   39.8 °C     103.6 °F    –10.0 °C       14 °F  
Gerona   41.7     107 °F     –13.0 °C         8.6 °F  
Seville   47.0 °C     117 °F       –5.5 °C       22.1 °F  
Cordoba   46.6 °C     115.9 °F  
Badajoz   45.0 °C     113 °F  
Albacete   42.6 °C     108.7 °F     –24.0 °C     –11.2 °F  
Zaragoza   43.1 °C     108.7 °F     -16.0º °C     3.1º °C  
Madrid   42.2 °C     108.0 °F     –14.8 °C         5.4 °F 
Burgos   41.8 °C     107.2 °F     –22.0 °C       –7.6 °F 
Valladolid   40.2 °C     104.4 °F  
Salamanca   –20.0 °C       –4.0 °F 
Teruel   –27.0 °C     –22.2 °F 
Northern Atlantic coast C) F) C) F)
Orense   42.6 °C     108.7 °F     –9.0 °C       15.8 °F 
Bilbao   42.0 °C     107.6 °F     –8.6 °C       16.5 °F 
La Coruña   37.6 °C       99.7 °F     –4.8 °C       23.4 °F 
Gijón   36.4 °C       97.5 °F     –4.8 °C       23.4 °F 
The Canary Islands
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria   38.6 °C     102 °F     11.4 °       48.6 °F 

Population geography

Spain's cities and main towns

Largest cities by population

Biggest metropolitan areas

Main metropolitan areas in Spain

The most important metropolitan areas and their 2007 populations are:[3]

  1. Madrid 5,603,285
  2. Barcelona 4,667,136
  3. Valencia 1,671,189
  4. Sevilla 1,294,081
  5. Bilbao 950,829
  6. Málaga 897,563
  7. Asturias (Gijón-Oviedo) 857,079
  8. Alicante-Elche 748,565
  9. Zaragoza 731,803
  10. Vigo 662,412
  11. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria 616,903
  12. Bahía de Cádiz (Cádiz-Jerez de la Frontera) 615,494
  13. Santa Cruz de Tenerife 573,825
  14. Murcia 563,272
  15. Palma de Mallorca 474,035
  16. Granada 472,638
  17. San Sebastián 402,168
  18. Tarragona 406,042
  19. A Coruña 403,007
  20. Valladolid 400,400
  21. Santander - Torrelavega 391,480
  22. Cordoba 323,600
  23. Pamplona 309,631

Resources and land use

Natural resources: coal, lignite, iron ore, uranium, mercury, pyrites, fluorspar, gypsum, zinc, lead, tungsten, copper, kaolin, potash, hydropower, arable land

Land use:

  • Arable land: 30%
  • Permanent crops: 9%
  • Permanent pastures: 21%
  • Forests and woodland: 32%
  • Other: 8% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 34,530 km² (1993 est.)

Environmental concerns

Natural hazards: periodic droughts, wildfires

Environment - Current Issues:

  • pollution of the Mediterranean Sea from raw sewage and effluents from the offshore production of oil and gas
  • water quality and quantity nationwide
  • air pollution
  • deforestation
  • desertification

Environment - International Agreements:

  • Party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling
  • Signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification

Maritime claims

  • contiguous zone: 24 nmi (44.4 km; 27.6 mi)
  • exclusive economic zone: 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi) (applies only to the Atlantic Ocean)
  • territorial sea: 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi)

See also


  1. ^ "Spain" (html). The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-09. 
  2. ^ "Temperatures in Spain". IberiaNature. 
  3. ^ Ruiz, Francisco (2007). "Población de las áreas urbanas y metropolitanas" (in Spanish) (xls). Población de España - datos y mapas. Alarcos Research Group. Retrieved 2008-12-10. 


External links

Coordinates: 40°00′N 4°00′W / 40°N 4°W / 40; -4


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