Spain Physical Characteristics

Spain Physical Characteristics

Spain State of the ‘ Europe West, NE bordering with France and Andorra and O with Portugal. The Spain, washed NW and SW from the Atlantic, S and E from the Mediterranean, includes most (85%) of the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic archipelagos in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic (the latter physically relevant to Africa), the exclave constituted by the town of Llivia, in Roussillon, surrounded by French territory, as well as the so-called plazas de soberanía in African territory, along the Moroccan coast (the cities of Ceuta and Melilla and the islets Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, Peñón de Alhucemas, Chafarinas).

The Spain shares with Portugal the unitary configuration of the Iberian Peninsula, characterized by the oldest geologically nucleus of Meseta, from the two mountainous regions, Northern (made by the alignment of the Cantabrian Mountains and Pyrenees) and southern (Betic Mountains), and from the areas intermediate, crossed and partly filled by rivers (Ebro to the North and Guadalquivir to the S, while Duero, Tago and Guadiana drain the high central lands). The northern tertiary reliefs (Pyrenees, eastern section of the Cantabrian Mountains) are the element of contact and separation from the French region, which has very different characteristics.


The Meseta occupies about half of the peninsula and is configured as a set of high lands (on average, 660 m asl), for the most part leveled, but crossed and divided into two large basins (Northern Meseta and Southern Meseta, corresponding approximately to the historical regions of Old and New Castile) by a series of ancient reliefs, the main ones being the Sierra de Gredos (which reaches 2592 m in the Almanzor) and the Sierra de Guadarrama (Peñalara, 2430 m), which together make up the watershed between Duero and Tagus. Other corrugations, even noteworthy, underline the external edges of the Meseta: to the North the aforementioned Cantabrian Mountains (maximum altitude: Picos de Europa, 2648 m), looming over the Bay of Biscay ; to the NE and E the reliefs of the Iberian System (Sierra del Moncayo, 2313 m), which for a good stretch mark the watershed between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic; to the South the Sierra Morena(Sierra Madrona, 1323 m). Between the Iberian System and the Sierra Morena, the Meseta extends to the coast. Towards the SW and W the Meseta is more open, crossed by the rivers that tributary to the Atlantic, and slopes more gently towards the low coastal lands of Andalusia and Portugal, while to the NW it returns to approach (with the Galician massif) the shore oceanica, on which the deep incisions of the rías open (➔ # 10132;). The landscape in a certain sense dominant, and typical della Spain, is precisely that of Meseta: large, tabular or slightly undulating, arid, with a continental climate, exploited for grazing (sheep) or cereals (and in some parts olive trees), without scattered settlements and overall sparsely populated. As for the reliefs not directly related to the Meseta, the Spanish side of the Pyrenees has a moderate slope, although reaching considerable altitudes both along the ridge (Pico de Aneto, 3404 m; Monte Perdido, 3355; Puigmal, 2913) and in the digitations, often subparallel to the main chain, which follow one another towards the S (Sierra del Cadí, 2638 m; Sierra de la Peña, 1769); as a whole, the mountain masses are compactly arranged, and the numerous passes are difficult as they are located at relatively high altitudes, except at the ends of the chain. The Baetic Cordillera has an even more pronounced alpine character than the Pyrenees, with steep slopes and the highest elevation of the Spain and the Iberian Peninsula (Cerro de Mulhacén, 3478 m, in the Sierra Nevada). Still noteworthy are the reliefs that make up the Catalan Coastal System, not so much for their grandeur (maximum height, 1712 m), but because they block the way to the Ebro now close to the sea, forcing it to take a winding, sunken path. Faced with this vast and complex arrangement of mountain masses, the real plains (below 200 m of altitude) cover just 11% of the Spanish territory: part of the Iberian (or Aragonese) Depression, that is, the filled syncline from the floods of the Ebro; a thin eastern coastal strip, which deepens at Valencia and Alicante; and a large part of the Baetic (or Andalusian) Depression, drained by the Guadalquivir, the only notable plain in Spain. For Spain geography, please check


It is possible to distinguish, as a first approximation, between a large central area with a continental and arid climate and coastal fringes where the incidence of seafaring is more or less significant. However, the differences are much more nuanced and it is appropriate to identify various climatic types. The north-western area, stretched along the Atlantic, has typical conditions of an oceanic climate, with frequent rainfall, moderate temperatures and limited excursions. Similar rainfall characteristics affect the Pyrenean side, where temperatures are, however, lower and the excursions wider. In the Meseta, as mentioned, the climate is distinctly continental, with accentuated thermal minimums and maximums and modest or very modest rainfall, below 1000 mm, but for large sections (Old and New Castile, La Mancha, Southern Extremadura), less than 500 mm. These characteristics are then present, still accentuated, in the region surrounding Zaragoza (Aragonese Depression). In Andalusia the climate is substantially subtropical, with not abundant rainfall and high temperatures: conditions that do not differ much from those of south-eastern Spain, with a Mediterranean climate, with more pronounced drought and high summer temperatures.


The strong disproportion between the extension of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean basin, due both to the inclination towards the West of the Meseta, and to the distribution of the mountain masses, means that in most cases the longest rivers are those directed to the West, although their regime is unstable both for the modest and irregular feeding, linked only to periods of rain, and for the strong evaporation. The main length (1008 km) is the Tagus, but the Duero (895 km) has a considerably greater basin (almost 100,000 km2) and range; both, as well as the Guadiana, of modest importance despite the length (800 km), are shared with Portugal. More constant and proportionally rich in water are the courses of the Cantabrian region and those that descend from the plateau of the Meseta to the Mediterranean side. The Ebro (910 km, the largest exclusively Spanish river) represents a particular case among the Mediterranean rivers, since it has a very large basin and receives from numerous tributaries, especially Pyrenean, large quantities of water, which however loses through the arid Aragonese Depression, so as to reach the mouth with very modest flow rates. Overall, the most important river is the Guadalquivir, although it has a less developed course than the previous ones (657 km) and drains a not very large basin, which however also includes the northern slope of the Sierra Nevada, in the Betic Cordillera, so that the river has a mixed regime: the rain feeding of the tributaries coming from the Sierra Morena and the deferred nival feeding of the Sierra Nevada determine a relatively rich but above all constant flow. Seville at the mouth (approx. 85 km) and extensive exploitation for irrigation purposes. Almost all other rivers, on the other hand, are subject to lean at times total and floods which can be catastrophic. ● Poor in natural lakes, with the exception of lagunas and marismas affecting the coastal fringes, the Spanish territory is densely sprinkled with artificial basins (embalses), whose primary function is to build water reserves both for direct irrigation purposes and for regulate the flow of rivers, but which are often also exploited for the production of electricity. A mention should also be made of the numerous derivation channels (very frequent in Aragon, La Mancha, Valencia, Murcia, Andalusia) and to imposing water diversion works between distinct basins, always for irrigation purposes: the Tagus and Guadiana basins were connected through the Trasvase Tajo-Segura Canal (almost 300 km long, which entered into service in the early 1980s) with the Júcar river, which flows into the plain of Valencia, and with the Segura, which runs through the region of Murcia, where new large irrigation perimeters have been created.

Flora and fauna

A fair biological variety corresponds to the climatic variety, despite the alterations due to anthropic action. Among the vegetational formations there are those of the alpine type, in the Pyrenees, with a prevalence of conifers, while considerable extensions of broad-leaved forests and spontaneous meadows affect the Atlantic region; the central-southern regions are instead covered by formations of the Mediterranean type (evergreen scrubs and woods of oaks, carob trees, olive trees) which, in the less humid sections, fade into the steppe or even sub-desert type. The most widespread animal species correspond to those typical of the Mediterranean basin, with a particular relationship with North Africa: examples are the Gibraltar Barbary Barbary.(the only European monkeys, perhaps introduced by man), some Viverrids (genet, mongoose), Reptiles (chameleon), Aquatic birds (flamingos), consistent groups of Invertebrates; other faunal peculiarities can be identified in the large presence of raptors (eagles, vultures), wolves, lynxes and some species of Artiodactyls, such as the Pyrenean chamois.

Spain Physical Characteristics

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