Geographically, Spain is bounded to the north by the Bay of Biscay, France, and Andorra; to the east by the Mediterranean Sea; on the south by the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean; and on the west by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. In the south west the 13km wide Strait of Gibraltar separates Spain from Africa.
Map of Spain
Spain occupies about 85 percent of the Iberian Peninsula and is surrounded by water for about 88 percent of its periphery. Its Mediterranean coast is 1,660 km (1,030 mi) long, and its Atlantic coast is 710 km (440 mi) long.
The British dependency of Gibraltar is situated at the southern extremity of Spain. The Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa are governed as provinces of Spain. Also, Spain administers Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan mainland.
Mountains of Spain
The Pyrenees separate Spain from France and are the country’s principal mountain range. They extend 435 km (270 mi) from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea. The highest peak is Pico de Aneto (3,404 m/11,168 ft)
Away from the Pyrenees, Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada above Granada is the highest peak at 3,477 m (11,407 ft). The highest point in Spain is Pico de Teide (3,715 m/12,188 ft) on the volcanic island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
The main rivers of Spain flow west and south to the Atlantic Ocean. The Duero (Douro), Miño, Tajo (Tagus) and Guadiana rivers rise in Spain and flow through Portugal to the Atlantic. The Guadalquivir River is the deepest and most navigable. The Ebro River which flows through Zaragoza flows into the Mediterranean Sea and is navigable for part of its course. The rivers are a good source of electric power.
Spain experiences extremes of temperature and generally low rainfall (less than 610 mm) except for in the north. Along the northern Atlantic coast the climate is usually quite damp and cool. The central plateau has very hot, dry summers and drought is common. In Madrid the local saying is that the climate is “9 months of winter and 3 months of hell” which describes the freezing winters and scorching summers. In Seville, Cordoba and Granada temperatures reached record highs of 50ºC (over 120ºF) in the summer of 2003 and forest fires caused major damage. On the southern Mediterranean coast a subtropical climate prevails with Málaga enjoying an average winter temperature of 14°C (57°F).
Spain Natural Resources
Although Spanish soils need careful irrigation and cultivation they are the country’s most valuable natural resource with nearly a third of the land available for cultivation. Semiarid chestnut-brown soils cover the central plateau and red Mediterranean soils cover the southern area and the northeastern coastal region. A gray desert soil, often saline, is found in the southeast. The forest of northern Spain has gray-brown forest soils and the forest in the Cantabrian Mountains has leached podzolic soils.
The country also has many mineral resources including hard and brown coal, small petroleum and natural gas deposits, iron ore, uranium, mercury, pyrites, fluorspar, gypsum, zinc, lead, tungsten, copper and potash.
Only a small part of Spain is forested and those forests are located mainly on mountain slopes particularly in the northwest. A common Spanish tree is the evergreen oak. Cork oak, from which the bark may be stripped every ten years, is abundant, growing chiefly as second growth on timbered land. Poplar trees are grown throughout the country and the cultivation of olive trees is a major agricultural activity. Other Spanish trees include the elm, beech and chestnut.
Shrubs and herbs are the common natural vegetation on the central plateau. Grapevines flourish in the arid soil. Esparto grass, used for making paper and various fiber products, grows abundantly in both the wild and cultivated state. On the Mediterranean coast sugarcane, oranges, lemons, figs, almonds, and chestnuts are grown.
The Spanish fauna includes the wolf, lynx, wildcat, fox, wild boar, wild goat, deer and hare. Among the more famous domesticated animals are the bulls bred near Seville and Salamanca for bullfighting. Birdlife is abundant, with varieties of birds of prey. Insect life abounds. Mountain streams and lakes teem with fish such as barbel, tench and trout.
Spain and the Environment
Spain faces numerous environmental threats. Deforestation and the erosion and river pollution that accompany it are major concerns. Other problems include the encroachment of agriculture onto land designated as protected, desertification in badly managed agricultural zones and soil salinization in irrigated regions. Increased use of nitrogen fertilizers has added to the problem of nitrates in rivers.
In April 1998 a serious toxic waste spill occurred as the result of a burst reservoir at an iron ore mine in southern Spain. Attempts were made to divert the spillage from an important wetland area toward the Guadalquivir River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It was estimated that the toxic mud from the spill threatened millions of birds and other wildlife. The black toxic mud covered farms, fields and orchards causing farmers to suffer enormous economic losses.