Social Studies: Geography
Almudena Corrales Marbán
THE PHYSICAL MAP OF SPAIN
The geographical uniqueness of the Iberian Peninsula
has been recognised since ancient times.
The landmass of the Iberian Peninsula is located in the
temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere, creating a
crossroads between Europe and Africa and between the Atlantic
Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. This position has a decisive
influence on the climatic conditions and gives rise
to the presence of four distinct natural environments: Oceanic,
Mediterranean, Subtropical (Canary Islands) and Mountainous.
The way the land relief is shaped is original, due to its massif
form, its high average altitude and the location of the main
mountain systems on the periphery. This relief produces, for
example, conditions which are not very favourable for
agriculture, and influences population distribution, the
transport infrastructure or the use of rivers as navigable
Spain is the second European country with the highest
average altitude, 660 metres, after Switzerland. It is because
much of its territory is occupied by a high central plateau (the
Meseta), around which lie other forms of land relief.
1. LAND RELIEF FORMS ON
• The Meseta Central has an altitude of 600 to 700 metres. Two
ancient, low mountain ranges run across it: the Central Sierra, which
divides the Meseta into two, the northern sub-plateau and the southern
sub-plateau; and the Toledo Mountains, dividing the southern sub-
plateau into two.
• The mountains that surround the Meseta are the Galician
Massif, the Cantabrian Mountains, the Iberian Mountains and the Sierra
• The land relief away from the Meseta includes various young
mountain ranges: the Basque Mountains, the Pyrenees, the Catalan
coastal range and the Baetic Mountains; and two depressions: the
Ebro and the Guadalquivir.
The Peninsula has straight coastlines
which are determined by the land
relief of the interior.
• The Cantabrian coasts are
relatively straight and consist mainly
of cliffs, with some beaches and
estuaries. Galicia has the most
jagged coastline in Spain.
2. THE COASTAL LAND RELIEF OF
Coastal land relief. The
Cantabrian coast has cliffs rising
high above the level of the sea.
• The Atlantic coast of Andalusia
is low and sandy. It is charactherised
by its marshes and other sand
formations such as bars and
dunes, or mounds of sand created
by the wind.
• The Mediterranean coasts are
lined with cliffs where the
mountain ranges reach the
coast, such as the Baetic Mountains
and the Catalan coastal range. The
rest are low, sandy coasts, with
beaches, river deltas such as the
one in the Ebro, and lagoons, such
as that of Valencia.
The Balearic Islands are a platform along the
horizontal axis of the Mediterranean and part
of the vertical axis that goes from the South of
France to North Africa. They are located SW
(Ibiza) to NE (Menorca), resting on a
submarine platform which is an extension of
the Baetic mountains of Cape Nao, and are
separated from the Levantine coast by a
channel which is more than a thousand metres
• Most of the coasts are cliffs, because the
mountains in the islands reach the sea. We
can find, however, many wide beaches and
coves in Majorca and the rest of the islands.
3. THE LAND RELIEF OF THE ARCHIPELAGOS
In the land relief of the island
of Mallorca we can distinguish
three landscape zones: the Serra
de Tramuntana, the Llevante
Ranges and the Pla or Plain.
The Serra de Tramuntana runs
parallel to the northern coast
of the island forming a strip 88
km long and 15 km wide. It is
considered a continuation of the
The Canary Islands, located near
the Tropic of Cancer, are an outpost
of Spain and Europe in Africa and in
the Atlantic Ocean. But, despite their
proximity to the African continent,
their history and culture are linked to
Spain and Europe.
In the Canary Islands, there are
different forms of land relief of volcanic
origin: the ash fields; the “badlands” or
plains of rapidly solidified lava, scored by
cracks; the “lava tubes” or underground
channels, and the “roques”, volcanic rock
4. THE RIVERS AND THEIR WATERSHEDS
The rivers of the Peninsula are grouped into three watersheds,
depending on the sea, or ocean they flow into.
• The rivers of the Cantabrian watershed are short with a
regular flow, they flow across steeps terrain, descending rapidly*
down the mountains near the Cantabrian Sea. The main ones
include the Nalón, the Nervión and the Bidasoa.
• The rivers of the Atlantic watershed are long and course over
wide plains before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean. In general, they
carry a lot of water but are irregular (depending on the season and
precipitation). The most important include the Miño, the Duero, the
Tagus, the Guadiana and the Guadalquivir.
• The rivers of the Mediterranean watershed, except the Ebro,
are short. They descend steep terrain in the mountains near the
Mediterranean Sea. In general, they do not carry much water and
they are very irregular. The main ones include the Llobregat, the
Ebro, the Mijares, the Turia, the Júcar and the Segura.
We find short streams and torrents, in the Balearic and Canary
Islands, which only carry water a er heavy rainfall.
To flow into:
5. SPANISH LANDSCAPES
The landscape and vegetation types vary in different parts of Spain due
to the following factors:
-Distance from the sea
The are four main regions:
• Mediterranean Coast
• Central Plateau
• Canary Islands
A. MEDITERRANEAN COAST
This area has a Mediterranean Coast region covers the south and
east coast of peninsular Spain and the Balearic Island.
This area has a Mediterranean climate. It is hot in summer
and mild in winter. The sea moderates the temperatures. There
is not very much rain. Th natural vegetation types are:
Evergereen forest (holm oak, cork oak, pine)
Aromatic shrubs (rosemary and lavender)
• Replacing natural vegetation with
farmland : traditionally with vines
and olives and recently with fruit
trees and vegetables grown in
• The impact of the tourism on the
B. CENTRAL PLATEAU
The Central Plateau is in the centre of peninsular Spain. In many areas
the landscape is very flat, but several mountain ranges, including the
Central Sierra, cross the Central Plateau.
This area has a Mediterranean climate. This climate is more extreme
than on the Mediterranean coast because it is further from the sea. It
is hotter in summer and colder in winter. There is hardly any rain.
The natural vegetation is everygreen forest.
• Cutting down forests: for crops
• The growth of big cities: Madrid
• Road and railways
The Atlantic region goes along the north coast of Spain from Galicia to
the Pyrenees, including the Cantabrian sea area. Elsewhere the
landscape is hilly.
This area has a maritime climate. This means it is mild with quite
high rainfall all year round, but also due to the influence of the sea.
There is a lot of vegetation because of the rain, and the landscape is
very green. The natural vegetation types are:
Deciuous forests: oak, beech, chesnut
Heathland: heather, fern
• Replacing natural vegetation with
• Reforestation with eucalyptus and
• Industry has a large impact on the
D. HIGH MOUNTAINS
The high mountains have the same type of vegetation in all of the
regions. As you go higher the vegetation changes from evergreen forests
to heathland to alpine meadows to bare rock (no vegetation)
It is found in the Peninsula above an altitude of 1000 metres.
Precipitation is high, normally around 1000 mm a year and temperatures
are cold, with low winters around 0ºC.
E. CANARY ISLANDS
The Canary Islands were formed by volcanic eruptions. The western
islands are mountainous and the eastern islands are flat.
The islands have a subtropical climate because they are near the
Tropic of Cancer. There is not much change in temperature by seasons
and there is not much rain.
The natural vegetation types are:
• Humid subtropical laurel forests
• Plam trees, dragon trees and Canary Island palms
• Agricultural: terraces on slopes
• Building hotels and apartments for
6. THE ORGANISATION OF
SPAINThe Spanish state is governed
by a set of laws and
regulations which are
contained in the Constitution
A. THE POLITICAL
The Spanish satate is social, democratic and the rule of law
applies, because the power of the state and the government is limited
by the constitution and laws.
Sovereignity lies with the Spanish people, and all powers emanate from
them. The people delegate this power to representatves elected in
The political system is a parliamentary monarchy. The king is the head
of the state but he has limited functions.
The powers of the state are divided between different
The Cortes Generales (Parliament) have the
legislative power. Composed of two chambers
elected every four years:
• Congreso de los Diputados: represents the
• Senado: territorial representation
The Governmet holds the executive power.
Composed od the president and ministers.
The courts of justice exercise the judicial power.
B. THE AUTONOMOUS COMMUNITIES
After being recognised by the 1978
Constitution, 17 autonomous communities
and two autonomous cities, Ceuta and
Melilla, were created
Each community is governed by a statute of
autonomy or fundamental law. They also
have their own institutions: the Regional
Parliament, the Government and the
c. PROVINCES AND
The provinces and municipalities form the local administration.
Their body of government is the Diputación or Provincial
Council, composed of deputies elected.
The municipalities are the smallest territorial
units of the Sate. Their body of government is the
Town or City Council. Their functions are to
provide services to the inhabitants of the
municipal district: waste collection, street paving,