The Iberian Peninsula, predominately occupied by the European countries of Spain and Portugal, lies in southwestern Europe. With an area of 582,000 square kilometers, its is the third largest peninsula in the continent. The north-eastern boundary of the peninsula is formed by the Pyrenees mountain range, which separates the region from the rest of Europe. The Atlantic Ocean lies to the north, west, and southwest of the peninsula, while the Mediterranean Sea washes the shores of its eastern and southern coastlines. The Strait of Gibraltar separates the Iberian Peninsula from the African landmass.
Scientists estimate that the Iberian Peninsula has been inhabited for some 1.2 million years. Neanderthals lived here during the Lower Palaeolithic Period, while the modern humans migrated into the peninsula around 40,000 years ago from Southern France. By the 7th Century BC, during the Iron Age, organized human settlements of both urban and rural natures existed in the peninsula. In the later centuries, the Iberian Peninsula was annexed by major empires at various points of time. The Romans ruled the region between 220 BC and 19 BC, while the Germanic forces and the Byzantine Empire also held territories in the region during the 5th and 6th Centuries. In the 7th Century, large parts of the Iberian Peninsula were annexed by Muslim armies, and between the 8th and 15th Centuries the southern parts of the peninsula, under Islamic rule, became a major center of cultural exchange and learning. After the Reconquista, wherein Muslim and Christian forces fought against each other, the Iberian Peninsula was divided into several small states ruled by independent rulers. The Muslim rule was ultimately ousted from the peninsula in 1492. Following this "Christian reconquest", the Iberian Peninsula gradually witnessed the amalgamation of the smaller states to form the Iberian Union. This set the stage for the formation of the present-day countries of Spain and Portugal.
Currently, Spain and Portugal occupy nearly 85% and 15% of the area of the Iberian Peninsula, respectively, while France, Andorra and Gibraltar share less than 1% of the peninsular range. Such globally famous cities as Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, and Valencia are located on this peninsula, which has a total population of approximately 53 million people. The Iberian Peninsula overflows with tourists throughout the year, who visit this region to get a taste of its rich and diverse culture. Several UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located here, including the Cave of Altamira, the Aqueduct of Segovia, and the historic center of Córdoba.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The climate of the Iberian Peninsula is primarily one of two types. The oceanic climate is found prevailing along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, and a semi-arid climate prevailing in the center of the peninsula. Two major types of ecosystems, those of the Euro-Siberian region and the Mediterranean region, exist in the peninsula. The former extends along the northern parts of the peninsula from northern Portugal to the Pyrenees, and is characterized by beech, oak, birch, and fir forests at distinct topographical locations. Conversely, the Mediterranean region ecosystem features oak forests, groves, riparian forests, quejigar, pine forests, and other distinct and diverse vegetation belts. The Iberian lynx, Iberian wolf, bears, and several species of birds, like larks, numerous raptors, Sand grouses, and Wall-creepers, are found in the forests of the region.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
Agricultural expansion, pressures from the tourism industry, increased urbanization and industrial development, and other anthropological factors have long triggered habitat fragmentation and degradation in the Iberian Peninsula, continually threatening the life of its native species. Spain hosts 48% of Europe’s mammalian species, represented by 111 mammalian species. Of these, 19% are "threatened" at the European level, and another 11% are "near threatened". 24% of Spain’s reptile species are threatened at the European level, wit the human persecution and pest control of such animals being among the major factors triggering their demise. A significant percentage of Freshwater fish species, butterflies, and amphibians of the Iberian Peninsula are also threatened.