Located at the Iberian Península, Spain occupies approximately 80% in the southwest of Europe; the remaining 20% are occupied by Portugal. Spain borders on France in the north and Andorra, with the Pyrenees as a natural frontier. There are five big mountain ranges run through the country, and about 50% of it is located at an elevated plain. Landscapes are tremendously varied, from mountainous slopes and plateaus to lowland river basins to vast coastline; some nearly desert-like, others green and luxuriant.
Richard Ford, the 19th century traveler and first British hispanophile, lightheartedly said in 'Gatherings from Spain' that the country is just one big mountain. 24% is above 1000 m and 76% between 500 and 1000 m. After Switzerland, Spain is the second highest country in Europe in terms of average elevation. The mountains safeguarded Spain in the past from invasions and have also served to divide the country into very distinct regions. The most important mountain chain is the Cordillera Central encompassing the highland plateau, or the Meseta. Spain’s highest mountains are found in the north, along the French border. The Pyrenees Mountains stretch 400 kilometers along the French border from the Mediterranean Sea to the Bay of Biscay. Apart from the Pyrenees, Mulhacén above Granada in the Sierra Nevada is the highest peak at 3,477 m (11,407 ft). Pico de Teide (3,715 m/12,188 ft) is the highest point in Spain on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
Along the northern coast of Spain, Cantabrian Mountains are generally extending for approximately 450 kms. The mountains are of geologically similar origin to the Pyrenees, though classified as a separate formation; the mountains are picturesque and well forested (with beeches and maritime pines). They include a series of high points rising inland from Torrelavega, in Cantabria and Palencia provinces and crossing northern León toward Galicia and (east-west) Asturias. Almanzor (2,592m) in the Sierra de Gredos is the highest mountain in Sistema Central and the province of Ávila. The mountain is formed mainly of granite and so is not highly weathered. The peak is also known as Moro Almanzor, from Al-Mansur ('the victorious'), the de facto Moorish ruler of Al-Andalus during the late 10th-early 11th centuries.
Spanish mountains Geology
Spain can be geologically divided in terms of bedrock. In the North and the West of the Peninsula, the soil is seated on hard and consequently durable crystalline rocks (granites, schist and gneiss) forming acid soils and poor in carbonates; the greatly weathered Mesesta is a limestone Spain based on sedimentary rocks. .
Spain contains some of the best uncovered outcrop geology in Europe. Almost every kind of rock is represented in the Iberian Peninsula; from every age from Ediacaran to Recent and. the core of the Iberian Peninsula consists of a Hercynian cratonic block known as the Iberian Massif. This is limited by the Pyrenean Fold Belt in the northeast, and it is limited by the Betic Foldchain in the southeast. These two fold chains are components of the Alpine Belt. The western peninsula is bordered by the continental boundary formed by the magma poor opening of the Atlantic Ocean. On the east side, The Hercynian Foldbelt is mostly covered by Mesozoic and Tertiary cover rocks but nether the less outcrops through the Catalonian Coastal Ranges and Iberian Chain.
In the northern half of the Peninsula, Archaean rocks are exposed particularly along the great Pyrenean axis, in Galicia, the Sierra Nevada, Estremadura, the Sierra Morena and Serrania de Ronda. They consist of granites, gneisses, and mica-schists, amphibolites, and crystalline limestones with talc-schists. The Carboniferous rocks of Spain are divisible into three groups, the upper of sandstones, conglomerates, shales, and coals. The middle is of conglomerates and sandstones and the lowest consisting of limestones with sandstones and shales. They lie in detached basins, and have not yet been well explored.
Facts about Spanish mountains
- Spain has an average altitude of 660 meters. In Europe, only Switzerland is higher (by a long way - average altitude of 1,300 meters).
- Spain’s area is of the 505,988 km2; out of which 57,615 km2 are below 200m, 156,370 km2 are between 201 and 600m, 198,650 km2 are between 601 and 1,000m, 88,766 km2 are between 1,000 and 2000m; and 4,587 km2 higher.
- Nearly 12% of mainland Spain lies at a gradient of less than 1 in 20 (5%).
- The length ofPyrenees 440 km and cover 55,375 km2and have a maximum width of 130km. There are 212 peaks above 3,000 m. The highest peak in the Pyrenees is Aneto (3,404m) followed by Monte Perdido.
- The Aneto glacier is the largest in Spain with 163 ha. Though it is melting fast due to climate change and is predicted to succumb by the mid-late 21st century. The glacier covered some 692 ha in 1894 at the close of the so-called Little Ice Age.
- The highest mountain in Picos de Europa is Torre Cerredo. They say the Picos get their name from the fact they were the first land to be spotted by sailors returning home from the Atlantic.
Highest mountains in Spain
(Height in meters)
- Teide (Tenerife) 3,718
- Mulhacen (Granada) 3,478
- Aneto (Huesca) 3,404
- Veleta (Granada) 3,392
- Llardana (Huesca) 3,375
- Alcazaba (Granada) 3,366
- Monte Perdido (Huesca) 3,355
- Cilindro (Huesca) 3,328
- Perdiguero (Huesca) 3,321
- Maladeta (Huesca) 3,309