Updated: March 29, 2023Published: September 29, 2022
Intriguing, right? There is a foreign colony on Spanish land and we can’t do anything about it.
You will know the name of the colony and the reason of its controversy a bit later. That is only one part of the geography trivia we are about to have.
After reading this you will be able to list and arguments why there are 4 countries and 1 colony occupying the Iberian peninsula. Its time for you to win over that history trivia your friends are beating you on.
If you don’t have a compilation of historical maps at home, then open some tabs on that phone or laptop of your. You are going to want to look for back in history and understand the grey areas of the arguments below.
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What countries are part of the Iberian peninsula?
This should be a straightforward question to answer, but it’s a bit relative, as with many things in life. Before going straight into the answer, I want to set out particular points that will be important for our topic’s context. The Iberian peninsula, or Iberia, is the second largest peninsula in Europe, after the Scandinavian peninsula, followed by the Apennine or Italian and Balkan peninsulas. Twenty of the forty-four European countries are located in each of these peninsulas.
Fascinating insight is coming up. Although, the Scandinavian and Iberian peninsulas are the two largest. The Balkan peninsula is one with the most countries, with a total of nine.
The four countries and one colony that occupy the Iberian are Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar, and France.
I have put a lot of thought and research into this, but those are the five nations of the Iberian peninsula, and I will tell you why. Spain and Portugal are the most apparent largest countries in Iberia. Our country occupies 492,175 square kilometers of the territory, and Portugal 89,015 square kilometers. Spain and Portugal occupy a lot of space compared to the area that Gibraltar and Andorra take up. Actually, both territories combined don’t even get to 500 square kilometers. They are so small when looking at the Iberian peninsula as a whole that people usually discard them.
Here is a table with the square kilometer and percentage each country occupies in the Iberian peninsula.
France (Oriental- Pyrenees)
*These numbers are an approximation of the surface that each land occupies. The data has been contrasted from different sources, but there can be slight variations.
Countries in the Iberian peninsula
There is a lot to say about Spain and Portugal; their place in this peninsula is irrefutable, so I will skip ahead and explain why Andorra, Gibraltar, and France are here.
Yes, Andorra is a country. It’s not part of Spain or France but is the best of both worlds. Andorra is located on the border, or the neck of the Iberian Peninsula, in the heart of the Pyrenees. This nation’s capital is Andorra la Vella and its official language - wait for it- is Catalan.
So why is Andorra part of the Iberian countries? Because technically, it is. The Pyrenees are objectively located on the peninsula, and the country is in the heart of this cordillera. Besides, as its right on the border between Spain and France, then it is on the border of the peninsula. As you saw in the table above, it only occupies 0.0802% of the territory.
Okay. France was tough, but there were grey areas in geography too. The thing with this country is that not all of it is part of the peninsula. Only 0.0923% of France is part of the Iberian peninsula. This is more than the space that Andorra and Gibraltar occupy separately.
So, what part of France is considered the Iberian peninsula?
Once again, the Pyrenees! This cordillera not only charms people for vacations but also unites them. Too poetic? Maybe. The French side of the Oriental Pyrenees is considered part of the peninsula, and it shares borders with Andorra and Catalonia.
This is my favorite. If it wasn’t for humane disagreements throughout history, Gibraltar would still be part of Spain, and the title of this post would have been “The Iberian Peninsula: 3 countries that share space”. Giving it a second thought is a bit less attractive that way, don’t you think?
Gibraltar is a British colony in Southern Spain. It separates Europe from Africa. Gibraltar represents a fifth country in the Iberian Peninsula but is technically not a country on the peninsula. Do you follow me?
So, how did this happen? How did we lose a tiny, little piece of land from one day to another? Here comes the history trivia!
In 1700, just as we began the 18th century, our former King Charles II died and left no heirs. A tragedy for those times. Charles II appointed Phillip IV of House Bourbon as his predecessor, the grandson of King Luis XIV. This made the rest of Europe angry because it united Spain, and the Spanish Succession war began. So, in 1704 British and Dutch troops were occupied to prevent the French from inheriting the Spanish Crown and superpower. After all, had plenty of colonies around the world. They also did this as a way to keep the Mediterranean sea open.
After 9 years of conflict, Spain granted Gibraltar forever in exchange for Britain to leave the war.
Although the countries signed that agreement. We have been in ongoing “fights” about Gibraltar, and in 1967 Gibraltarian citizens voted if they wanted to stay with Britain or Spain. The UK won with 99% of the votes.
And that’s why there is a 5th controversial country in the Iberian peninsula!
What geographical features do the Iberian countries share?
The Iberian countries share two crucial geographical features in the peninsula: the Pyrenees and the “Meseta Central” or Inner Plateau.
Spain, France, and Andorra share the Pyrenees and benefit from beautiful winter vacations and ski tourism.
Spain and Portugal share the rivers that flow from the Inner Plateau, located in the heart of Spain and with Madrid in its center. The “Meseta Central” is the oldest and most complex geological formation. In addition, the plateau was partly the cause of central Spain’s arid climate. The Douro, Tagus, and Guadiana Rivers begin in Spain and flow into the Atlantic Ocean through Portugal.
Countries in the Iberian Peninsula through Centuries
This is not a list of only countries but civilizations, kingdoms, colonies, and nations that passed through the Iberian Peninsula. I will write down the most relevant occupations to give you a general overview of their evolutions.
500 BCE - 300 BC: The Iberian (east coast of Spain) and Celtic (Galicia and Portugal’s civilizations coexisted with Greek and Phoenician colonies.
301 BC - 460 CE: The territory was given the name Hispania under the Roman Empire. The peninsula also received the Suebi, the Germanic Kingdom for a while.
461 CE - 710 CE: The peninsula was taken by the Visigoths and a new Kingdom took place.
711 BC - 1031 BC: The Ummayad, conquered the Iberian peninsula and gave it the name of Al-Andalus and later Emirate sof Cordoba.
1032 BC - 1271 BC: The peninsula saw the rise and merge of different kingdoms. For example the Kingdoms of Galicia and Leon merged with Castille. By the 13th, the Kingdoms of France, Portugal, Navarra, Aragon and Castille occupied the territory.
1272 BC - 1600 BC:In this period of time, the peninsula was home to the Kingdom fo France, Portugal, Spain and Navarra. Around the year 1515, the the crown of Navarra merged with the Kingdom of Spain.
1601 BC - 1800 BC: Iberia saw the birth of two nations, Portugal and Spain.
1800 BC - 2000 BC: On 1713, the UK was given the territory of Gibraltar and, on 1814 Andorra became independent from the French Empire.
2001 BC until now: The Iberian peninsula is occupied by Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar and the Oriental Pyrenees (France).
So, there are four countries and one colony on the Iberian peninsula. For you to see how relative this topic is, we did a small poll asking people the same question with three possible answers. More than half of our respondents said that there are only 2 countries and only 13% agree with our response.
And thats it! I told you that information could be relative and relevant. If we talk in absolute terms then there are three “complete” countries occupying the Iberian countries. But life is relative and there are a lot of grey areas, like Gibraltar. Small exceptions like Andorra and crossovers like the counting France because of the part of the Pyrenees. I hope you learned a lot from this post. Feedback and comments are more than welcome!
Inigo Navarro is a seasoned travel writer with a deep understanding of Spain's cities, culture, people and language. Born and raised in Spain, he has spent years exploring the country and is currently one of the most-read Travel Bloggers about Spain. Inigo is also an experienced digital marketer, a father to 4 beautiful children and a huge Real Madrid Fan. ¡Hala Madrid!