A SEA SURROUNDED BY LAND

Mediterranean lifestyle, Nature

THE MEDITERRANEAN SEA 

WHERE ELSE ON EARTH DO SO MANY DIFFERENT CULTURES AND RELIGIONS MEET THAN IN THE MEDITERRANEAN?

The Mediterranean sea is the largest inland sea in the world, separating three continents, Europe, Africa and Asia. It encompasses 46,000 kilometers of coastline, is almost entirely surrounded by land and is therefore considered an entirely separate body of water. It is known for its limited tides as it is entirely landlocked except for its connection with the Atlantic at the Strait of Gibraltar and the Bosphorus Strait to the Black Sea which allows for large amounts of commercial shipping. Located between latitudes 30 and 46 degrees north and longitude 6 and 36 degrees east, the basin was formed when the African and Eurasian plates were still connected during the early Jurassic period.

There has probably never been an event in the geological history of Europe that had such drastic consequences as the flooding of the Mediterranean more than five million years ago. Huge masses of water flowed from the Atlantic through the Strait of Gibraltar and created the Mediterranean Sea in its present form. According to the latest findings by Spanish researchers, it only took a few months, at most, two years, for the largely dried-up basin, measuring two and a half million square kilometers between Europe and Africa, to be filled with water.

MANY NAMES – ONE SEA 

Two of the most notable Mediterranean civilizations in classical antiquity were the Greeks and the Phoenicians, both of which extensively colonized the coastlines of the Mediterranean. It was once referred to as the ‘Syrian Sea’ by the Carthaginians. Later it got its name from the Latin combination of the words ‘Medius’ (Middle) and ‘Terra’ (Earth, as in soil) which actually meant (The sea in the middle of the Earth). That led to its current name, ‘Mare Mediterraneum’. The Romans, before the Roman Empire was established, referred to it as ’Mare Magnum’ (Great Sea) or ‘Mare Internum’ (Internal Sea). Later they called it ‘Mare Nostrum’, (Our Sea) and the Ancient Greeks called the Mediterranean simply ‘η θάλασσα’. (Thalassa, which means, sea).

ONCE IT WENT COMPLETELY DRY 

It is believed that about 5.9 million years ago, the ‘Messinian salinity crisis’ caused the Mediterranean sea to almost completely dry out. For a period of about 600,000 years, the Mediterranean sea was cut off from the Atlantic and isolated from the rest of the world’s oceans. Because it had a negative water balance, water evaporation was greater than replenishment. It almost dried up and probably turned into a series of large, evaporated lakes. Salt deposits on the seabed also developed during this period. It’s hard to believe that such a large body of water could have disappeared entirely, but recent research suggests just that.

Then, about 5.3 million years ago, the Atlantic ocean at the Strait of Gibraltar inundated the basin, causing a massive flood known as the ‘Zanclean Flood’ and creating what is now known as the Mediterranean sea. Other recent studies have a different story to tell. They focus more on microfossils and recent seismic activity. These studies contradict the Messinian Salinity Crisis theory and suggest that the Mediterranean basin never dried up completely.

THE INCREDIBLE DIVERSITY 

The Mediterranean sea accounts for only 1% of the world’s ocean surface, but it houses 10% of all known marine species. Despite being nutrient poor, it is, however, considered a hotspot of biodiversity. Nearly 17,000 species have been reported in the Mediterranean Sea alone. About a quarter of them are endemic to the Mediterranean, meaning they can only be found in it. There are several endangered habitats and species such as whales, dolphins, monk seals, sea turtles, sharks, and ray.

COUNTRIES 

The Mediterranean sea is surrounded by 22 countries with more than 480 million people living in the surrounding regions. We include 20 sovereign countries, two island nations and territories from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Although Jordan, Portugal and Andorra do not have a coastline on the Mediterranean, they are still counted for climatic, geographic and cultural reasons as part of the Mediterranean countries. The Palestinian Territories, Gibraltar, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus are British Overseas Territory and are also located in the Mediterranean. The independent Vatican City State and the Republic of San Marino are both enclaved micro states in Italy.

AFRICA
Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia

ASIA
Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey

EUROPE
Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia and Spain.

The Mediterranean sea is with little input from pluvial waters rainfall and rivers and a high rate of evaporation. It covers an approximate area of 2,969,000 million km2 with a narrow 14,3 km wide opening to the Atlantic ocean called the Strait of Gibraltar. Its average depth is 1,460 m with its deepest point of 5,267 m in the Ionian sea, known as Calypso Deep. It has a highly indented coastline of about 46,000 km. The straight-line distance from the western Strait of Gibraltar to the eastern Gulf of Iskenderun is approximately 4,000 km and 800 km from Croatia in the north to Libya on the southern shore.

The sea is divided into the Western Mediterranean and Eastern Mediterranean by the Strait of Sicily, which is a shallow 400 m deep submarine ridge located between Tunisia’s coast and the island of Sicily. To the northeast, the Mediterranean Sea connects with the Black Sea through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the strait of the Bosporus. To the southeast it meets with the Red Sea by the man-made Suez Canal.

The Persian King Darius who conquered Egypt during antiquity linked the Red Sea and the Mediterranean sea by cutting open an artificial canal. It is 193 km long and was opened in 1869. Compared to the Eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea is at higher altitude and therefore salty water enters from the Red Sea. Nonindigenous animal and plant life started moving into the Mediterranean Sea and colonized the Eastern area. The Mediterranean Sea receives from the rivers that flow into it only about one-third of the amount of water that it loses by evaporation. In consequence, there is a continuous inflow of surface water from the Atlantic Ocean.

The International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) divides the Mediterranean into a number of smaller water bodies:

  • Strait of Gibraltar.
  • The Alboran Sea between Morocco and Spain
  • The Balearic Sea between the Balearic Islands of Spain and Spain mainland
  • The Ligurian Sea between Italy’s Liguria and Corsica
  • The Tyrrhenian Sea between Sicily, Italian Peninsula and Sardinia
  • The Ionian Sea between Greece, Italy, and Albania where you can find Mediterranean’s deepest point
  • The Adriatic Sea between Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy
  • The Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece

ISLANDS 

There are over 3,000 islands and many more islets in the Mediterranean Sea. Its two largest in terms of both size and population are the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia. The 10 largest islands of the Mediterranean Sea are:

  • Sicily – capital city Palermo in Italy – 25,662 sq km
  • Sardinia – capital city Cagliari in Italy – 23,949 sq km
  • Cyprus – capital city Nicosia in Cyprus – 9,234 sq km
  • Corsica – capital city Ajaccio in France – 8,741 sq km
  • Crete – capital city Heraklion in Greece – 8,350 sq km

THERE ARE SEVERAL HUNDRED ISLAND GROUPS IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

  • The Aeolian Islands. A volcanic, archipelago consisting of eight islands situated in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Lipari is the largest in the group but the most famous is Stromboli, with the active volcano Mount Stromboli.
  • The Argo – Saronic Islands. The Greek Argo – Saronic Islands are situated in the Saronic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. Salamis is the largest island of the five main islands and several islets.
  • The Balearic Islands. Spain’s Balearic Islands are situated in the western Mediterranean with four main islands and several islets. Palma the capital city is located in Mallorca, the largest island of the group.
  • The Cyclades Islands. The Greek Cyclades Islands are a group of two hundred and twenty islands situated in the Aegean Sea. The island’s main city is Ermoupolis, situated on the island of Syros but the  largest island is Naxos.
  • The Dodecanese Islands. The Greek Dodecanese Islands are a group of one hundred and fifty islands situated in the Aegean Sea. There are twelve main islands, the largest of which is the island of Rhodes, where the group’s main town, Rhodes Town is situated.
  • The Ionian Islands. The Greek Ionian Islands are a group of seven main islands and several islets, situated in the Ionian Sea. Corfu is the most famous island but Kefalonia is the largest of the group.
  • Malta. The Republic of Malta consists of nine islands, of which only three are inhabited. The largest island is Malta, where the largest town Birkirkara and capital city Valletta are situated.
  • The Pelagian Islands. The Pelagian Islands are a group of three small islands 176 km south of the island of Sicily and only 113 km north of the coast of Tunisia. The island group’s largest island is Lampedusa.

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