The Mediterranean is c.2,400 mi (3,900 km) long with a maximum width of c.1,000 mi (1,600 km); its greatest depth is c.14,450 ft (4,400 m), off Cape Matapan, Greece. It connects with the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar; with the Black Sea through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosporus; and with the Red Sea through the Suez Canal. Its chief divisions are the Tyrrhenian, Adriatic, Ionian, and Aegean seas; its chief islands are Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Crete, Cyprus, Malta, Rhodes, the Dodecanese, the Cyclades, the Sporades, the Balearic Islands, and the Ionian Islands. Shallows (Adventure Bank) between Sicily and Cape Bon, Tunisia, divide the Mediterranean into two main basins.
The sea is of higher salinity than the Atlantic and has little variation in tides. The largest rivers that flow into it are the Po, Rhône, Ebro, and Nile. The shores are chiefly mountainous. Earthquakes and volcanic disturbances are frequent. The region around the sea has a warm, dry climate characterized by abundant sunshine. Strong local winds, such as the hot, dry sirocco from the south and the cold, dry mistral and bora from the north, blow across the sea. Fish (about 400 species), sponges, and corals are plentiful. In addition, oil and natural gas have been found in several sections of the sea. The overuse of the sea's natural and marine resources continues to be a problem.
Some of the most ancient civilizations (see Aegean civilization) flourished around the Mediterranean. It was opened as a highway for commerce by merchants trading from Phoenicia. Carthage, Greece, Sicily, and Rome were rivals for dominance of its shores and trade; under the Roman Empire it became virtually a Roman lake and was called Mare Nostrum [our sea]. Later, the Byzantine Empire and the Arabs dominated the Mediterranean. Between the 11th and 14th cent., Italian city trading states such as Genoa, Venice, and Barcelona dominated the region; they struggled with the Ottomans for naval supremacy, particularly in the E Mediterranean. Products of Asia passed to Europe over Mediterranean trade routes until the establishment of a route around the Cape of Good Hope (late 15th cent.).
With the opening of the Suez Canal (1869) the Mediterranean resumed its importance as a link on the route to the East. The development of the northern regions of Africa and of oil fields in the Middle East has increased its trade. Its importance as a trade link and as a route for attacks on Europe resulted in European rivalry for control of its coasts and islands and led to campaigns in the region during both world wars. Since World War II the Mediterranean region has been of strategic importance to both the United States and, until its dissolution, the Soviet Union. In 1995 countries bordering the Mediterranean signed a pact agreeing to protect it by eliminating toxic waste disposal there over a 10-year period.
See E. D. Bradford, Mediterranean, Portrait of a Sea (1971); J. E. Swain, The Struggle for the Control of the Mediterranean Prior to 1848 (1973); L. S. Kaplan and R. W. Clawson, ed., NATO and the Mediterranean (1984); M. Miloradov, ed., Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea (1987); M. Grant, The Ancient Mediterranean (1988).
The Mediterranean is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Europe, on the south by Africa, and on the east by Asia. It covers an approximate area of 2.5 million km² (965,000 sq mi), but its connection to the Atlantic (the Strait of Gibraltar) is only 14 km (9 mi) wide. In oceanography, it is sometimes called the Eurafrican Mediterranean Sea or the European Mediterranean Sea to distinguish it from mediterranean seas elsewhere.
It was an important route for merchants and travelers of ancient times, allowing for trade and cultural exchange between emergent peoples of the region — the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Phoenician, Carthaginian, Greek, Levantine, Roman and Moorish cultures. The history of the Mediterranean region is crucial to understanding the origins and development of many modern societies.
The Mediterranean Sea has been known by a number of alternative names throughout human history. For example the Romans commonly called it Mare Nostrum (Latin, "Our Sea"). Occasionally it was known as Mare Internum by (Sallust, Jug. 17). Other examples of alternate names include Mesogeios (Μεσόγειος), meaning "inland, interior" (from μεσο, "middle" + γαιος, "land, earth") in Greek.
Biblically, it has been called the "Hinder Sea", due to its location on the west coast of the Holy Land, and therefore behind a person facing the east, as referenced in the Old Testament, and sometimes translated as "Western Sea", (Deut. 11:24; Joel 2:20), and also the "Sea of the Philistines" (Exod. 22:81), due to the peoples occupying a large portion of its shores near the Israelites. However, primarily it was known as the "Great Sea" (Num. 34:6,7; Josh. 1:4, 9:1, 15:47; Ezek. 47:10,15,20), or simply "The Sea" (1 Kings 5:9; comp. 1 Macc. 14:34, 15:11).
In Modern Hebrew, it has been called Hayam Hatikhon (הַיָּם הַתִּיכוֹן), "the middle sea", a literal adaptation of the German equivalent Mittelmeer. In Turkish, it is known as Akdeniz, "the white sea". In modern Arabic, it is known as al-Baħr al-Abyad al-Mutawassit البحر الأبيض المتوسط, "the Middle White Sea." And, lastly, in Islamic and older Arabic literature, it was referenced as bahr al-room (بحر الروم), or "the Roman Sea."
As a sea around which some of the most ancient human civilizations were arranged, it has had a major influence on the history and ways of life of these cultures. It provided a way of trade, colonization and war, and was the basis of life (via fishing and the gathering of other seafood) for numerous communities throughout the ages.
The combination of similarly-shared climate, geology and access to a common sea has led to numerous historical and cultural connections between the ancient and modern societies around the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean Sea is connected to the Atlantic Ocean by the Strait of Gibraltar on the west and to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, by the Dardanelles and the Bosporus respectively, on the east. The Sea of Marmara is often considered a part of the Mediterranean Sea, whereas the Black Sea is generally not. The long man-made Suez Canal in the southeast connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea.
Large islands in the Mediterranean include Cyprus, Crete, Euboea, Rhodes, Lesbos, Chios, Kefalonia and Corfu in the eastern Mediterranean; Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily, and Malta in the central Mediterranean; and Ibiza, Majorca and Minorca (the Balearic Islands) in the western Mediterranean.
Being nearly landlocked affects the Mediterranean Sea's properties; for instance, tides are very limited as a result of the narrow connection with the Atlantic Ocean. The Mediterranean is characterized and immediately recognized by its deep blue color.
Evaporation greatly exceeds precipitation and river runoff in the Mediterranean, a fact that is central to the water circulation within the basin. Evaporation is especially high in its eastern half, causing the water level to decrease and salinity to increase eastward. This pressure gradient pushes relatively cool, low-salinity water from the Atlantic across the basin; it warms and becomes saltier as it travels east, then sinks in the region of the Levant and circulates westward, to spill over the Strait of Gibraltar. Thus, seawater flow is eastward in the Strait's surface waters, and westward below; once in the Atlantic, this chemically-distinct "Mediterranean Intermediate Water" can persist thousands of kilometers away from its source.
Twenty-one modern states have a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea. They are:
Turkey sits mainly in Asia and partially in Europe. Egypt is mainly in Africa but its Sinai peninsula lies in Asia.
Several other territories also border the Mediterranean Sea (from west to east):
Andorra, Jordan, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, and the Vatican City, although they do not border the sea, are often considered Mediterranean countries in a wider sense due to their Mediterranean climate, fauna and flora, and/or their cultural affinity with other Mediterranean countries.
Major cities bordering the Mediterranean Sea include Malaga, Valencia, Barcelona, Marseille, Nice, Genoa, Naples, Palermo, Messina, Athens, Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, Beirut, Tel Aviv, Port Said, Damietta, Alexandria, Benghazi, Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers.
According to the International Hydrographic Organization (IHO) treaties, the Mediterranean Sea is subdivided into a number of smaller seas, each with their own designation (from west to east):
Although not recognized by the IHO treaties, there are some other seas that are in common use from the ancient times or in present:
The Mediterranean Sea has an average depth of and the deepest recorded point is 5,267 meters (about 3.27 miles) in the Calypso Deep in the Ionian Sea. The coastline extends for . A shallow submarine ridge (the Strait of Sicily) between the island of Sicily and the coast of Tunisia divides the sea in two main subregions (which in turn are divided into subdivisions), the Western Mediterranean and the Eastern Mediterranean. The Western Mediterranean covers an area of about 0.85 million km² (0.33 million sq mi) and the Eastern Mediterranean about 1.65 million km² (0.64 million sq mi).
In the last few centuries, mankind has done much to alter Mediterranean geology. Structures have been built all along the coastlines, exacerbating and rerouting erosional patterns. Many pollution-producing boats travel the sea that unbalance the natural chemical ratios of the region. Beaches have been mismanaged, and the overuse of the sea's natural and marine resources continues to be a problem. This misuse speeds along and/or confounds natural processes. The actual geography has also been altered by the building of dams and canals.
The Mediterranean was once thought to be the remnant of the Tethys Ocean. It is now known to be a structurally younger ocean basin known as Neotethys. Neotethys formed during the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic rifting of the African and Eurasian plates.
The Alboran Sea is a transition zone between the two seas, containing a mix of Mediterranean and Atlantic species. The Alboran Sea has the largest population of Bottlenose Dolphins in the western Mediterranean, is home to the last population of harbour porpoises in the Mediterranean, and is the most important feeding grounds for Loggerhead Sea Turtles in Europe. The Alboran sea also hosts important commercial fisheries, including sardines and swordfish. In 2003, the World Wildlife Fund raised concerns about the widespread drift net fishing endangering populations of dolphins, turtles, and other marine animals.
Invasive species originating from the Red Sea and introduced into the Mediterranean by the construction of the canal have become a major component of the Mediterranean ecosystem and have serious impacts on the Mediterranean ecology, endangering many local and endemic Mediterranean species. Up to this day, about 300 species native to the Red Sea have already been identified in the Mediterranean Sea, and there are probably others yet unidentified. In recent years, the Egyptian government's announcement of its intentions to deepen and widen the canal have raised concerns from marine biologists, fearing that such an act will only worsen the invasion of Red Sea species into the Mediterranean, facilitating the crossing of the canal for yet additional species.
The Mediterranean is also plagued by marine debris. A 1994 study of the seabed using trawl nets around the coasts of Spain, France and Italy reported a particularly high mean concentration of debris; an average of 1,935 items per square kilometre. Plastic debris accounted for 77%, of which 93% was plastic bags.