The Mediterranean Sea

The Mediterranean Sea is a body of water that is almost completely surrounded by land. It lies between three continents: Europe to the north, Asia to the east and Africa to the south. Africa. It stretches over 2,500 miles (4000 km) from Gibraltar to Israel. The Mediterranean is connected to the Atlantic through a 14 km wide strait, where Europe and Africa meet. The Suez Canal links it to the Red Sea and the Bosporus to the Black Sea.

The Mediterranean Sea covers an area of over 2.5 million square kilometers (950 000 square miles).  It is divided into different parts by islands and peninsulas. The Aegean is the sea between Greece and Turkey, the Adriatic Sea lies between Italy and the Balkan Peninsula and the Tyrrhenian Sea is between Italy and its western islands.

The coastline of the Mediterranean is made up of many bays and inlets. Three large peninsulas, the Iberian, the Italian and the Balkans reach out into the Mediterranean Sea. Among the largest islands in the Mediterranean are Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and Crete .

The Mediterranean region is often called the cradle of civilization because many early cultures and civilizations developed along its shores.

Relief Map of the Mediterranean Sea

Map of the Mediterranean Sea



The Mediterranean Sea was formed through movements of the Earth’s plates. When the ancient landmass of Pangaea broke apart about 250 million years ago a huge ocean, the Tethys, evolved around its middle. This ocean extended to the north of today’s Alps and to the east as far as the Ural Mountains. When Africa and Europe started moving towards each other this ocean became smaller. The Mediterranean Sea is what is left of this large ancient ocean.

Geologists think that the Mediterranean dried up several times in the last few million years because the Strait of Gibraltar closed and reopened, allowing water from the Atlantic to flow in.

Today the whole Mediterranean region is still very active. Earthquakes hit the Balkans, Italy and Turkey regularly. The region’s volcanoes, for example Mt. Etna and Stromboli, are among the most active in Europe. Mount Vesuvius became known for its famous eruption in 79 A.D. which wiped out the Roman town of Pompeii.



The Mediterranean region has a special climate that can be found in other parts of the world, like South Africa or southeastern Australia. The summers are very hot and dry with almost no rain at all, while winters are mild and rainy.


Water of the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Sea has an average depth of 1 500 meters or over 5,000 feet.
The Po, Nile, Rhone and Ebro are the largest rivers that flow into the sea. They  all create deltas because there are no currents that carry the water away. Tides are not as strong as they are in the Atlantic Ocean. The difference between high and low tide is only about 0.5 meters.

Because of its hot climate much water evaporates and the sea has a higher concentration of salt than other oceans, especially in the eastern part where the water temperature is also higher.


Catania, Sicily with Mount Etna in the background

Catania , Sicily with Mount Etna in the background - BenAveling



The Mediterranean attracts millions of tourists every year. About one third of global tourism takes place here. Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey rely on tourism for a large part of their yearly income.

Although it is very dry during the summer months, farming plays an important role in the region. Olives, oranges and grapes are grown. The Mediterranean is the world’s most important wine-growing region. Apart from that farmers grow other crops, especially wheat and barley. A small part of the coastal population earns their money by fishing.  

Recently, natural gas and oil have been discovered in the Aegean Sea, causing a conflict between Greece and Turkey.



Ancient cultures in Greece, Egypt and Rome and Phoenicia developed along the shores of the Mediterranean region. The people of these civilizations not only traded with others  but sailed over the calm seas to enlarge their territories through warfare.

For hundreds of years the Mediterranean Sea was the main water route.  Muslims controlled a large part of the Mediterranean throughout the early part of the Middle Ages. Some centuries later Venice and Florence became the world’s main trading centers. However , when Vasco da Gama sailed around Africa during the Age of Exploration the trade route across the Mediterranean to Asia became less important. This changed when the Suez Canal opened in 1869. The Europeans had a new trade route through the Red Sea to their colonies Asia.


Environmental Problems in the Mediterranean Region

Environmental problems are a big challenge to the future of the Mediterranean region.

Climate change and global warming could raise the sea level of the Mediterranean as much as 60 cm and, thus, flood parts of the Nile Delta or the city of Venice.

Pollution has become widespread along the coasts of the Mediterranean as tourism dumps thousands of tons of sewage into the sea each year.

Although many coastal areas and small islands of the Mediterranean depend on tourism as a main source of income it has also driven animal life away from the shores. Sea turtles are in danger of becoming extinct because tourists take away their nesting places.

The Mediterranean is one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. Oil is carried through tankers from the Middle East to ports in Italy and France. Leaky tankers and washing containers at sea contribute to water pollution of the Mediterranean. Some ships carry heavy metals and other poisonous material.

Overfishing has also become a problem in the Mediterranean region. Over 60% of all fish species are in danger of dying out.

Recently, the countries surrounding the Mediterranean region have been moving closer together in an attempt to protect the region.


Pollution of a Mediterranean coastline

Pollution of a Mediterranean coastline - Courtesy


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  • although = while
  • ancient = old
  • apart from = except
  • attempt = try
  • attract = pull towards something
  • average = normal, standard
  • barley = a plant that produces grain which  is used for food and alcohol
  • bay = a part of the sea that is enclosed by a curve of the land
  • busy = here: a lot of traffic
  • calm = quiet
  • cause = lead to
  • century = a hundred years
  • challenge = problem
  • coastal = near the sea
  • coastline = where water meets land
  • colony = country that not free but controlled by another country
  • completely = wholly, all of it
  • connect = link
  • contribute = add to
  • cover = to lie over
  • cradle = here: the place where something begins
  • crop = plant, like wheat, corn or rice that is grown by farmers and sold as food
  • current = the movement of water in an ocean, lake or river
  • delta = area of low land where a river spreads into many smaller rivers and flows into the ocean
  • depth = how deep something is
  • develop = grow
  • discover = to find for the first time
  • divide = separate
  • dump  = unload
  • earthquake = a sudden shaking of the Earth’s surface that causes a lot of damage and kills people
  • enlarge = expand, make larger
  • eruption = the outbreak of a volcano
  • especially = above all
  •  evaporate = water changes into gas
  • evolve = grow
  • extend = reach to
  • extinct = die out
  • flood = to cover with water
  • flow = pour, rush
  • global = worldwide
  • heavy metal = metal that has a high density, like gold or lead; many of them are poisonous
  • high  tide = the time when the sea reaches its highest level
  • however = but
  • huge = very large
  • income = money you get for something you do
  • inlet = narrow area of water that reaches from the sea into the land
  • leaky = with a hole in it so that oil or gas can pass through
  • location = where something is
  • low tide = the time when the sea reaches its lowest level
  • main = most important
  • movement = when something moves
  • nesting place = here: where they come to lay their eggs
  • peninsula = piece of land with water all around it connected to a large area of land
  • plate = one of the many  large sheets of rock that form the Earth’s surface
  • poisonous = deadly
  • pollution = the process of making air, water , soil etc.. dirty and unusable
  • port = harbor ; where ships load and unload their goods
  • recently = shortly, in the last few years
  • regularly =all the time, often
  • reopen = open again
  • sea level = the average height of the sea
  • several = many
  • sewage = used water and the waste of the human body that is carried away from pipes in houses
  • shore = coast
  • source = where something comes from
  • species = group of animals or plants that are similar and can have babies together
  • strait = a narrow passage of water between two areas of land
  • stretch = reach from one place to another
  • surrounded = to be around something
  • throughout = in all of
  • thus  = that is why
  • tide = the regular rising and falling of the sea
  • towards = in the direction of
  • trade = to buy and sell things
  • trade route = road, path or sea passage used to transport goods
  • warfare = the activity of fighting a war
  • widespread = common