Spanish territory comprises nearly five-sixths of the Iberian Peninsula, which the nation shares with Portugal, the micro-state of Andorra, and the British possession of Gibraltar. Spanish territory also includes two sets of islands--the Balearic Islands (Spanish, Islas Baleares) in the Mediterranean Sea and the Canary Islands (Spanish, Canarias) in the Atlantic Ocean--and two city enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla. Peninsular Spain, covering an area of 492,503 square kilometers, consists of a central plateau known as the Meseta Central, which is enclosed by high mountains on its north, south, east, and part of its western sides. The area that is predominantly plateau also encompasses several mountain systems that are lower than the peripheral mountains. Although Spain thus has physical characteristics that make it, to some extent, a natural geographic unit, there are also internal geographic features that tend to compartmentalize the country.
The topographical characteristics also generate a variety of climatic regimes throughout the country. By far the greatest part of the country, however, experiences a continental climate of hot, dry summers and rather harsh, cold winters. Where these conditions prevail, the soils have eroded, vegetation is sparse, and agriculture is difficult. Irrigation is practiced where possible, but it is difficult because the flow in most streams is seasonally irregular, and the stream beds of larger rivers are frequently much lower than the adjacent terrain.
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