Mediterranean Sea, so named from its lying between the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, is the largest enclosed sea in the world, and is connected with the open ocean only by the narrow Strait of Gibraltar, 9 miles wide. Since 1869, however, it has been artificially connected with the Red Sea and Indian Ocean by means of the Suez Canal. The Mediterranean is 2200 miles long from the Strait of Gibraltar eastward to the Syrian coast; its width varies from 500 or 600 miles in some places to less than 100 miles between Sicily and Cape Bon, where it is divided by relatively shallow banks into two distinct hydrographic basins, the eastern one being the larger. It is connected with the Black Sea by the Dardanelles, Sea of Marmora, and Bosphorus. The African and Syrian coasts are comparatively even and unindented; the shores of Europe and Asia Minor are cut up into numerous gulfs and bays, the largest of which is the Adriatic Sea. Various parts of the Mediterranean have been known by special names, such as the Tyrrhenian and Iberian Seas in the western, and the Levant, Aegean, and Ionian Seas in the eastern basin. The principal islands in the western part are Sardinia and Corsica, the Balearic and Lipari Islands. The continental islands of Sicily and Malta are situated on the banks dividing the two basins. In the eastern regions there are the large islands of Cyprus and Crete, with the Ionian Islands and the islands of the Archipelago. The Mediterranean is frequently subject to earthquakes, and Vesuvius, Stromboli, and Etna are among its active volcanoes. The countries bordering the Mediterranean have been the cradle of civilisation, and still this inland sea is commercially the most important waterway of the world.

The area of the Mediterranean is estimated at about 900,000 sq. m., or, including the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, at 1,053,000 sq. m. The area of land draining into the Mediterranean is estimated at 2,969,350 sq. m., or nearly 3,000,000 sq. m. The principal rivers flowing into the Mediterranean are the Rhone, Po, Danube, Dnieper, Don, and the Nile. On the ridge between Sicily and Africa which separates the Mediterranean into two basins, there is a depth of 200 fathoms ; 2040 fathoms is the greatest depth recorded in the western, and 2187 fathoms the greatest in the eastern basin ; the mean depth of the whole sea is 768 fathoms. The Mediterranean is usually called a tideless sea. At Algiers there is a rise of 3 1/2 inches at springs, and half that amount at neaps; at other places the rise and fall is about 18 inches, and in the Gulf of Gabes the range reaches 5 feet. There is an extensive red coral fishery and tunny fishery on some parts of the coasts. The Mediterranean region appears to have been covered by the sea from early geological times, and during Tertiary times must have had much wider communication with the open ocean. See Murray's Mediterranean Handbook (3d ed. 2 vols. 1890).