A peninsula, from the Latin words for almost island, is a piece of land largely surrounded by water on three sides and joined to a larger body of land by an isthmus, or narrow neck. It can also more generally refer to any area of land that sticks out into a body of water, such as a sea or lake. A peninsula is a topographic high spot; a dry land range of hills or mountains created during the formation of Earth’s crust. The state of Florida is the largest peninsula in the United States, while Italy is the longest peninsula in Europe. A peninsula is often left visible when the low areas on both sides subside and become submerged, or when the water level rises and floods the valleys. The Chesapeake Bay (between Virginia and Maryland) is excellent example of a shoreline of submergence. The Delmarva Peninsula, which forms the eastern section of the Chesapeake Bay, formed millions of years ago as the Susquehanna River eroded a river valley that was subsequently swamped when the sea level rose.
Because of their segregation from the primary body of land to which they are connected, peninsulas provide their inhabitants with relative isolation. During continental wars, peninsulas can be defended at the narrow isthmus. During peacetime, invasion by immigration tends to pass by because they lie off the main routes of travel. Thus, peninsulas can provide havens where humans and animals of ancient descent may still be found quite unadulterated. Examples are the Cornish and Welsh in peninsulas in western England; Australian aborigines of the Cape York Peninsula; and non Indo-European speaking people of the Indian peninsula.
During wars involving oceanic invasion, however, peninsulas are often targeted as the gateway to the continent. Two examples are the occupation of the Gallipoli Peninsula by Britain, from which they invaded Turkey during World War I, and the United States WorldWar II entry into Europe through Italy’s Calabrian Peninsula and France’s Conetin Peninsula.
Because of this vulnerability, small peninsulas are often politically different from their mainland continent. For example, the Florida Peninsula for many years belonged to Spain. Conversely, large peninsulas often become independent from their continental neighbors—like the peninsulas of Sweden and Italy.
Marie L. Thompson