The Tagus (/ˈtɡəs/ TAY-gəs; Spanish: Tajo [ˈtaxo]; Portuguese: Tejo [ˈtɛʒu]; see below) is the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. The river rises in the Montes Universales in mid-eastern Spain, flows 1,007 km (626 mi), generally west with two main south-westward sections, to empty into the Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon. Its drainage basin covers 80,100 square kilometers (30,927 sq mi) exceeded in the peninsula only by the Douro. The river is highly used. Several dams and diversions supply drinking water to key population centres of central Spain and Portugal; dozens of hydroelectric stations create power. Between dams it follows a very constricted course, but after Almourol, Portugal it has a wide alluvial valley, prone to flooding. Its mouth is a large estuary culminating at the major port, and Portuguese capital, Lisbon.

Tajo  (Spanish)
Tejo  (Portuguese)
View of Tagus River in Toledo, Spain
Path of the Tagus through the Iberian Peninsula
EtymologyVulgar Latin taliāre, "to cut through"
CountrySpain, Portugal
Physical characteristics
SourceFuente de García
  locationMontes Universales, Sierra de Albarracín Comarca, Teruel, Aragon, Spain
  elevation1,593 m (5,226 ft)
MouthEstuary of the Tagus
Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon, Portugal
0 m (0 ft)
Length1,007 km (626 mi)
Basin size80,100 km2 (30,900 sq mi)
  average500 m3/s (18,000 cu ft/s)
Basin features
  leftGuadiela, Algodor, Gévalo, Ibor, Almonte, Salor, Sever
  rightGallo, Jarama, Guadarrama, Alberche, Tiétar, Alagón, Zêzere
Tagus river gorge, in the Alto Tajo Nature Reserve, Guadalajara, Spain
The Tagus near Vila Velha de Ródão, close to the Spanish border

The source is specifically: in political geography, at the Fuente de García in the Frías de Albarracín municipality; in physical geography, within the notably high range, the Sistema Ibérico (Iberian System), of the Sierra de Albarracín Comarca. All the major tributaries are right bank, which is locally to the north. The river flows 716 km (445 mi) in Spain, 47 km (29 mi) along the two countries' border and 275 km (171 mi) in Portugal.

The main cities the rivers passes through consecutively are Aranjuez, Toledo and Talavera de la Reina in Spain, and Abrantes, Santarém, Almada and Lisbon in Portugal. The Spanish capital, Madrid, lies in the upper drainage basin.


Map of the drainage basin

In Spain

Confluence of the Guadarrama and Tagus rivers

The first notable city on the Tagus is Sacedón. Below Aranjuez it receives the combined flow of the Jarama, Henares, Algodor and Tajuña. Below Toledo it receives the Guadarrama River. Above Talavera de la Reina it receives the Alberche. At Valdeverdeja is the upper end of the long upper reservoir, the Embalse de Valdecañas, beyond which are the Embalse de Torrejon, into which flow the Tiétar, and the lower reservoir, the Alcántara Dam into which flows the Alagón at the lower end.

A canal and aqueduct are between the Tagus and the Segura for the Tagus-Segura Water Transfer.

View of the Tagus River in Lisbon with the Sanctuary of Christ the King in the foreground

In Portugal

After forming the border it enters Portugal, passing Vila Velha de Ródão, Abrantes, Constância, Entroncamento, Santarém and Vila Franca de Xira at the head of the long narrow estuary, which has Lisbon at its mouth. The estuary is protected by the Tagus Estuary Natural Reserve. There is a large bridge across the river, the Vasco da Gama Bridge, which with a total length of 17.2 km (10.7 mi) is the second longest bridge in Europe. The Port of Lisbon, straddling its mouth, is one of Europe's busiest.

The Portuguese Alentejo region and former Ribatejo Province take their names from the river; Alentejo, from além Tejo "Beyond the Tejo" and Ribatejo likely from arriba Tejo, an archaic way of saying "Upper Tejo". However Spanish riba means riverside, or riviera. If from that root Ribatejo would mean very generically "Tejo-side". Many instances of towns in Spain have this prefix.


The river's Latin name is Tagus and it is known under different names in the languages of Iberia:

It is known in Italian as Tago and Greek as Τάγος (Tágos).


The lower Tagus is on a fault line. Slippage along it has caused numerous earthquakes, the major ones being those of 1309, 1531 and 1755.[1]


Tagus river seen from the Castle of Almourol (Portugal)

The Pepper Wreck, properly the wreck of the Nossa Senhora dos Mártires, is a shipwreck located and excavated at the mouth of the Tagus between 1996 and 2001.

The river had strategic value to the Spanish and Portuguese empires, as it guarded the approach to Lisbon. For example, in 1587, Francis Drake briefly approached the river after his successful raid at Cadiz.[2]

A major river, the Tagus is brought to mind in the songs and stories of the Portuguese. A popular fado song in Lisbon notes that while people get older, the Tagus remains young ("My hair getting white, the Tagus is always young"). The author, Fernando Pessoa, wrote a poem that begins:

"The Tagus is more beautiful than the river that flows through my village. But the Tagus is not more beautiful than the river that flows through my village..."[3]

Richard Crashaw (died 1649) wrote a poem "Saint Mary Magdalene, or the Weeper". This refers to the "Golden" Tagus as wanting Mary Magdalene's silver tears. In classical poetry the Tagus was famous for its gold-bearing sands (the catalogued works of: Catullus 29.19; Ovid's Amores 1.15.34; Juvenal's Satires 3.55; and others).

See also

  • List of rivers of Spain
  • List of rivers of Portugal


  1. Hobbs, William Herbert (1907). Earthquakes: An Introduction to Seismic Geology. New York: D. Appleton and Company. pp. 142–144. Downloadable Internet Archive
  2. Garrett Mattingly (2005). The Armada. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 118–119. ISBN 978-0618565917. Tagus.
  3. Pessoa, Fernando; Richard Zenith, Translator (1999). Fernando Pessoa and Co.: Selected Poems. Grove Press. p. 55. ISBN 9780802136275.

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