Page:A book of the Pyrenees.djvu/16

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4
THE PYRENEES

the Basques, in Pyrénées Orientales are the Catalonians, speaking a dialect of the Spanish of Barcelona.

The whole of Aquitaine, from the Loire to the Pyrenees, the whole of Western Spain and Portugal, was once occupied by the Iberians, of whom the Basques are the shrunken residue. All Eastern France and Eastern Spain were overflowed by the Celts. The Romans recognized that Spain was in the possession of two races totally distinct, ethnographically and linguistically, and they termed the population of the peninsula Celtiberians.

When the Romans arrived on the scene they carried one main causeway from Aries to Narbonne, and thence to Toulouse, and from Toulouse to Dax. From this, roads branched to the south and crossed the Pyrenees into Spain by three gaps, natural doorways—one to the east, the easiest of all, by Le Perthus, where Pompey set up a trophy; one by Somport leading from Iluro (Oloron) to Saragossa; a third by Roncevaux to Pampeluna.

By the first of these ports Hannibal crossed from Spain on his way to Italy; by it also poured the Saracens to devastate the fields of Gaul. By Roncevaux Charles the Great passed to menace the Saracen power, and on his return met there with disaster at the hands of the Basques, which has been immortalized in song.

East and west were debatable lands. Navarre sat astride on the ridge, with a foot in Spain and the other in Gascony. To the east was Roussillon, that pertained to the kings of Aragon, till ceded definitely to France in 1659.

But to revert to the geological structure of the Pyrenees. The central chain is, as already said, composed of crystalline rocks, granite, and micaceous schist, whereas the northern chain exhibits the upturned beds of superincumbent deposits,