1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ávila (province)

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ÁVILA, a province of central Spain, one of the modern divisions of the kingdom of Old Castile; bounded on the N. by Valladolid, E. by Segovia and Madrid, S. by Toledo and Cáceres, and W. by Salamanca. Pop. (1900) 200,457; area, 2570 sq. m. Ávila is naturally divided into two sections, differing completely in soil, climate, productions and social economy. The northern portion is generally level; the soil is of indifferent quality, strong and marly in a few places, but rocky in all the valleys of the Sierra de Ávila; and the climate alternates from severe cold in winter to extreme heat in summer. The population of this part is mainly agricultural. The southern division is one mass of rugged granitic sierras, interspersed, however, with sheltered and well-watered valleys, abounding with rich vegetation. The winter here, especially in the elevated region of the Paramera and the waste lands of Ávila, is long and severe, but the climate is not unhealthy. In this region stock-breeding is an important industry. The principal mountain chains are the Guadarrama, separating this province from Madrid; the Paramera and Sierra de Ávila, west of the Guadarrama; and the vast wall of the Sierra de Gredos along the southern frontier, where its outstanding peaks rise to 6000 or even 8000 ft. The ridges which ramify from the Paramera are covered with valuable forests of beeches, oaks and firs, presenting a striking contrast to the bare peaks of the Sierra de Gredos. The principal rivers are the Alberche and Tietar, belonging to the basin of the Tagus, and the Tórmes, Trabáncos and Adaja, belonging to that of the Douro. The mountains contain silver, copper, iron, lead and coal, but their mineral wealth has been exaggerated, and at the beginning of the 20th century mining had practically been abandoned. Quarries of fine marble and jasper exist in the district of Arenas. The province declined in wealth and population during the 18th and 19th centuries, a result due less to the want of activity on the part of the inhabitants than to the oppressive manorial and feudal rights and the strict laws of entail and mortmain, which acted as barriers to progress.

Towards the close of this period many improvements were introduced, although the want of irrigation is still keenly felt. Wide tracts of waste land were planted with pinewoods by the ducal house of Medina Sidonia. The main roads are fairly good; and Ávila, the capital, is connected by rail with Salamanca, Valladolid and Madrid; but in many parts of the province the means of communication are defective. Except Ávila there are no important towns. The principal production is the wool of the merino sheep, which at one time yielded an immense revenue. Game is plentiful, and the rivers abound in fish, specially trout. Olives, chestnuts and grapes are grown, and silk-worms are kept. There is little trade, and the manufactures are few, consisting chiefly of copper utensils, lime, soap, cloth, paper and combs. The state of elementary education is comparatively good, rather more than two-thirds of the population being able to read and write, and the ratio of crime is proportionately low.