1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Aragon
ARAGON, or Arragon (in Span. Aragón), a captaincy-general, and formerly a kingdom of Spain; bounded on the N. by the Pyrenees, which separate it from France, on the E. by Catalonia and Valencia, S. by Valencia, and W. by the two Castiles and Navarre. Pop. (1900) 912,711; area, 18,294 sq. m. Aragon was divided in 1833 into the provinces of Huesca, Teruel and Saragossa; an account of its modern condition is therefore given under these names, which have not, however, superseded the older designation in popular usage.
Aragon consists of a central plain, edged by mountain ranges. On the south, east and west, these ranges, though wild and rugged, are of no great elevation, but on the north the Pyrenees attain their greatest altitude in the peaks of Aneto (11,168 ft.) and Monte Perdido (10,998 ft.)—also known as Las Tres Sorores, and, in French, as Mont Perdu. The central pass over the Pyrenees is the Port de Canfranc, on the line between Saragossa and Pau. Aragon is divided by the river Ebro (q.v.), which flows through it in a south-easterly direction, into two nearly equal parts, known as Trans-ibero and Cis-ibero. The Ebro is the principal river, and receives from the north, in its passage through the province, the Arba, the Gallego and the united waters of the Cinca, Esera, Noguera Ribagorzana, Noguera Pallaresa and Segre—the last three belonging to Catalonia. From the south it receives the Jalon and Jiloca (or Xalon and Xiloca) and the Guadalope. The Imperial Canal of Aragon, which was begun by the emperor Charles V. in 1529, but remained unfinished for nearly two hundred years, extends from Tudela to El Burgo de Ebro, a distance of 80 m.; it has a depth of 9 ft., and an average breadth of 69, and is navigable for vessels of about 80 tons. The Royal Canal of Tauste, which lies along the north side of the Ebro, was cut for purposes of irrigation, and gives fertility to the district. Two leagues north-north-east of Albarracin is the remarkable fountain called Cella, 3700 ft. above the sea, which forms the source of the Jiloca; and between this river and the Sierra Molina is an extensive lake called Gallocanta, covering about 6000 acres. The climate is characterized by extreme heat in the summer and cold in the winter; among the mountains the snowfall is heavy, and thunderstorms are frequent, but there is comparatively little rain.
Within a recent geological period, central Aragon was undoubtedly submerged by the sea, and the parched chalky soil remains saturated with salt, while many of the smaller streams run brackish. As the mountains of Valencia and Catalonia effectually bar out the fertilizing moisture of the sea-winds, much of the province is a sheer wilderness, stony, ash-coloured, scarred with dry watercourses, and destitute of any vegetation except thin grass and heaths. In contrast with the splendid fertility of Valencia or the south of France, the landscape of this region, like the rest of central Spain, seems almost a continuation of the north African desert area. There are, however, extensive oak, pine and beech forests in the highlands, and many beautiful oases in the deeply sunk valleys, and along the rivers, especially beside the Ebro, which is, therefore, often called the “Nile of Aragon.” In such oases the flora is exceedingly rich. Wheat, maize, rice, oil, flax and hemp, of fine quality, are grown in considerable quantities; as well as saffron, madder, liquorice, sumach, and a variety of fruits. Merino wool is one of the chief products.
In purity of race the Aragonese are probably equal to the Castilians, to whom, rather than to the Catalans or Valencians, they are also allied in character. The dress of the women is less distinctive than that of the men, who wear a picturesque black and white costume, with knee-breeches, a brilliantly coloured sash, black hempen sandals, and a handkerchief wound round the head.
Three counties—Sobrarbe, situated near the headwaters of the Cinca, Aragon, to the west, and Ribagorza or Ribagorça, to the east—are indicated by tradition and the earliest chronicles as the cradle of the Aragonese monarchy. These districts were never wholly subdued when the Moors overran the country (711-713). Sobrarbe especially was for a time the headquarters of the Christian defence in eastern Spain. About 1035, Sancho III. the Great, ruler of the newly established kingdom of Navarre, which included the three counties above mentioned, bequeathed them to Gonzalez and Ramiro, his sons. Ramiro soon rid himself of his rival, and welded Sobrarbe, Ribagorza and Aragon into a single kingdom, which thenceforward grew rapidly in size and power and shared with Castile the chief part in the struggle against the Moors. The history of this period, which was terminated by the union of Castile and Aragon under Ferdinand and Isabella in 1479, is given, along with a full account of the very interesting constitution of Aragon, under Spain (q.v.). At the height of its power under James I. (1213-1276), the kingdom included Valencia, Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the considerable territory of Montpellier in France; while Peter III. (1276-1285) added Sicily to his dominions.