1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leon (province)

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29636631911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 16 — Leon (province)

LEON, the name of a modern province and of an ancient kingdom, captaincy-general and province in north-western Spain. The modern province, founded in 1833, is bounded on the N. by Oviedo, N.E. by Santander, E. by Palencia, S. by Valladolid and Zamora and W. by Orense and Lugo. Pop. (1900) 386,083. Area, 5986 sq. m. The boundaries of the province on the north and west, formed respectively by the central ridge and southerly offshoots of the Cantabrian Mountains (q.v.), are strongly marked; towards the south-east the surface merges imperceptibly into the Castilian plateau, the line of demarcation being for the most part merely conventional. Leon belongs partly to the river system of the Miño (see Spain), partly to that of the Duero or Douro (q.v.), these being separated by the Montañas de Leon, which extend in a continuous wall (with passes at Manzanal and Poncebadon) from north to south-west. To the north-west of the Montañas de Leon is the richly wooded pastoral and highland district known as the Vierzo, which in its lower valleys produces grain, fruit, and wine in abundance. The Tierra del Campo in the west of the province is fairly productive, but in need of irrigation. The whole province is sparsely peopled. Apart from agriculture, stock-raising and mining, its commerce and industries are unimportant. Cattle, mules, butter, leather, coal and iron are exported. The hills of Leon were worked for gold in the time of the Romans; iron is still obtained, and coal-mining developed considerably towards the close of the 19th century. The only towns with more than 5000 inhabitants in 1900 were Leon (15,580) and Astorga (5573) (q.v.). The main railway from Madrid to Corunna passes through the province, and there are branches from the city of Leon to Vierzo, Oviedo, and the Biscayan port of Gijón.

At the time of the Roman conquest, the province was inhabited by the Vettones and Callaici; it afterwards formed part of Hispania Tarraconensis. Among the Christian kingdoms which arose in Spain as the Moorish invasion of the 8th century receded, Leon was one of the oldest. The title of king of Leon was first assumed by Ordoño in 913. Ferdinand I. (the Great) of Castile united the crowns of Castile and Leon in the 11th century; the two were again separated in the 12th, until a final union took place (1230) in the person of St Ferdinand. The limits of the kingdom varied with the vicissitudes of war, but roughly speaking it may be said to have embraced what are now the provinces of Leon, Palencia, Valladolid, Zamora and Salamanca. For a detailed account of this kingdom, see Spain: History. The captaincy-general of the province of Leon before 1833 included Leon, Zamora and Salamanca. The Leonese, or inhabitants of these three provinces, have less individuality, in character and physique, than the people of Galicia, Catalonia or Andalusia, who are quite distinct from what is usually regarded as the central or national Spanish type, i.e. the Castilian. The Leonese belong partly to the Castilian section of the Spaniards, partly to the north-western section which includes the Galicians and Asturians. They have comparatively few of the Moorish traits which are so marked in the south and east of Spain. Near Astorga there dwells a curious tribe, the Maragatos, sometimes considered to be a remnant of the original Celtiberian inhabitants. As a rule the Maragatos earn their living as muleteers or carriers; they wear a distinctive costume, mix as little as possible with their neighbours and do not marry outside their own tribe.