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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

The valley of the Ebro in Aragon and Catalonia

[Sidenote: Geographical divisions of the peninsula.]

These mountains divide the peninsula into four regions: the narrow littoral on the northern coast; Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia, and most of La Mancha, looking toward the Mediterranean; Almer?a, M?laga, and part of Granada and C?diz in the south of Spain; and the vast region comprising the rest of the peninsula. The last-named is subdivided into four principal regions of importance historically. The Carpetana, or Carpeto-Vet?nica, range in the north (more often called the Guadarrama Mountains) separates Old Castile from New Castile and Extremadura to the south, and continues into Portugal. The Oretana range crosses the provinces of Cuenca, Toledo, Ciudad Real, C?ceres, and Badajoz, also terminating in Portugal. Finally, the Mari?nica range (more popularly known as the Sierra Morena) forms the boundary of Castile and Extremadura with Andalusia. Each of the four sub-divisions has a great river valley, these being respectively, from north to south, the Douro, Tagus, Guadiana, and Guadalquivir. Various other sub-sections might be named, but only one is of prime importance,--the valley of the Ebro in Aragon and Catalonia, lying between the Pyrenees and an eastward branch of the Iberian range. Within these regions, embracing parts of several of them, there is another that is especially noteworthy,--that of the vast table-land of central Spain between the Ebro and the Guadalquivir. This is an elevated region, difficult of access from all of the surrounding lands. Geologists have considered it the "permanent nucleus" of the peninsula. It is in turn divided into two table-lands of unequal height by the great Carpeto-Vet?nica range. The long coast line of the peninsula, about 2500 miles in length, has also been a factor of no small importance historically. Despite the length of her border along the sea, Spain has, next to Switzerland, the greatest average elevation of any country in Europe, so high are her mountains and table-lands.

[Sidenote: Disadvantageous effects of geography.]

These geographical conditions have had important consequences climatically and economically and especially historically. The altitude and irregularity of the land have produced widely separated extremes of temperature, although as a general rule a happy medium is maintained. To geographical causes, also, are due the alternating seasons of rain and drought in most of Spain, especially in Castile, Valencia, and Andalusia, which have to contend, too, with the disadvantages of a smaller annual rainfall than is the lot of most other parts of Europe and with the torrential rains which break the season of drought. When it rains, the water descends in such quantity and with such rapidity from the mountains to the sea that the river beds are often unable to contain it, and dangerous floods result. Furthermore, the sharpness of the slope makes it difficult to utilize these rivers for irrigation or navigation, so swift is the current, and so rapidly do the rivers spend themselves. Finally, the rain is not evenly distributed, and some regions, especially the high plateau country of Castile and La Mancha, are particularly dry and are difficult of cultivation.

[Sidenote: Beneficial effects.]

On the other hand the geographical conditions of the peninsula have produced distinct benefits to counterbalance the disadvantages. The coastal plains are often very fertile. Especially is this true of the east and south, where the vine and the olive, oranges, rice, and other fruits and vegetables are among the best in the world. The northern coast is of slight value agriculturally, but, thanks to a rainfall which is constant and greater than necessary, is rich pastorally. Here, too, there is a very agreeable climate, due in large measure to a favoring ocean current, which has also been influential in producing the forests in a part of Galicia. These factors have made the northern coast a favorite summer resort for Spaniards and, indeed, for many other Europeans. The mountains in all parts of the peninsula have proved to contain a mineral wealth which many centuries of mining have been unable to exhaust. Some gold and more silver have been found, but metals of use industrially--such, for example, as copper--have been the most abundant. The very difficulties which Spaniards have had to overcome helped to develop virile traits which have made their civilization of more force in the world than might have been expected from a country of such scant wealth and population.[3]

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