Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V09, Page 802 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ESTREMADURA, or EXTREMADURA, an ancient territorial division of central and western Portugal, and of western Spain; comprising the modern districts of Leiria, Santarem and Lisbon, in Portugal, and the modern provinces of Badajoz and Caceres in Spain. Pop. (1900) 2,095,818; area, 23,055 sq. m. The name of Estremadura appears to be of early Romance or Late Latin origin, and probably was applied to all the far western lands (extrema ora) bordering upon the lower Tagus, as.far as the Atlantic Ocean. It is thus equivalent to Land's End, or Finistere. In popular speech it is more commonly used than the names of the modern divisions mentioned above, which were created in the 19th century. As, however, there are many racial, economic and historic differences between Portuguese and Spanish Estremadura, the two provinces are separately described below. I. Portuguese Estremadura is bounded on the N. by Beira, E. and S. by Alemtejo, and W. by the Atlantic Ocean. Pop. (1900) 1,221,418; area, 6937 sq. m. The greatest length of the province, from N. to S., is 165 m.; its greatest breadth, from E. to W., is 72 M. The general uniformity of the coast-line is broken by the broad and deep estuaries of the Tagus and the Sado, and by the four conspicuous promontories of Cape Carvoeiro, Cape da Roca, Cape Espichel and Cape de Sines. The Tagus is the great navigable waterway of Portuguese Estremadura, flowing from north-east to south-west, and fed by many minor tributaries, notably the Zezere on the right and the Zatas on the left. It divides the country into two nearly equal portions, wholly dissimilar in surface and character. South of the Tagus the land is almost everywhere low, flat and monotonous, while in several places it is rendered unhealthy by undrained marshes. The Sado, which issues into Setubal Bay, is the only important river of this region. North of the Tagus, and parallel with its right bank, extends the mountain chain which is known at its northern extremity as the Serra do Aire and, where it terminates above Cape da Roca, as the Serra da Cintra. This ridge, which is buttressed on all sides by lesser groups of hills, and includes part of the famous lines of Torres Vedras (q.v.), exceeds 2200 ft. in height, and constitutes the watershed between the right-hand tributaries of the Tagus and the Liz, Sizandro and other small rivers which flow into the Atlantic. On its seaward side, except for the line of sheer and lofty cliffs between Cape Carvoeiro and Cape da Roca, the country is mostly flat and sandy, with extensive heaths and pine forests; but along the fertile and well-cultivated right bank of the Tagus the river scenery, with its terraced hills of vines, olives and fruit trees, often resembles that of the Rhine in Germany. The natural resources of Portuguese Estremadura, with its inhabitants, industries, commerce, communications, &c., are described under PORTUGAL; for on such matters there is little to be said of this central and most characteristic province which does not apply to the whole kingdom. Separate articles are also devoted to Lisbon, the capital, and Abrantes, Cintra, Leiria, Mafra, Santarem, Setubal, Thomar, Torres Novas and Torres Vedras, the other chief towns. The women of Peniche, a small fishing village on the promontory of Cape Carvoeiro, have long been celebrated throughout Portugal for their skill in the manufacture of fine laces. 2. Spanish Estremadura is bounded on the N. by Leon and Old Castile, E. by New Castile, S. by Andalusia, and W. by the Portuguese province of Beira and Alemtejo, which separate it from Portuguese Estre.nadura. Pop. (1900) 882,410; area, 16,118 sq. m. Spanish Estremadura consists of a tableland separated from Leon and Old Castile by the lofty Sierra de Gredos, the plateau of Bejar and the Sierra de Gata, which form an almost continuous barrier along the northern frontier, with its summits ranging from 6000 to more than 85oo ft. in altitude. On the south the comparatively low range of the Sierra Morena constitutes the frontier of Andalusia; on the east and west there is a still more gradual transition to the plateau of New Castile and the central plains of Portugal. The tableland of Spanish Estremadura is itself bisected from east to west by a line of mountains, the Sierras of San Pedro, Montanchez and Guadalupe (4000 6000 ft.), which separate its northern half, drained by the river Tagus, from its southern half, drained by the Guadiana. These two halves are respectively known as Alta or Upper Estremadura (the modern Caceres), and Baja or Lower Estremadura (the modern Badajoz). The Tagus and Guadiana flow from east to west through a monotonous country, level or slightly undulating, often almost uninhabited, and covered with a thin growth of shrubs and grass. Perhaps the most characteristic feature of this tableland is the vast heaths of gum-cistus, which in spring colour the whole 'landscape with leagues of yellow blossom, and in summer change to a brown and arid wilderness. The climate in summer is hot but not unhealthy, except in the swamps which occur along the Guadiana. The rainfall is scanty; dew, however, is abundant and the nights are cool. Although the high mountains are covered with snow in November, the winters are not usually severe. The soil is naturally fertile, but drought, floods and locusts render agriculture difficult, and sheep-farm'ng is the most important of Estremaduran industries. (See SPAIN: Agriculture.) In the 19th century, however, this industry lost much of its former importance owing to foreign competition. Immense herds of swine are bred and constitute a great source of support to the inhabitants, not only supplying them with food, but also forming a great article of export to other provinces —the pork, bacon and hams being in high esteem. The beech, oak and chestnut woods afford an abundance of food for swine, and there are numerous plantations of olive, cork and fruit trees, but a far greater area of forest has been destroyed. For an account of commerce, mining, communications, &c., in Spanish Estremadura, with a list of the chief towns, see CACERES and

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