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ASTURIAS, SPAIN


Oviedo

The Principality of Asturias is an autonomous community within the kingdom of Spain, former Kingdom of Asturias in the Middle Ages. It is situated on the Spanish north coast facing the Cantabrian Sea (Mar Cantábrico, the Spanish name for the Bay of Biscay).

The most important cities are the provincial capital, Oviedo (Uviéu), the seaport and largest city Gijón (Xixón), and the industrial town of Avilés. Other towns include Mieres, Langreo (Llangréu) (with La Felguera and Sama), Luarca, Siero, Cangas de Onís (Cangues), Cangas del Narcea, Grado (Grau), Lena (Llena), Laviana (Llaviana), El Entrego (L'Entregu), Villaviciosa, Vegadeo ( A Veiga ), and Llanes. See also List of municipalities in Asturias, Comarcas of Asturias.

Asturias is bordered on the east by Cantabria, on the south by Castilla y León, on the west by Galicia (Lugo), and on the north by the Cantabrian Sea.

Asturias has been occupied by humans since the Lower Paleolithic era, and during the Upper Paleolithic was characterized by cave paintings in the eastern part of the area. In the Mesolithic period, a native culture developed, that of the Asturiense, and later, with the introduction of the Bronze Age, megaliths and tumuli were constructed. In the Iron Age, the territory came under the cultural influence of the Celts; the local Celtic peoples, known as the Astures, were composed of tribes such as the Luggones, the Pesicos, and others, who populated the entire area with castros (fortified hill-towns). Today the Astur Celtic influence persists in place names, such as those of rivers and mountains.

With the conquest of Asturias by the Romans under Augustus (29-19 BC), the region entered into the annals of history. After several centuries without foreign presence, the Suebi and Visigoths occupied the land from the 6th century AD to the beginning of the 8th century, ending with the Moorish invasion of Spain. However, as it had been for the Romans and Visigoths, the Moors did not find mountainous territory easy to conquer, and the lands along Spain's northern coast never fully became part of Islamic Spain. Rather, with the beginning of the Moorish conquest in the 8th century, this region became a refuge for Christian nobles, and in 722, a de facto independent kingdom was established, the Regnum Asturorum, which was to became the cradle of the incipient Reconquista (Reconquest).

In the 10th century, the Kingdom of Asturias gave way to the Kingdom of León, and during the Middle Ages the geographic isolation of the territory made historical references scarce. Through the rebellion of Henry II of Castile in the 14th century, the Principality of Asturias was established. The most famous proponents of independence were Gonzalo Peláez and Queen Urraca, who while achieving significant victories were ultimately defeated by Castilian troops. After its integration into the Kingdom of Spain, Asturias provided the Spanish court with high-ranking aristocrats and played an important role in the colonization of the Americas. Since 1388, the heir to the Castilian (later Spanish) throne has been styled Prince of Asturias. In the 16th century, the population reached 100,000 for the first time, and within another century that number would double due to the arrival of American corn.

During the 18th century, Asturias was one of the centres of the Spanish Enlightenment. The renowned thinker Benito de Feijoo settled in the Benedictine Monastery of San Vicente de Oviedo. Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, a polymath and prominent reformer and politician of the late 18th century, was born in the seaside town of Gijón.

The Industrial Revolution came to Asturias with the discovery and systematic exploitation, after 1830, of coal and iron resources. At the same time, there was significant migration to the Americas (especially Argentina, Uruguay, Cuba and Mexico); those who succeeded overseas often returned to their native land much wealthier. These entrepreneurs were known collectively as 'Indianos', for having visited and made their fortunes in the West Indies and beyond. The heritage of these wealthy families can still be seen in Asturias today: many large 'modernista' villas are dotted across the region, as well as cultural institutions such as free schools and public libraries.

Like all Spain, Asturias played its part in the events that led up to and including the Spanish Civil War. In 1934, the Marxist workers' movement fought the right-wing government of the Second Spanish Republic in the Revolution of Asturias. For a month, a socialist republic was formed in Asturias, with a total Marxist administration. Troops under the command of Francisco Franco were brought from the North African colonies to put down the rebellion and a ferocious oppression followed. As a result, Asturias remained loyal to the democratic republican government during the Spanish Civil War, and was the scene of an extraordinary defence in extreme terrain, the Battle of El Mazuco. With Franco eventually gaining control of all Spain, Asturias — traditionally linked to the Spanish crown — was known merely as the "Province of Oviedo" from 1936 until Franco's death in 1975. The province's name was restored fully after the return of democracy to Spain, in 1977.

In 1982, Asturias became an Autonomous Community within the decentralized territorial structure established by the Constitution of 1978. The Asturian regional government holds comprehensive competencies in important areas such as health, education and protection of the environment. Since 1999, the President of the Government of Asturias has been Vicente Álvarez Areces, of the Spanish Socialist Worker's Party (PSOE).

The only official language in Asturias is Spanish. The Asturian language (Bable) is also spoken, and is protected by Ley 1/1998, de 23 de marzo, de uso y promoción del bable/asturiano ('Law 1/1998, of March 23, of Use and Promotion of Bable/Asturian'). It is used sometimes by the Asturian civil service. In the western part of Asturias, Eonavian is also spoken, and its promotion also falls under the responsibility of Law 1/1998. Whether Eonavian is a dialect continuum or a variety of Galician language, however, is a subject of debate, and its use in the Asturian Administration is minor compared to the use of the Asturian language. There is an ongoing process to change all place names in Asturias into traditional Asturian and Eonavian ones.


Map of Asturias:

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