CASTILE, or Castille (Castilla), an ancient kingdom of Spain, occupying the central districts of the Iberian Peninsula; and bounded on the N. by the Bay of Biscay, N.E. by the Basque Provinces and Navarre, E. by Aragon, S.E. by Valencia and Murcia, S. by Andalusia, W. by Estremadura and Leon, and N.W. by Asturias. Pop. (1900) 3,708,713; area, 55,307 sq. m. The name Castile is commonly said to be derived from the numerous frontier forts (castillos) erected in the middle ages as a defence against the Moors. The northern part of the kingdom, which was first freed from Moorish rule, is called Old Castile (Castilla la Vieja); the southern, acquired later, is called New Castile (Castilla la Nueva). These two divisions, with a third known as North Castile, now rank as military districts or captaincies-general; but the term “North Castile,” which covers the northern extremity of Old Castile, is not generally used. In 1833 Old Castile was divided into the provinces of Ávila, Burgos, Logroño, Palencia, Santander, Segovia, Soria and Valladolid; while New Castile was similarly divided into Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Guadalajara, Madrid and Toledo. The modern progress of commerce, communications, &c. in these thirteen provinces is described in the separate articles upon each of them.
Castile extends for about 300 m. from north to south, and 160 m. from east to west. It consists of a vast central plateau, with an average altitude of about 2500 ft. This plateau has a natural frontier of high mountains on all sides, except on the borders of Leon and Murcia; it is also bisected by the Sierra de Guadarrama and Sierra de Grédos, which extend in a south-westerly direction across the central districts, and form the dividing line between Old and New Castile. Geographically it includes also the high plains of Leon, towards the north-west, and of Murcia on the south-east. The existing frontier is marked on the north by the Cantabrian Mountains (q.v.); on the east by the Sierra de la Demanda with its offshoots, and by the Serrania de Cuenca; on the south by the Sierra Morena; and on the west by various minor ranges which link together the three more or less parallel chains of the Sierra de Grédos, Sierra de Guadalupe and Sierra Morena. Three great rivers, the Douro, which traverses Old Castile, with the Tagus and Guadiana, which respectively drain the central and southern regions of New Castile, flow westward into Portugal, and finally reach the Atlantic; while the Ebro, which rises in the north of the kingdom, skirts the north-eastern frontier on its way to the Mediterranean. These rivers are described under their own names.
The climate of Old Castile is healthy, but liable to severe cold and heat. Snow falls early and lies late in the mountains, and there is a heavy rainfall in the north-west. New Castile has a still more rigorous climate, for although the mean annual temperature is about 59° Fahr., the summer heat in the valleys is peculiarly oppressive, and the highlands are swept by scorching or icy gales, laden with dust. The rainfall rarely exceeds 10 in. in a year.
In both the Castiles the central plateau has a naturally fertile soil, for after rain a luxuriant vegetation appears; but drought is common, owing to the insufficient volume of the rivers, and the failure of the Spaniards to extend the fine system of irrigation which the Moors originated. Certain districts, indeed, in which a layer of heavy loam underlies the porous and friable surface, are able to retain the moisture which elsewhere is absorbed. Such land is found in Palencia, and in the Mesa de Ocaña, where it yields abundant crops; and many of the northern mountains are well wooded. But vast tracts of land are useless except as pasture for sheep, and even the sheep are driven by the severe winters to migrate yearly into Estremadura (q.v.). The normal Castilian landscape is an arid and sterile steppe, with scarcely a tree or spring of water; and many even of the villages afford no relief to the eye, for they are built of sunburnt unbaked bricks, which share the dusty brownish-grey tint of the soil. Especially characteristic is the great plain of La Mancha (q.v.).
The transformation of Castile from a small county in the north of what is now Old Castile into an independent monarchy, was one of the decisive events in the reconquest of Spain from the Moors. The successful resistance offered by Asturias to the invaders had been followed by the liberation of Galicia and Leon, when Ferdinand I. of Castile (1035–1065), by his marriage with Sancha, widow of the last king of Leon, was enabled to unite Leon and Castile in a single kingdom, with its capital at Burgos. New territories were annexed on the south, until, after the capture of Toledo in 1085, and the consequent formation of a New Castile, the kingdom comprised the whole of central Spain. Thenceforward its history is inseparable from that of the whole country; and it is therefore described in full, together with the language and literature of Castile, under Spain (q.v.).
Castilian, which is the literary language of Spain, and with certain differences, of Spanish America, is spoken in Old and New Castile, Aragon, Estremadura, and the greater part of Leon; in Andalusia it is subject to various modifications of accent and pronunciation. As there is little, if any, difference of racial origin, character and physical type, among the inhabitants of this region, except in Andalusia, and, to a less extent, in Estremadura, the Castilian is justly regarded as the typical Spaniard. Among the Castilian peasantry, where education and foreign influence have never penetrated deeply, the national character can best be studied. Its intense pride, its fatalistic indolence and ignorance, its honesty and its bigotry, tempered by a keen sense of humour, are well-known characteristics. Apart from the peasant class, Castilians have contributed more to the development of Spanish art and literature than the inhabitants of any other region except, perhaps, Andalusia, which claims to be regarded as supreme in architecture and painting. Of the two great Spanish universities, Alcalá de Henares belonged in all respects to Castile, and Salamanca rose to equality with Paris, Oxford or Bologna, under the purely Castilian influence of Alphonso X. (1252–1284).
For a general description of Castile and its inhabitants, antiquities, commerce, &c., see Castilla la Nueva, three illustrated volumes in the series España, by J. M. Quadrado and V. de la Fuente (Barcelona, 1885–1886), and the Guia del antiguo reino de Castilla, by E. Valverde y Alvarez (Madrid, 1886), which deals with the provinces of Burgos, Santander, Logroño, Soria, Ávila and Segovia. For the history, see in addition to the works cited under Spain (section History), Cronicas de los reyes de Castilla, by C. Rosell (Madrid, 1875–1877, 2 vols.); Coleccion de las cronicas y memorias de los reyes de Castilla (Madrid, 1779–1787, 7 vols.); and Historia de las communidades de Castilla (Madrid, 1897).