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Beira, Portugal

BEIRA, PORTUGAL, an ancient principality and province of northern and central Portugal; bounded on the N. by Entre Minho e Douro and by Traz os Montes, E. by the Spanish provinces of Leon and Estremadura, S. by Alemtejo and Portuguese Estremadura, and W. by the Atlantic Ocean. Pop. (1900) 1,515,834; area, 9208 sq. m. Beira is administratively divided into the districts of Aveiro, Coimbra, Vizeu, Guarda and Castello Branco, while it is popularly regarded as consisting of the three sections - Beira Alta or Upper Beira (Vizeu), north and west of the Serra da Estrella; Beira Baixa or Lower Beira (Guarda and Castello Branco), south and east of that range; and Beira Mar or Maritime Beira (Aveiro and Coimbra), coinciding with the former coastal province of Douro. The coast line, about 72 m. long, is uniformly flat, with long stretches of sandy pine forest, heath or marshland bordered by a wide and fertile plain. Its most conspicuous features are the lagoon of Aveiro (q.v.) and the bold headland of Cape Mondego; in the south Aveiro, Murtosa, Ovar and Figueira da Foz are small seaports. Except along the coast, the surface is for the most part mountainous, - the highest point in the Serra da Estrella, which extends from north-east to south-west through the centre of the province, being 6532 ft. The northern and south-eastern frontiers are respectively marked by the two great rivers Douro and Tagus, which rise in Spain and flow to the Atlantic. The Agueda and Côa, tributaries of the Douro, drain the eastern plateaus of Beira; the Vouga rises in the Serra da Lapa, and forms the lagoon of Aveiro at its mouth; the Mondego springs from the Serra da Estrella, passes through Coimbra, and enters the sea at Figueira da Foz; and the Zezere, a tributary of the Tagus, rises north-north-east of Covilhã and flows south-west and south.

Beira has a warm and equable climate, except in the mountains, where the snowfall is often heavy. The soil, except in the valleys, is dry and rocky, and large stretches are covered with heath. The principal agricultural products are maize, wheat, garden vegetables and fruit. The olive is largely cultivated, the oil forming one of the chief articles of export; good wine is also produced. In the flat country between Coimbra and Aveiro the marshy land is laid out in rice-fields or in pastures for herds of cattle and horses. Sheep farming is an important industry in the highlands of Upper Beira; while near Lamego swine are reared in considerable numbers, and furnish the well-known Lisbon hams. Iron, lead, copper, coal and marble are worked to a small extent, and millstones are quarried in some places. Salt is obtained in considerable quantities from the lagoons along the coast. There are few manufactures except the production of woollen cloth, which occupies a large part of the population in the district of Castello Branco. Three important lines of railway, the Salamanca-Oporto, Salamanca-Lisbon and Lisbon-Oporto, traverse parts of Beira; the two last named are also connected by the Guarda-Figueira da Foz railway, which has a short branch line going northwards to Vizeu. The chief towns, Aveiro (pop. 1900, 9979), Castello Branco (7288), Coimbra (18,144), Covilhã (15,469), Figueira da Foz (6221), Guarda (6124), Ilhavo (12,617), Lamego (9471), Murtosa (9737), Ovar (10,462) and Vizeu (8057), with the frontier fortress of Almeida (2330), are described in separate articles. There is a striking difference of character between the inhabitants of the highlands, who are grave and reserved, hardy and industrious, and those of the lowlands, who are more sociable and courteous, but less energetic. The heir-apparent to the throne of Portugal has the title of prince of Beira.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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