León (lā-ōnˈ) [key], historic region and former kingdom, NW Spain, E of Portugal and Galicia, now part of Castile–León. It includes the provinces of León, Salamanca, and Zamora, named after their chief cities. It is sparsely populated, and the climate is harsh; winters are long and cold, and the summers are extremely hot and often accompanied by drought. Northern León, which is crossed by the Cantabrian Mts., has coal mines, forests, and mountain pastures; the rest of the region is a dry plateau drained by the Duero River and its tributaries. León has long been noted for its linen manufactures. Early in the Christian reconquest, the kings of Asturias gained control over León (8th–9th cent.); their territory, of which the city of León was made the capital in the 10th cent., became the kingdom of Asturias and León. The power of the kings also extended over Galicia and part of Castile, Navarre, and the Basque Province, but it was too weak to prevent the rise of the independent kingdoms of Navarre and Castile. León was conquered (1037) by Ferdinand I of Castile, on whose death (1065) the kingdoms again became separate. Reunited in 1072 under Alfonso VI, León and Castile were again separated in the 12th cent. and remained so until Ferdinand III accomplished the final reunion in 1230.
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