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AFRICA BEGINS AT THE PYRENEES
UNLIKE THE REST OF EUROPE-LITTLE ASPECT OF THE COUNTRY-RIVERS WITHOUT WATER-AFRICAN AND CUSTOMS
VEGETATION MOORISH MANNERS
"AFRICA begins at the Pyrenees."
proverb is a French one, and must therefore be taken with some modifications. For our sprightly neighbours are apt to claim a monopoly of culture and refinement for themselves, and, like the Chinese, to regard other nations as "outer barbarians." Fixing the southern limits of civilisation at the Pyrenees, they would proceed to define it as bounded by the English Channel on the north, the Rhine on the east, and the Bay of Biscay on the west. But, after making all due allowance for national prejudice and self-conceit, the epigram contains a large measure of truth. It expresses with tolerable accuracy the first impressions of the traveller in Spain.
For on crossing the Pyrenees everything is so new and strange that the tourist seems to have passed into a new new country. Elsewhere the characteristic differences of neighbouring nations melt into one another by almost imperceptible degrees. The frontier between France and Belgium, Germany, or Switzerland may be crossed with little or nothing to remind the traveller
continent rather than
that he is entering a new territory. Railways have made international intercourse easy. Commerce has made it profitable. Fashion has made it popular. Germans flock to Paris for business or pleasure. Frenchmen flock to the Rhine, to Baden, to Switzerland, for health or recreation. Italy attracts its yearly crowds of artists, antiquarians, students, and holiday-makers. National peculiarities are thus rubbed off. The various countries of Europe become assimilated to one another. The infinite variety of dress, manners, and customs which used to give such a charm to foreign travel is rapidly disappearing, and European society is being reduced to a dead level, to a monotonous uniformity. But Spain has resisted the influence far more than other countries. It is only recently that railways have invaded her territory. Her roads were so impassable and her hotels so execrable that there was little to attract the ordinary tourist. It needed some courage to encounter the horrors of a Spanish venta, and not a little physical endurance to survive the dislocating jolts of a Spanish diligence. She had no external commerce to lead her own sons abroad or to invite foreigners to settle within her borders. The extension of railways, and the growing commerce of Spain will sooner or later assimilate the Peninsula to the rest of Europe. But at present Europe ends at the Pyrenees.
And Spain resembles Africa or the East in those very points in which she differs from the rest of Europe. The soil has that dry and sterile look with which African travellers are familiar. One may travel for hours over tracts of country in which there is scarcely a living thing to disturb the solitude; leagues upon leagues of bare rock without a particle of soil clinging to their sides; vast undulating plains, treeless and waterless; districts, each as large as an English county, covered with blocks of granite or limestone, like the desert of Sinai. Geologically, as well as in appearance, Spain is but a northern extension of the Sahara. Those who visit Spain, expecting to find exuberant fertility, will be disappointed. There are indeed huertas, which produce their three or four crops a year, and repay the slightest amount of labour by harvests of incredible richness. But these seem like oases in an arid waste. Probably less than one half of the soil is under cultivation. Certainly the general aspect of the country is that of utter sterility and barrenness.
This impression is rendered yet more intense by the numerous wadys, or dry river-beds, which are everywhere met with. Sometimes they are quite dry, and not a drop of water flows down them except during winter storms. More commonly the stream which once filled up a wide channel has shrunk into a streamlet, which trickles amongst the stones and sand-banks in the middle of its channel. It is said that the French troops on entering Madrid in triumph, and seeing the dry bed of the Manzanares, exclaimed, "What, has the river run away too!" This is partly occasioned by the diminished rainfall, partly by the water being drawn off for purposes of irrigation. Rivers which were
once navigable to a considerable distance inland can now scarcely float a barge. The Guadalquivir, for instance, in the time of the Romans was available for ships as high as Cordova; it now only affords a difficult and shallow channel up to Seville. The wide, stony, sandy channels of these shrunken streams add to the desolate aspect of the country.
The vegetation, too, especially of the south of Spain, is African rather than European. Hedges of cactus and prickly pear, thickets of pomegranates in the open fields, plantations of sugar-cane, groves of oranges, and tall feathery palm-trees, give a strange tropical aspect to the scenery. At Elche on the
AQUEDUCT NEAR SEVILLE.
east coast, for instance, it is difficult to believe oneself in Europe. Here are groves of palm trees in wild luxuriance. Flat-roofed Moorish houses stand amidst the giant stems and overarching branches of the forest, which stretches away into the distance as far as the eye can reach. The scene is that of Barbary or of Egypt, and the traveller needs constantly to remind himself that he is in Europe-not in Africa.
The towns and villages, especially in the south of Spain, retain much of their Moorish character. The Moors themselves were indeed ruthlessly