Astirias, a former province of N. W. Spain, bordering on the bay of Biscay, bearing the title of principality, and still commonly known by its ancient name, although since 1833 it constitutes the province of Oviedo; area, 4,088 sq. m.; pop. in 1867, 588,031. The surface is irregular and hilly, the country being intersected by offshoots of the Cantabrian mountains, a chain varying in height from 6,000 to 10,000 feet. The scenery is picturesque and wild, and the coast is almost everywhere bold and high. The rivers are few and generally unimportant, the Nalon being the chief. The province is rich in coal, and in the north many mines are worked; the coal is shipped from Aviles and Gijon. Maize, wheat, potatoes, and fruits are the chief productions. The horses of Asturias are celebrated for strength and endurance. The inhabitants are of simple habits, retaining many old Spanish customs and peculiarities of dress that have elsewhere disappeared. They are proud of the freedom of their race from the admixture of Jewish and Arab blood found in the other provinces, and affect a superiority to other Spaniards. The herdsmen (raqueros) among them form a separate and nomadic class, spending the winter on the coast and the summer in the mountains. - Asturias is famous in Spanish history as the refuge and stronghold to which the Christian Visigoths and their leaders fled when the Moors had gained possession of nearly all the rest of the peninsula, and had routed the Christian army in the battle of the Guadalete, in 711. The Christians held the province until, under the leadership of Pelayo, they gained a victory in 718, and, aided by the Frankish successes elsewhere, gradually drove back the Moors. Pelayo founded the kingdom of Asturias, over which he and his descendants ruled till 757, after which they were called kings of Oviedo. In 914 the court was transferred to Leon, that large district having been generally freed from Moorish rule and joined with Asturias. The title king of Leon was now borne by the reigning sovereign, and the history of Asturias became identical with that of the larger territory.
The title of prince of Asturias was created for the Spanish heir apparent by John I. in 1388, at the wish of the duke of Lancaster, whose daughter the prince was about to marry; and the crown prince of Spain was thus designated until the expulsion of the Bourbon dynasty in 1868.