Castile and León (Castilla y León in Spanish) is the largest region of Spain, covering an area of 94,223 km² (36,380 sq mi), slightly more than Portugal or Hungary, and about the same as the U.S. state of Indiana. It is also the largest region in all the European Union. The autonomous community was created in 1983 through the union of Castilla la Vieja ("Old Castile") with León.
Most of the region is covered by the Meseta Central, a vast plateau with elevations ranging from 610 to 760 m. It is drained by the Douro, the third longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. Due to its elevated and dry terrain Castile and León is, along with Castilla-La Mancha, the most sparsely populated region in Western Europe outside Iceland. Additionally, 40% of its population of 2.5 million live in one of the provincial capitals, leaving very few people in the countryside.
The vast natural expanses of Castile and León hold a great diversity of animals and is a privileged habitat for rare mammals such as the Western Spanish Ibex, the Iberian Lynx, the Iberian Wolf, and the European Brown Bear. Large birds of prey are numerous and include the Griffon Vulture, the Cinereous Vulture, the Egyptian Vulture, the Golden Eagle, and the endangered Spanish Imperial Eagle.
Historical Castile was originally confined to the region of Burgos in the 9th and 10th centuries, then extended to the modern provinces of Avila, Palencia, Segovia, Soria, and Valladolid with the beginning of the Reconquista in the 11th century. It is the cradle of the Castilian language, now usually simply known as 'Spanish', the world's second-most-spoken language by number of native speakers after Mandarin.
The former Kingdom of León, which corresponds to the provinces of Leon, Zamora and Salamanca, evolved from the early medieval Kingdom of Asturias, from which it split in 910. It was united with the Kingdom of Castille in 1230. Leonese and Asturian are a group of mutually intelligible dialects that make up the Astur-Leonese languages. Since the 17th century Castilian Spanish has progressively advanced and replaced Leonese. Nowadays, there are less than 50,000 native speakers of Leonese, who live mostly along the border with Asturia and Galicia.
The kingdoms of Castille and León were at the forefront of the Reconquista during the 12th and 13rd centuries, the golden age of medieval castles. For this reason, and owing to the conserving dry environment and the absence of subsequent wars in the region, there is a remarkable number of exceptionally well preserved stone castles in the southern provinces of Castile and León, particularly Ávila and Valladolid.
Famous people from Castile & León include (chronologically): Queen Isabella I of Castile, King Philip II of Spain, the former Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez, the actress Lola Herrera, and the former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
Castilian-Leonese cuisine is known for its grilled or roasted meats (asados), its stews (guisos), its sausages (embutidos), cheeses, and wines. The local cuisine makes abundant use of veal, pork, morcilla (black pudding), cabbage, and legumes (green beans, chickpeas, lentils, haricot beans).
Noteworthy dishes include cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig), cordero/lechazo asado (roast lamb), hornazo (meat pie with pork loin, spicy chorizo sausage and hard-boiled eggs; specialty of Salamanca and Ávila), olla podrida (pork and beans stew; specialty of Burgos), and sopa de ajo (Castillian garlic soup).
There are nine appellations (Denominaciones de Origin or D.O.) of wine in Castile and León: Arlanza, Arribes, El Bierzo, Cigales, Ribera del Duero, Rueda, Tierra de Leon, Tierra del Vino de Zamora, and Toro. All of them except Bierzo are located in the Duero basin.