RIO DE ORO, a Spanish possession on the N.W. coast of Africa. It is bounded W. by the Atlantic, E. and S. by Saharan territory under French protection. The northern frontier, where the protectorate adjoins the territory of the semi-independent tribes south of Morocco, is undefined. The most northerly point claimed by Spain on the coast is Cape Bojador. The southern and eastern boundaries were defined by a FrancoSpanish convention in 1900. The frontier traverses the middle of the Cape Blanco promontory, then runs eastward along the parallel of 21° 20' N. till it meets the meridian of 13° W., whence it turns first N.W. and afterwards N.E., meeting the tropic of Cancer at 12° W. and thereafter runs due N. Forming part of the Sahara, Rio de Oro is nearly waterless. Oases are few and the sparse population consists almost entirely of nomad Arabs and Berbers. They are Mahommedans. In the south is the hilly country called Adrar Suttuf, not to be confounded with Adrar Temur (see Adrar and Sahara). The estimated area of the protectorate is 70,000 sq. m.
The peninsula of Rio de Oro, where is the principal Spanish settlement, occupies the central part of the coast-line in 23° 50' N., 16° W., and is united to the mainland by a sandy isthmus. Its length is 23 m., its breadth 14 to 2 m. and it is on an average about 20 ft. above sea-level. The bay between peninsula and mainland - the so-called Rio de Oro - is 22 m. long, 5 broad, navigable over two-thirds of its extent, with good anchorage in most of the channel, but the bar at its mouth is not always easy to pass in rough weather. The peninsula has very sparse vegetation, except in its southernmost part near Cape Durnford. At the head of the bay is a small island - Isla Herne.
The climate is generally temperate, and not unhealthy except in the autumn. Esparto grass and manzanilla are grown in many places, but European plants are not easily acclimatized. On the peninsula and in the neighbouring country there are many wolves, foxes, hyenas, gazelles, lizards, hares, pelicans and large crows. The natives rear cattle, sheep, camels, and have but few horses. In contrast with the sterility of the land the sea throughout the coast of Rio de Oro abounds in fish, especially cod. The fishing industry is in the hands of the Canary Islanders and of the French.
The estuary between the mainland and the peninsula was taken by its Portuguese discoverers in the middle of the 15th century for a river, and, obtaining there a quantity of gold dust from the natives, they named it Rio d'Ouro (Gold River), Rio de Oro being the Spanish form. At a spot about 50 m. inland from the head of the estuary a Portuguese trading station was established, of which ruins exist, but the activity of the Portuguese was before long transferred to the true auriferous regions of the Gulf of Guinea.
Spain's interest in the Saharan coast dates from the 13th century, but was particularly directed to that part nearest the Canary Islands, a strip of coast over which she now exercises no sovereignty. The site of the fort of Santa Cruz de Mar Pequena, established in 1476, though not identified, was north of Cape Bojador. The protection of the Canary Islanders engaged in the fisheries south of that point occasioned, however, the presence of Spanish warships in these waters, and small trading stations were formed at Rio de Oro, Cape Blanco and elsewhere. To preserve the interests thus acquired, Spain in January 1885 took the territories on the coast between capes Blanco and Bojador under her protection. The year before the HispanoAmerican Company had built a trading station on Rio de Oro peninsula, but in 1885 it was destroyed by the natives. The company renewed its operations, but subsequently ceded its rights to the Transatlantic Company of Barcelona. The extension inland of Spanish influence was opposed by France, which claimed a protectorate over the Sahara. The conflicting claims of the two powers were finally settled by the convention of 1900, which fixed the frontier in the manner stated. The administration is carried on under the control of the captain-general of the Canary Islands.
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