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A comarca (Spanish: [koˈmaɾka], Portuguese: [kuˈmaɾkɐ] or [koˈmaʁkɐ]) is a traditional region or local administrative division found in Portugal, Spain and some of their former colonies, like Panama, Nicaragua, and Brazil. The term is derived from the term marca, meaning a "march, mark", plus the prefix co-, meaning "together, jointly".
Although the English word "county" and its near synonym "shire" have similar meanings, they are usually translated into Spanish and Portuguese as condado, a term[clarification needed] which in the Iberian peninsula only refers to regions historically ruled by a conde (count or earl). However, "comarca" is occasionally used, with examples including the Spanish Wikipedia entry for "comarca" and some translations of The Lord of the Rings (see below).
From the Middle Ages until the 16th century, the comarcas corresponded to the large administrative divisions of Portugal. There were six such traditional divisions: Entre-Douro-e-Minho, Trás-os-Montes, Beira, Estremadura, Alentejo and Algarve, of which the last had the honorary title of "kingdom". In the 16th century, the comarcas started gradually to be referred to as "provinces".
The name "comarca" was then applied to the new administrative and judicial subdivisions of the provinces, created in the 17th century. Each comarca corresponded to the territorial area of jurisdiction of a corregedor, a high-ranking administrative and judicial officer who represented the Crown in the district.
In the 19th century, the comarcas were replaced by separate administrative and judicial divisions, reflecting the implementation of the separation of executive and judicial powers. The new administrative divisions became the administrative districts and the new judicial divisions kept the name comarca.
Nowadays, in Brazil, Portugal, and some other countries of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, the comarca is the basic territorial division in the judicial system. It corresponds to the territorial area of jurisdiction of a court of first instance.
The comarca may correspond to a municipality or group several small municipalities together. Presently, in Brazil, there are 2,680 comarcas. A judiciary organization reform implemented in Portugal in 2014 reduced the number of comarcas from 231 to 23.
According to the new judicial division of 2015, Angola will be again subdivided into 60 comarcas, each with a court of first instance. The courts of comarca will replace the previous provincial and municipal courts.
Comarca is also the name of a suburb of Luanda, the capital of Angola.
The term comarca is used in several regions in Spain.
- In Asturias, the historic division is the conceyu (pl. conceyos, concejo or municipio in Spanish). Currently, there are several comarcas but they are contemporary creations destined to tourism promotions, without administrative or government powers.
- In Cantabria, the comarca is a traditional or historical division, usually identified with the greatest rivers of the region.
- In Catalonia and Aragon, the comarca is a local government area, represented by a member on the comarcal council.
- In the Valencian Community, the comarca is a traditional region with no administrative competences. They are legally referred as homologated territorial demarcations instead of as comarques.
- In Galicia the comarca or bisbarra are traditional divisions of the land that have limited official recognition, but have no administrative relevance. However, the Galician government is attempting to transform the bisbarras into territorial administrative tiers, to create a new regional network proposed to be more balanced and efficient. Galician comarcas also have a comarcal council.
In other places, such as Extremadura, the comarca may simply refer to a loosely defined region.
Because of the comarca's long-standing use, it is sometimes used as the basis for the promotion of tourism, with emphasis on local cultural tradition and history.
In Panama, the comarca indígena is an administrative region for an area with a substantial Amerindian population. Three comarcas (Comarca Emberá-Wounaan, Guna Yala, Ngöbe-Buglé) exist as equivalent to provinces. Two smaller comarcas (Kuna de Madugandí and Kuna de Wargandí) are subordinate to a province and considered equivalent to a corregimiento (municipality).
- Comarcas de Galicia, official site for the management and promotion of Galician comarcas, maintained by the Galician Government (in Galician, English, and Spanish)
- History of comarca divisions in the Catalan Countries (in Catalan)