Altare, from altos, high; some ancient etymological guesses are recorded by St Isidore of Seville in Etymologiae xv.
Fruits, grain and medicinal plants are obtained in great abundance, especially where the soil is largely of volcanic origin, as in the Altos and Sierra Madre.
The court became an important literary centre, the king himself composed a Livro de Montaria, so far unedited, and his sons are rightly described as Camoens as " inclyta geracdo, altos I of antes."
The mean elevation is greatest in the west (Altos of Quezaltenango) and least in the east (Altos of Guatemala).
A few of the streams of the Pacific slope actually rise in the Altos, and force a way through the Sierra Madre at the bottom of deep ravines.
The soil is almost a pure sandy gravel with a subsoil of varied nature, but principally altos, gravel, clay or sand.
A better idea of this region is conveyed by the native name Altos, or highlands, although that term includes the northern declivity of the Sierra Madre.