Sierra Nevada occupies a considerable area of the provinces of Granada and Almeria. The Natural Park, with an area of 174,849 hectares, of which 85,883 are National Park, also includes 60 municipalities in the natural regions of the Marquesado del Zenete, Lecrín Valley, western Sierra Nevada, the River Nacimiento, and, finally, the Alpujarras, which is the most extensive area and was the last Moorish redoubt of the Kingdom of Granada.
From the Granada plains you can see the immense elongated mass of snow-capped peaks, which is Sierra Nevada, in the distance. From here, little would you imagine its hidden treasures. Behind these apparently bare rocks, there is a surprising diversity.
Sierra Nevada has been a Biosphere Reserve since 1986 and a Nature Reserve since 1989 and its high mountains were declared a National Park in 1999. The management of this protected area is complex, as this massif supports many human activities. In recent years, conservation measures such as closing down and restoring the landscape of the highest road in Europe have been undertaken. On this road the circulation of vehicles is not now allowed so now visitors can walk it and enjoy the solitude of the summits.
. Sierra Nevada is home to the highest peak in the Iberian Peninsula (Mulhacen 3,482 mts), and on which traces of the continent's most southerly glaciers can be seen.
The Cerro del Almirez (2.517 mts) is a mountain shaped like a truncated pyramid, a mortar turned upside down, truly the best viewing point of the entire Sierra Nevada. To the south are Alders and Maples on the north.
The Chullo (2.610 mts) is the highest in the province of Almeria and the first of the Grenadines. Its slopes begin in the first villages of the highlands of the Marquesado where there is a crater 1,500 meters in diameter. This pass has been prepared for cross country skiing and for vehicles crossing the mountains.
The following passes, Lobo(2412 mts), Collado del Puerto (2,621 mts), Jerez(2873 mts), Trevélez (2,798 meters), are also natural passes to cross on foot between the southern Alpujarras and the Marquesado to the north.
The Picon de Jerez (3,088 meters) is located further north, it ends with the plateau of the Marquesado and the Camarate estate where bulls roam freely. It gives way to the Lavadero de la Reina, a continuous repetition of waterfalls.
La Alcazaba (3366 m) is the third in altitude but the most inaccessible. There is an impressive glacier, Cañada de Siete Lagunas, between this summit and its neighbour Mulhacen. Between Altera and Hondera, water flows through a host of small lakes and in summer you can always see mountain goats drinking from its waters. 125 years ago, after much preparation, a geodetic link between Europe and Africa was made and by triangulation, the maps of both continents were linked.
On the slopes of Mulhacen is one of the largest lagoons in the mountains, Lake Caldera.
On the north side of Mulhacen, the Laguna de la Mosca is the source of the river Genil. These peaks of over three thousand meters separate the northern Atlantic side, hydro logically speaking, from the southern or Mediterranean side.
On the next summit, Veleta, the second highest (3,327 meters), there is a mountain corrie on its northern side that would make any expert dizzy. On its north-west side, is the ski resort with 50 km of ski slopes and also the Alpujarras, a haven for travelers with its unique architecture, agricultural and rural culture with their powerful vestiges of Andalucian heritage. But perhaps the most important legacy of Arab rule, are the irrigation techniques based on an intricate network of channels that criss-cross the hillsides collecting and transporting water to irrigate the gardens of the Alpujarras. Traditional Andalucian architecture has one of its finest expressions in Las Alpujarras with its cubic, flat roofed houses, the "terrao" made of launa that makes them waterproof and the conical chimneys topped with capping slabs. The walls are made of stone, settled with mud and whitewashed in most urban areas, while on isolated farmhouses they leave the stone exposed. The roofs are covered with slate slabs laid on chestnut beams.
Here desolate gullies, the result of past and present erosion, scrape a landscape that seems more akin to the deserts of the Middle East. Traditional architecture has found a great solution to adapt to the parched landscape of this harsh environment, the buildings have been excavated into the slopes of gullies creating cave houses, a type of troglodyte dwelling that are an excellent example of energy efficiency.
Agriculture is the main resource of the mountains with cereals, vines and olives being the most common crops. In the more protected and better watered valleys, cherry, apple, walnut and hazelnut trees are abundant. There are also magnificent chestnut forests, adapted and naturalized since the sixteenth century, occupying wetter lands next to streams and in ravines. Mining operations also have a great tradition and iron is extracted from the Alquife deposits.
Fauna and Flora
Sierra Nevada stands out for its vegetation, having the most important endemic flora in Europe. This is largely due to its Altitudinal range and low latitude. Thanks to this variety and its landscape and fauna, in 1986 it was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, two years later a Natural Park and on December 17, 1988, half of the Natural park was granted the maximum protection of National Park, becoming the twelfth in Spain.
Traces of the continent's most southerly glaciers can still be seen on its peaks and thanks to its location, large size and especially to its geological and ecological history, Sierra Nevada is a mountain area of contrasts in the colours and composition of the rocks, the shapes of its peaks, slopes and valleys, the variety and adaptations of its unique flora and the distribution of its forests.
- Fauna. Such a varied vegetation and environmental conditions, result in a diverse and original invertebrate fauna, with some 300 endemic species in the Sierra.
The mountain goat is the most strikingly typical species of this protected area’s fauna, here dwelling the largest population of this endemic species in Spain.
Birds are the most visible; especially mountain species like Alpine Accentors, Northern Wheatears, Skylarks and Black Redstarts and on the crags, red “Roqueros”, Terns and Golden Eagles.
- Flora. The high altitude of Sierra Nevada, allows it to have five layers of vegetation giving it the richest flora of any Mediterranean mountain area. Thus, the lower slopes of the “wadis” or dry gullies of the Alpujarra, have thickets of Oleander and thermophilic bushes. Mediterranean Oak and bushes dot the middle mountains, being more abundant in Bayarcal, Beires and Pitres. Chestnuts alternate with Oak, Fig, Cherry and Walnut trees. Notable amongst the flora are the violet and the Sierra Nevada poppy.