Grazalema. Sierra de Grazalema is the best preserved nature park of the Spanish Peninsula and boasts the honor of being the first natural park in Andalusia.
Sierra de Grazalema is the best preserved nature park of the Spanish Peninsula with the best record of minimal human impact on its environment. It also proudly boasts the honor of being the first natural park in Andalusia (Cadiz) to be recognized as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1984. The Sierra de Grazalema sits on the western side of the Betic Mountain Range (Cordillera Bética), extending to 51,695 hectares of virgin land between the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga. It rises between 600 and 1600 meters over the surrounding valleys and depressions, offering impressive scenery of contrasting limestone rocks which have morphed into rugged vertical-walled peaks, caves, cornices and slopes, as well as providing an abundant and diverse flora and fauna. Here, the greatest caves of Andalusia, world famous for their prehistoric vestiges, can be found: “Complejo Hundidero-Gato” and “Cueva de la Pileta”.
The mountains of Sierra de Grazalema are the first natural barriers encountered by the storms coming in from the Atlantic, bringing intense precipitation during the winter season and registering the greatest index of rainfall of the entire country. The heavy presence of water leaves behind its tracks in many areas of the Sierra in underground caves (grottos), rivers and precipices, such as the impressive valley of “Garganta Verde” which drops to a depth of 400 meters. However, even with more than 3,000 hours of sun a year and abundant rainfall during the winter, water is rather scarce during the summer season, marking it as the area with the highest rate of registered sunstrokes per year.
Historically, the park was often the battleground for conflict due to it being bordered by the Muslim kingdom of Granada and the Kingdom of Castile during the XIII and XIV centuries. In spite of this, a small concentrated human habitat prospered with much of its cultural inheritance coming from Muslim civilization. To ensure their survival, the towns were uniquely built within parks’ mountain summits and houses were integrated between the slopes, thus completely blending into the landscape without destroying the surrounding environment. This odd cultural trait of closely associating with nature is also commonly shared among the many mountain civilizations that surrounded the Mediterranean, with the custom remaining intact to this day in spite of the centuries passed.
Indifferent to the presence of man, the park continues to conserve an important mass of its typically Mediterranean vegetation: oaks, cork oaks, gall oaks, carob trees and wild olive trees, as well as a magnificent forest of endemic Spanish fir trees sitting at the foot of the Sierra del Pinar. This forest is considered today to be the best preserved and an authentic relic, as it is one of the few that have survived the ice age. The trees, which are grown throughout scattered regions of Europe, are native to the park’s Ronda Mountains. Its fauna includes numerous animals such as the wild boar, the red deer and wild goats. Countless species of bird also make their home here, among which are the royal owl, the Spanish imperial eagle, the golden eagle and the peregrine falcon, as well as other predatory birds, including the largest colony of Europe’s Griffon vultures.
Various information centers regarding Sierra de Grazalema exist as it is necessary to request permission to gain entrance to the Reserve area surrounding the Mountain range, as well as other enclaves of the nature park reserve - including the Spanish fir forest. Visits can only be made during particular times of year and, to ensure the quality of the environment is maintained, a limited number of people are allowed within the park at one time. Also, visitors must sometimes be accompanied by a trained guide.