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Sierra Nevada National Park

Sierra Nevada, Granada (Spain)

Sierra Nevada is a mountain mass located in southeastern Andalusia, between Granada and Almeria. It is the tallest mountain mass in Western Europe.

Sierra Nevada is a mountain mass located in southeastern Andalusia, between the provinces of Granada and Almeria. It is the tallest mountain mass in Western Europe after the Alps, and its highest summit is the peak of Mulhacen, which reaches 3,482 meters, making it the highest point on the Iberian Peninsula.

A number of rivers flow out of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which spill into the mighty Guadalquivir, Spain’s most important river. Sierra Nevada’s orography is glacial in origin, which has produced a large number of high-mountain lagoons which characterize the region’s mountainous landscape.

In 1986, Sierra Nevada was named by UNESCO as a Bioshere Reserve, and in 1999, a large area of its surface was declared a Spanish National Park, due to the region’s biodiversity and its broad range of endemic wildlife –most notably floral- and its rich and varied natural landscapes.

The Sierra Nevada National Park occupies 86,000 hectares which, together with the 86,000 hectares of the surrounding Natural Park, make up an area of protected land that measures over 170,000 hectares. The Sierra Nevada Astronomic Observatory (2,800 meters tall) is located inside the park, as is Europe’s southern-most ski station.

The name Sierra Nevada has been in use since the 18th century. Creative names previously used include Monte del Aire y del Sol (Mount Air and Sun) and also Sierra de la Helada (Frost Mountains). This natural environment was, during the 16th century, the setting for the Rebellion of the Alpujarras, one of the last clashes between mountain dwelling descendents of the Arabs and the King of Spain’s troops.

Las Alpujarras is a region located on the south side of the Sierra Nevada. It comprises a group of communities that feature highly original architectural and culture characteristics, making this an attractive area for visitors from around the world and from different periods: The famous Washington Irving, author of Tales of the Alhambra, resided here and the writer Gerald Brenan spent a large part of his life, until his death, in Las Alpujarras. He wrote what is nothing less than a reference book on understanding the soul of this region: Al sur de Granada (South of Granada). A required trip for visitors is: to first visit the spa-town of Lanjarón, then the Barranco del Poqueira with its three pueblos blancos (white villages) nestled within the foothills (Capileira, Bubión and Pampaneira), and finally to the area’s highest town, famous for its Serrano ham, Trevélez.

Sierra Nevada has traditionally been an agricultural and livestock farming region. The current economic situation however has favored more its ski tourism (the Sierra Nevada Ski Station is well known given its many kilometers of ski slopes and its mild climate even in winter, which often means it is the first ski station to open its facilities and the last to close them) and eco-tourism, especially in the Alpujarras area.

Sierra Nevada’s closeness to the Mediterranean coast creates broad biological diversity, especially evident in its flora. Here we find vegetation specific to: the low zones, the low-mountain, mid-mountain, high-mountain zones and the summits. Most of Sierra Nevada’s botanic gems can be found beginning at a height of 2,700 meters: manzanilla real, Sierra Nevada narcissus and the estrella de las nieves are native to the region. The estrella de las nieves has come to be the symbol of Sierra Nevada, similar to how edelweiss symbolizes the Alpine region.

The diverse range of fauna found here includes the Spanish ibex, more than 20 species of butterflies and numerous species of birds of prey and insectivorous birds.

Given the success of tourism to Sierra Nevada, in the last few years a number of plans have been produced to develop the ski station and its extension. The mountain mass’s official statuses as a Natural Park and a National Park have so far protected it from development, but heavy corporate pressure constantly hangs over the mountain’s future like the sword of Damocles. Defenders of Sierra Nevada’s ecosystem point out the already gravely threatened state of species such as the Niña de las Nieves butterfly, an endemic species of grasshopper (Baetica ustulata) and a praying mantis that is exclusive to the region (Apteramantis aptera).

New forms of tourism such as hiking, mountain biking, rural tourism, mountain climbing and cross country skiing are helping to maintain a position of respect for the environment, which helps us keep an optimistic outlook on the future of Sierra Nevada.