Friday 4 November 2011

The Sierra de la Nieves is surrounded by a belt of nine villages

11:54 |

The Sierra de la Nieves is surrounded by a belt of nine villages, all of which are bound by common characteristics and history that have served to create a region with a strong local identity within the province of Malaga.
Situated in strategic locations, much of their charm is derived from the architecture of their old village centres, which is based on the Arabic model. The visitor can best appreciate the villages by losing himself in their winding, maze like streets and admiring their whitewashed houses. The arrival of the Christians saw the introduction of large squares and straight streets. As a result, in addition to fountains and plants, these mountain villages still retain the typical low walls built to level out the land and facilitate acess to houses built on slopes.

As far as fauna is concerned, the Sierra de las Nieves boasts a number of indigenous species of great importance, as well as being a key port of call on the migratory routes of many birds.
Numerically speaking, the invertebrates are the largest group to be found in one area. One such creature worthy of special mention by virtue of both its peculiarity and its heavy dependance on the Spanish fir for its survival is the small butterfly known as the Dioryctria.
Fish such as barbel, bogue, rainbow trout, carp and black bass will delight anglers in locations such as the River Verde reservoir in Istan, where they co-exist alongside amphibians such as the San Antonio frog, the running toad and the speckled newt.
A wilder, more exotic touch is provided by reptiles such as the freshwater tortoise, the snake and the snub-nosed viper, as well as Iberian birds of prey, notably the golden eagle, the tawny vulture, the goshawk, the sparrowhawk and the peregrine falcon, while bats are the most significant of the cave dwellers. However, standing proudly on the mountain peaks, pride of place among all of these species goes to the mountain goat.
The Biosphere Reserve
Locations rich in natural beauty, ecosystems to be found nowhere else in the world and the habitat of extremely rare animal species as the mountain goat. These were just a few of the reasons that led UNESCO to declare the Sierra de la Nieves Biosphere Reserve on the 15th June, 1995. Proof of the importance of UNESCO's MAB programme was provided by the award of the prestigious Prince of Asturias Harmony Prize in 2001.
This living showcase, a model of co-existence between man and nature, encompasses both the Natural Park itself and the surrounding area, a total of 93,930 hectares. It consists of the entire municipal area of the villages of Alozaina, Casarabonela, El Burgo, Guaro, Istan, Monda, Ojen, Parauta, Tolox, Yunquera and part of Ronda.
Its geological complexity means that the area is home to a number of sharply contrasting landscapes. So, on the one hand we have the white limestone rock of the Sierras Blancas, karstic formations, teeming with canyons, caves, galleries and potholes, and on the other, the red of the Sierra Bermejas. The former is home to two of the deepest potholes in Andalusia which are also among the largest in Europe: GESM and El Aire.

Apart from its unique geographical relief, the characteristic that best typifies this International Reserve is its rich flora. The combination of different climatic conditions that prevail here mean that it is home to a variety of species, ranging from sub-tropical examples such as the palmetto and the arbutus to forests or confiers. Spanish fir groves, mountain gall oaks and laburnums.

However, star billing, botanically speaking, in this mountain range (and, indeed, pride of place overall, along with the mountain goat) must go to the Spanishg fir. Its conical form and dark green colour make it unmistakable among the multitude of other species to be found in the region, which include a wide variety of pines, the yew tree, the holm oak, the cork oak and a number of roiver-bank species, not forgetting the mountain gall oak. Colour and beauty are provided by the flowers that grow in the mountains, such as the peony, the mountain rose, the foxglove, the orchid, the iris and the narcissus.

The Spanish Fir
The pinsapo, as it is known in Spanish, is a conifer belonging to the fir tree family whose origins date back to the end of the last glacier period and which is considered the oldest of all the indigenous Mediterranean firs. The Sierra de la Nieves is home to the largest concentration of this botanical treasure to be found anywhere in the world. This ancient tree, whose cross shaped branches were once carried as amulets during Corpus Christi processions, is notable for its characteristic pyramidal form, its greyish, slightly cracked bark and its smallm stiff leaves.
A number of curiosities surround this beautiful botanical species, whose varieties include the blue Spanish fir, so called in reference to the bluish hue of its leaves, and the candelabra variety. In fact, it is even thought that the masts of many of the vessels that made up the Spanish Armada weere built from this highly valued wood.
The Snow Sellers
In one profession could be said to have typified the Sierra de la Nieves for centuries, then it would be that of the snow seller. This arduous job began at the end of the winter, when teams of men would spend several days on the highest peaks gathering snow in panniers before taking it to pits, where it was pressed and compacted to form ice. The pits were then covered up until summer, when muleteers with their beasts of burden would transport the ice in large blocks to be sold.
The ice, which was used both to conserve food and medication and to make ice creams, was considered a luxury item and provided an important source of commercial and economic activity in the area. The visitor can still find restored ice pits in the villages of Yunquera and Tolox.
The Queen Of The Peaks
The most typical and representative of all the living species that inhabit the Sierra de la Nieves is without doubt the mountain goat, an animal that teetered on the brink of extinction in the mid XX century, when its numbers shrank to just 20, all of which inhabited the Ojen area.
It was for this reason that the species was granted official protection, the area being declared a National Hunting Reserve in order to facilitate the animal's recovery.
Today, the population comes to some 1,500 goats, the animal is the most prized and diifcult to attain of all Spain's big game prey, not to mention one of the rarest species in the whole world, not being found outside of Spain.
Such is the importance of the animal and the extent to which it is associated with this region that attractive metal statues of this impressive beast can be found both at Puerto Rico viewpoint in Ojen, the viewpoint in Refugio de Juanar and near the health spa in Tolox.

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