The Pyrenees stretch for 450 km along the border between Spain and France. The foothills have always been vibrant, and there are still many settlements surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and pastures. But the Pyrenees themselves are still among the mountain systems practically uninhabited by man.
Such preservation of their natural environment is given by the very structure of these mountains. Although hiking in the highlands can bring many wonderful discoveries, it requires training and stamina.
Compared to other mountain systems in the world, the Pyrenees are fairly young mountains, but they were formed before the Alps, about five hundred million years ago there were already significant peaks, and the intense formation of the alpine system and some parts of the Andes had just begun. In the next two hundred million years the mountains were severely eroded and then swallowed up by the world’s oceans. About two hundred and twenty million years ago, a new stage in the development of the Pyrenees began: then the continental plates of Africa and Europe collided in the area of the modern Iberian Peninsula.
A mountain fold gradually began to form, bringing back to the surface the ancient mountains that stretched between the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean Sea. Usually the Pyrenees mountain system is divided into three major regions: the Atlantic (Western), Central (Aragonese) and Eastern (Mediterranean) Pyrenees.
Territorially today, the Pyrenees region includes the following departments in France: Aude, Ariege, Upper Garonne, the Upper (Eastern) Pyrenees, and the Atlantic Pyrenees. In Spain it is the Basque Country, Navarra, Lerida, Huesca, Girona and Catalonia.
In the Atlantic Pyrenees, belonging to France and Spain, the mountains gradually rise from west to east. The Pyrenees of Aragon belong to Spain. This is their highest part, here are the highest peaks of the region Aneto (3404 m), Monte Perdido (3348 m), Vignmal (3298 m). The most accessible slopes of the Aragonese Pyrenees lie in Spain. The Somport Pass (1632 m) connects Spain with France. A little further south, in the Huesca area, parallel to the main ridge are the Sierra de Guerra mountains, the southern border of the Pyrenees. From the south, the Pyrenees of Aragon are almost always flooded with sun, the mountains here are steep and precipitous, and between them stretch small wooded valleys. The eastern, or Mediterranean Pyrenees, ridges and massifs, the slopes of which are covered with pine forests, hollows, belong mainly to Spain and partly to France. Here they are separated by the dwarf, entirely Pyrenean state of the Principality of Andorra.
The history of human exploration of the Pyrenees region goes back some 13,000 years. Obviously, the main impetus for the settlement of the territories at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains by ancient people was the softening of the climate. Ancient man lived in karst caves, and obtained everything necessary for his life mainly by hunting, as evidenced by rock paintings. Gradually, the climate of the region became warmer and warmer and eventually people were able to engage in farming and viticulture.
Many historical events are associated with the Pyrenees. Here lived the Celts, the Roman Empire reigned, the first Gallic states arose, there were battles with the tribes of Germanic-barbarians, from here moved to the Apennines Hannibal, but to avoid simply enumerating these and other events, we recommend turning over the pages of history of France, Spain and Andorra separately. They have a great deal to do with the Pyrenees.
The border between France and Spain along the Pyrenees is not just a line on the political map of the Iberian Peninsula. On different sides of the mountain range, the climate and biologic-soil conditions are different. In the northern foothills the soils are very fertile, while in the south they are drier.
The Pyrenees are still one of the most impregnable natural barriers today. The main problem for climbers is that most of the Pyrenees peaks are about the same height (1600-2500 m), which complicates both hiking and the laying of railways or roads (this is why there are still very few in the Central Pyrenees). Those rare passages that were formed naturally in the solid wall of the Pyrenees are not so easy to cross. They can only be crossed by squatting, as strong winds rage through them, knocking the traveler off his feet and also showering him with small pebbles. Modern glaciation (total area of about 40 km2) is concentrated in the Central Pyrenees.
In the depths of the Pyrenees there are large reserves of minerals, especially coal and iron. Although at one time there were attempts to organize the mining, mines began to appear, the economy of France, Spain and Andorra had little to gain from this. The moment came at the end of the 19th century, when these countries began to develop tourism, and it was a success. The first steps in tourism development were taken by France in the 19th century. During the Napoleon I rule (1804-1815) thermal springs were discovered in the Pyrenees. Thermal springs were gradually formed around them during the Second French Empire (1852-1870) and the Third Republic (1870-1940). They have not lost their popularity to this day. Almost all mountain ranges of the Pyrenees today are occupied by ski resorts, and Andorra is simply a ski resort. The Pyrenees have many karst caves with stalactites and subterranean lakes, some with prehistoric rock paintings. Undoubtedly, the most interesting place in the Pyrenees is the French National Park of the same name, which stretches for nearly 100 km. The park also includes the Pyréné Occidental Reserve, and on the Spanish side it is adjoined by the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. Among the inhabitants of the region are pine martens, otters, wild boars, foxes and badgers. The area is home to many rare animals and endemics, of which the most famous is the Pyrenean bear. Perhaps most popular is the city of Lourdes in the French part of the Pyrenees, which is visited annually by up to five million pilgrims, and about a hundred thousand of them are sick people hoping for a miraculous cure. The Catholic Church acknowledges the authenticity of 66 such cases. Here in the nineteenth century lived Bernadette Soubirou, canonized in 1933, who was the Virgin Mary. On the spot where the girl first saw Our Lady, the Church of Notre Dame de Lourdes was built.
- A mountain system in southwestern Europe.
- Countries where the Pyrenees are located: France, Spain, Andorra.
- Languages: French, Spanish, Catalan.
- The largest cities: Toulouse, Biarritz, Bayonne, Montauban, Perpignan – France; Bilbao, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Saragosa, Gerona – Spain; Andorra la Vella – Andorra.
- The largest rivers are Garonne, Adur, Averon.
- The main airports are international airports in Toulouse, Biarritz (France), San Sebastian, Pamplona, Zaragoza and Barcelona (Spain); Andorra has no airport of its own.
- Length: 450 km.
- Width: up to 110 km.
- Highest point: Peak Aneto, 3,404 m.
- Highest waterfall: Great Cascade of Gavarni (422 m) on the Dal de Pau.
Climate and weather
- Predominantly temperate, humid, in the southeast – subtropical, Mediterranean.
- The average January temperature is 4-8°C up to 500-600 m, while the highest mountain ranges range from -8 to -10°C; in July, the average temperature is near 18°C in the western foothills and up to 24°C in the east; near the snow line (2,400-2,800 m above the northern slopes and up to 3,000 m in the south) is about 5°C.
- Rainfall ranges from 1500-2400 mm per year on the northern slopes to 500-750 mm on the southern slopes.
- In most of the Pyrenees rains the whole year round, in the eastern part there is a summer drought.
- Mineral resources: iron ore, lead, zinc, marble.
- Industry: woodworking, paper.
- Agriculture: growing of potatoes, maize, fruits, grapes.
- Services: tourism.
- Toulouse: Capitole (City Hall), the Romanesque Basilica of Saint-Sernin, the Cathedral of Saint-Etienne, the Augustinian Museum.
- Biarritz: St. Eugenie Church, St. Martin Church, Hôtel du Palais. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral, Asian Art Museum, Sea Museum and Chocolate Museum.
- Lourdes: Notre Dame de Lourdes Church, the ancestral home of St. Bernadette, and the Museum of Wax Figures.
- Rocamadour: Chapel Notre Dame Cathedral, Museum of Religious Art.
- Pamplona: Museum of Religious Art (Gothic Cathedral), Citadel, San Saturnino Church, Taconer Park, Museum of Navarra, San Fermin festival (July 6-14), described by E. Hemingway in his novel “Fiesta” (“And the Sun Rises”).
- Zaragoza: the Basilica of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, the Holy Column, the Cathedral of the Catedral de San Salvador, and the Aljafería Palace.
- Herona: Plaza de Catalunya, Roman fortress wall, Bishop’s Palace, San Nicolau Church.
- Figueres: Theatre and Museum of Salvador Dali.
- National Park of the Pyrenees (France).
- Andorra: House of the Valleys, the seat of government since 1707, and the Church of St. John.
- Cave of Altamira, 30 km from Santander (Spain).
- Reserve Neuviel (France).
- National parks Aygues-Tortes, Ordesa y Monte Perdido (Spain).
- It is not a fact, but a myth, and yet; the name was given to the Pyrenees by Princess Pirena, who was dishonored by the hero Hercules. Out of despair she withdrew into the forest on the mountainside, where she was mauled by wild beasts. After defeating Geryon, Hercules came to the place, buried the remains, and his cry of despair, “Pirena-a!!!!” – was echoed so mightily that it was heard from the foothills of the mountains to the very tops.
- Not far from Lourdes, in Château d’Artagnan, in 1613, Charles de Batz-Castelmore, Count d’Artagnan, whose life and adventures made him the prototype of the protagonist of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, was born into a family of a poor gentleman. True, he actually served as a musketeer later than his literary double, not in the era of Cardinal Richelieu, but under Mazarini.
- Rock paintings in the Pyrenees were first discovered in the 19th century. There are over 7,000 karst caves in the mountains. Hundreds of them contain rock carvings made in terracotta paint or scratched in stone. Some caves are, in fact, Stone Age art galleries. The Altamira Cave in Spain is called the “Sistine Chapel” of primitive art and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walls of its so-called Hall of Animals depict bison, bulls, deer, wild horses and wild boars.
- Toulouse is one of the most beautiful cities in the Pyrenees region. The people of Toulouse are proud to call it “the pink city” – bricks of the old buildings really have a unique shade: in the morning it looks pink, during the day – red, and in the evening – purple.
- Andorra lives mainly from tourism business (about 80% of GDP). In addition, this country has fairly mild tax laws. Those wishing to move to Andorra has always been in abundance, so the country has restrictions for foreigners. Only hereditary Andorrans could engage in business, newcomers do not have the right to obtain citizenship, and therefore a license for the business. Recently, these restrictions have been eased – now to become a citizen of Andorra, it is enough to live in the country for 20 years. However, one cannot count on dual citizenship.