Sierra Morena

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For other uses, see Sierra Morena (disambiguation).
Sierra Morena
P n despenaperros.jpg
View of the Sierra Morena range in the Despeñaperros area
Highest point
Peak Bañuela
Elevation 1,332 m (4,370 ft)
Coordinates 38°22′N 3°50′W / 38.367°N 3.833°W / 38.367; -3.833
Length 450 km (280 mi) E/W
Width 75 km (47 mi) N/S
Location Sierra Morena.PNG
Location of the Sierra Morena
Location Provinces of Ciudad Real, (Castile-La Mancha) and Córdoba, Jaén, Sevilla and Huelva (Andalusia)
State/Province ES-CT
Range coordinates 38°22′N 3°50′W / 38.37°N 3.83°W / 38.37; -3.83Coordinates: 38°22′N 3°50′W / 38.37°N 3.83°W / 38.37; -3.83
Orogeny Variscan orogeny

The Sierra Morena is one of the main systems of mountain ranges in Spain. It stretches for 450 kilometres from east to west across the south of the Iberian Peninsula, forming the southern border of the Meseta Central plateau and providing the watershed between the valleys of the Guadiana to the north and the west, and the Guadalquivir to the south.

Its highest summit is 1,332 m high Bañuela.[1] Other notable peaks are Corral de Borros 1,312 m and Cerro de la Estrella 1,298 m.

The name Sierra Morena has a strong legendary reputation in Spanish culture and tradition, with myths about bandits (Los bandidos de Sierra Morena), a giant snake (El Saetón de Sierra Morena)[2] and a child brought up by wolves (Marcos Rodríguez Pantoja),[3] among others.[4] This range is also mentioned in the famous Mexican song "Cielito Lindo".


The Sierra Morena stretches for 450 km in an E-W direction from the high course of the Guadalmena River in the Sierra del Relumbrar until northwestern Huelva Province, extending into Portugal. The system is the result of the uplift produced by the pressure of the northward-moving African Plate.[5] It is made up of hard Paleozoic rocks such as granite and quartzite, as well as softer materials such as slate and gneiss.

Its name, roughly meaning 'dark range', is likely derived from the dark color of some of the rocks and vegetation of the ranges that make up the mountainous system.[6] It is also mentioned as Sierra Mariánica in some documents.[7] Formerly it was a border area, a vast wilderness with little population and its mountain passes were important for the communication between Andalusia and Central Spain.

The peaks of the ranges are not very high on average, in fact Sierra Morena's highest point is the lowest among the mountain systems of the Iberian Peninsula. They are, however, very consistent in altitude, averaging between 600 and 1,300 m all along the system. Since they form the southern edge of the Meseta Central, the Iberian Central Plateau, the northern Sierra Morena ranges barely rise above the level of the surrounding plateau in most places. Nevertheless, the Sierra Morena looks like a true mountain range seen from the Baetic Depression in the south with impressive southward-facing slopes and gorges. Located within the province of Jaén, the Despeñaperros, an abrupt canyon created by the Despeñaperros River, with sheer walls over 500 metres high, is the natural path for crossing the Sierra Morena into Andalusia from the north of the peninsula.


The main ranges of the Sierra Morena system from east to west are:

In history and literature[edit]

The ranges of Sierra Morena have valuable deposits of lead, silver, mercury, and other metals, some of which have been exploited since prehistoric times. The ancient Iberians used the mountain passes as a passage between the high plateau in the north and the Guadalquivir basin.[15]

The bleak Sierra Morena mountains were also notorious in former times for being a haunt of bandits and highwaymen.[16] The Nuevas Poblaciones de Andalucía y Sierra Morena administrative division was started in 1767 during the reign of Charles III of Spain in order to populate the mountainous zone.[17] As a consequence the area around La Carolina was settled with farmers that included German, Swiss and Flemish families. One of the goals of the project was to have safe stopover points for carriages in the desolate region.[18]

The Sierra Morena also appears in the novel "Don Quixote." After Sancho Panza suggests the mountains as a refuge from the Holy Brotherhood after Don Quixote frees a group of galley slaves, the two escape into the Sierra Morena. In the mountains, Quixote contemplates the burdens of knighthood. [19] In Voltaire's satire Candide, the main characters stop there on their escape from Lisbon (chapter 9-10).

Nikolay Karamzin's 1793 prose "Sierra-Morena", where the Russian writer tells of a love story between the author and young Elvira, is also dedicated to the mountain range. The forbidding landscape of Sierra Morena was also the setting for the majority of the eerie and supernatural goings-on in Jan Potocki's "The Manuscript Found in Saragossa" written in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.


The Sierra Morena is one of the last habitats of the endangered Iberian Lynx. Certain sectors of Sierra Morena's are protected in natural parks and other protected areas, such as:

Main ranges and features[edit]

Pass to Sierra Morena at Calatrava la Nueva 
View of Nacedero Valley, Sierra Madrona 
La Cimbarra waterfall 
Sierra de Aracena above Alajar village 
The Yeguas River that separates the two ranges of Sierra de Montoro and Sierra de Cardeña 

See also[edit]


External links[edit]