Cirque de Gavarnie

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Photochrom of the Cirque de Gavarnie, circa 1900
Snow on the walls of the Cirque de Gavarnie.

The Cirque de Gavarnie is a cirque in the central Pyrenees, in south-western France, close to the border of Spain. It was described by Victor Hugo as "the Colosseum of nature" due to its enormous size and horseshoe shape causing a resemblance to an amphitheatre.[1] It is located within the commune of Gavarnie, the department of Hautes-Pyrénées, and the Pyrenees National Park. Major features of the cirque are La Brèche de Roland (English: Roland's Pass) and the Gavarnie Falls.

The cirque is 800 m wide (on the deepest point) and about 3,000 m wide at the top.[1] The rock walls that surround it can be as high as 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) above the floor of the Cirque.[1] During the warmer seasons of spring and fall, there are a number of large meltwater falls that spill into the cirque. The largest of these is Gavarnie Falls, the second highest waterfall in Europe. It descends some 422 metres (1,385 ft) over a series of steps before reaching the floor of the cirque.[1]

There are also several passes and clefts between the peaks that form the rim of the Cirque. The largest is La Brèche de Roland, at 2,800 metres (9,200 ft) above sea level.[1] Legend says that its sheer walls were cut into the mountain by the sword of the hero Roland, nephew to Charlemagne.

The cirque, and many others like it in the Pyrenees, was formed by the process of glacial erosion. The Cirque de Gavarnie's uniquely immense size was likely caused by repeated cycles of glacial scraping over millions of years.[1]

A number of rare plants and animals live on the peaks at the upper rim of the Cirque de Gavarnie, protected on both the French and the Spanish sides by national parks. Martagon lillies grow in the pine forests. Saxifraga and other tiny alpine flowers cling to the rock faces. Chamois, a type of mammal similar to goats or antelope, live among the crags.


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  1. ^ a b c d e f Scheffel, Richard L.; Wernet, Susan J., eds. (1980). Natural Wonders of the World. United States of America: Reader's Digest Association, Inc. p. 156. ISBN 0-89577-087-3. 

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Coordinates: 42°41′49″N 0°00′29″W / 42.69694°N 0.00806°W / 42.69694; -0.00806