Sierra Maria Los Velez Natural Park – Almeria
Sierra Maria Los Velez Natural Park Almeria
The Sierra Maria Los Vélez Natural Park is located in the far north of the province of Almería. Despite the aridity of the landscape in Almería, Sierra Maria has a spectacular beauty, especially in winter when its rugged summits are covered with snow.
An extensive and well preserved forest of pines, unique plant species, and over a hundred species of birds are part of the natural heritage of the District of Vélez, also rich in remains of ancient cultures.
In Sierra María there is a wide variety of plant communities. The limestone soil provokes the gully forms, caves, cracks … that allow the existence of different microclimates and biotopes and the development of different forms of vegetation. The flora of the mountain range is also very rich, concentrated a large number of plant species of very restricted distribution.
This region stands out by the lush forests, the best preserved of Almería. Splendid Aleppo pines from old stocking (and known as “old pine”) took the shady of the mountains, contrasting with the browns and sunny spots. In the wettest and more inaccessible sites we can find prepared for pasture oak forests, just as isolated ancient trees.
In the most rugged hills like the one of Gabar there are creeper shrubs, bushes and junipers, while in the limestone peaks and above 1,800 metres the most characteristic and widespread community is the padded brushwood. It is composed of thorny or carry cushion, adapted to the extreme dry conditions and low winter temperatures, such as the blue piorno or rascaculos.
On the rocks you can find some of the most representative floristic elements of the mountain range. In the sunny highlands there are species such as Centaurea mariana, Nepeta hispanica or Sideritis stachydioides, which can only be found in this enclave.
The diversity of habitats present in Sierra María (forests, canchales and rocky, cliffs ,…) allows the presence of a rich and varied fauna which include birds, of which there have been more than a hundred species including sedentary, winter and summer. Stand out the goshawk, the sparrow hawk and the eagle in pine forests. In this mountainous area cut nesting golden eagles, peregrine falcons and owls. Other species typical of cultivated areas are the crested lark, the lark or the meadow pipit.
Some invertebrates are very interesting and exclusive from the Betic Mountains, like the butterfly Parnassius apollo subsp. mariae, or Pseudochazara Hipolyte, only present in the Spanish southeast area.
Among the main economic activities include the use of forest resources (wood, charcoal and resin), which in turn allows for use in spring and autumn livestock (goats and sheep), and others like the extraction of essential oils from aromatic plants. Agricultural activity is low; among the main growing we can find the cereals grown in dry land followed by irrigated fruit and almonds, introduced more than a decade.
Although some farmhouses survive as “Casablanca” and “Alfaguara” the population is concentrated in the nuclei near María, Vélez Blanco, Vélez-Rubio and Chirivel.
The region of Sierra María-Los Vélez has a rich artistic and monumental heritage. Vélez Blanco, headquarters of the Marquis of Vélez, retains one of the most beautiful and representative castles of the Spanish Renaissance: the Castle-Fortress of Fajardo (XVI century). We can also emphasize the church-convent of San Luis, Plateresque style and Mudejar tower.
Built this villa in the Middle Ages, the special layout of the streets is due to its location between gullies and ridges, and to the typical architecture of the houses, square or rectangular and up to three floors. The walls are made of stone and mud while the upper floor is covered with a wooden framework on which to place a jam of reeds and pine boards. Finally the Arab tiles are placed fixing them with mud and straw.
In María we can emphasize the church from the XV century and the Ermita de la Virgen de la Cabeza, where residents go on a pilgrimage in April. Other manifestations of the folklore are the songs of Rosario de la Aurora (Chirivel), the crews of souls (Vélez-Blanco) and meetings of teams (Vélez-Rubio).
There are also in the Natural Park Sierra María-Los Vélez some important archaeological sites, as the Cueva de los Letreros with cave paintings, the Cueva de Ambrosio (Vélez-Blanco) and the Cueva del Gabar.