The Geological Park of the Pyrenees: SOBRARBE GEOPARK20/08/2012

The Geological Park covers the entire region of Sobrarbe. This territory is located in the north of Spain (Aragón, Huesca), on the southern slope of the Pyrenees bordering France to the north. There are 19 municipalities under a single regional government body. 

From north to south, this territory measuring 2,202 km² is characterized by three main geomorphologic units. In the upper summits more than 3,000 meters from the axis of the Pyrenees chain, the oldest rocks in the territory are found (500 million years old). These, along with the Mesozoic rocks, make up the most significant calcareous massif in Europe. Three geological aspects stand out: the old mining exploitations (coal, iron) which have been deserted, the traces of the ice activity during the last Quaternary glaciations and the karstic system found in such well-known caves such as “Gruta de Casteret” or the “Sima S-11 de Armeña”.

In the centre of the region, the luminous valleys of the Cinca and Ara rivers (600 m in altitude) open up over the softest Tertiary materials (marls, sandstones). It is the area most studied by geologists as it enables a step by step reconstruction of the formation of the Pyrenees through the relationship between the tectonic impulses, which erected the Pyrenean building, and the marine sedimentation in the Eocene basin.

With an altitude of less than 1,500 m, the Olsón, Sevil and Balcés mountain ranges mark the southern border of Sobrarbe. Continental rocks which formed after the withdrawal of the Tertiary sea at the end of the Eocene period and during the Oligocene period, when the formation of the Pyrenees ended, are found here. A large variety of fossils, from Nummulites beaches to salt water crocodiles can be found in these rocks. To the southwest of the territory, the limestone mountain range of Guara provides an incomparable karstic landscape, infinitely lined with canyons where adventure sports are mixed with environmental education activities.

For more than 100 years, Sobrarbe has attracted geologists from many different countries interested in discovering the intimate structure of the Pyrenees. Each season, primary school children to university students as well as oil industry professionals (who find an excellent analogue of a productive oil system in the Eocene marine basin) visit the Sobrarbe territory. All of them benefit from the concentration of different geological environments in one small territory with easy access, a benign climate which makes field work possible all year round, and above all, the friendly welcome by the residents who offer a complete and quality tourism infrastructure.

The same abrupt relief that has kept the territory isolated and has made its economic development difficult, has preserved a rich and exclusive natural and cultural heritage, without hardly any changes, to today. In order to guarantee the conservation of this heritage, 50% of the surface area of Sobrarbe has been declared protected area. There are more than 25 natural spaces on the NATURA 2000 network. The Posets – Maladeta Natural Park, the Sierra de Guara Canyons Natural Park, and in particular the Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park (which is designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Site and Man and Biosphere Reserve) and is of special interest.

The GEOPARK project has enabled its residents to look towards the rough, rocky substrate, which until now was not very well known and less valued, and discover a source of sustainable economic development. The government of the Sobrarbe territory has taken the initiative and created a stable structure –a kind of board of directors – to manage, promote and protect the geological heritage. To guarantee the success of the project, all social forces in the territory (politicians, businessmen, scientists, promoters, citizen associations, etc.) are represented through this board of directors.

With the GEOPARKS work method, the remodelling of infrastructures (museums, information offices) and itineraries (hiking paths, bicycle routes) have begun in order to offer the more than 700,000 annual visitors a wide range of activities related to geology with one main theme: the formation of the Pyrenees (between 84 and 24 million years ago).

An itinerary already exists to discover the basic characteristics of the geology in the territory (explanation brochure and panels) and five bicycle routes have recently been prepared which cross twenty sign-posted geological points of interest. The youngest visitors can have fun while learning interesting facts about the rocks with the aid of a guide-notebook and three dimensional audiovisuals. The 2007 training courses for tourist guides are aimed at livening up the cultural routes with attractive links to the geological environment, because there is no doubt that the culture of Sobrarbe, from the architecture to the character of its people, is deeply influenced by the wild beauty of its landscape.

Ana Ruíz and Anchel Belmonte

Dịch thuật: Thiên Nga-Xuân Đôn