The main attraction of the landscape of Andalusia centres on its impressive contrasts: mountains and beaches, deserts and salt flats, plains and countryside where Mediterranean crops alternate with pastureland. Andalusia's contrasting landscapes, geographical situation and varied climate mean it can boast a huge array of flora and fauna, including birds, mammals and reptiles.
Andalusia's countryside will conquer the heart of the most daring travellers, all those who want to take active advantage of its geographical situation, or who prefer to delight in its most hidden spots. It is sure to win you over.
Andalusia is the meeting point of two continents, Africa and Europe, as well as the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.
It is located at the south of the Iberian Peninsula and is the southernmost point of Europe. Its northern frontier is marked by the Sierra Morena Mountains, which separate the Castilian plain to the north and the Guadalquivir River basin to the south. To the west, the Guadiana River separates Andalusia from Portugal in the province of Huelva..
To the south, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean wash the shores of Huelva and Cadiz provinces, while the Mediterranean meets the coast in the provinces of Cadiz, Malaga, Granada and Almería. In the east, its frontiers are marked by the Mediterranean coast of Almería and the Levante area of eastern Spain. Covering 87,268 km², Andalusia is Spain’s second largest Autonomous Region
The Guadalquivir River has created a fertile valley which shares its name. Along with one of its tributaries, the Genil, it is Andalusia’s fundamental physical axis. From its source in the Sierra de Cazorla Mountains to the East, through to its mouth in the west alongside the marshes of the Doñana National Park, the Guadalquivir is a source of life for the landscapes it crosses.
50% of Andalusia is mountainous terrain and a third of its land area is over 600 meters above sea level. It has an extensive high plateau and 46 peaks reaching over 1,000 meters. Sierra Nevada, in the heart of the Penibética Range is home to the region’s highest peaks – Mulhacén and Veleta, over 3,400 meters.
Prehistory and Ancient History
The revolution of the Neolithic Ages, the discovery of agriculture, the move from nomadic to sedentary lifestyles, all came to Europe from Africa via what is now known as Andalusia.
This axis of influence was completed with the movement from East to West, from the Mediterranean world into the Atlantic, starting with the revolution of metalwork and the arrival by sea of colonizing peoples from the East. This convergence of fertile land, metallurgy and mining would produce the Tartessian phenomenon. This mysterious, long-disappeared civilization inhabited the south of the Iberian Peninsula from the Bronze Age and constituted Western Europe’s first monarchy. Rome took an interest in this region, realizing that it was an open door to the threat from Carthage. Its legions appeared here for the first time in the 3rd century BC.
The exuberant province, Roman Betis, would form part of this great civilised world for seven centuries, providing the empire with metals, wine, olive oil, wheat, philosophers and the two first Roman emperors born outside the Italian Peninsula: Trajan and Hadrian. Other peoples were to appear from the North. From the far bank of the Rhine, the Vandals made their way down and arrived in the year 411. They settled in the Guadalquivir Valley and in north Africa, uniting the coasts of southern Europe and northern Africa for fifty years. Before they were forced out by the Visigoths, they would give a new name to this southern end of Europe: Vandalusia.
From its arrival in the year 711, Islam would constitute a prodigious period for this part of the world. For a long period of time the Cordoba Caliphate was the most sophisticated state in Europe. For eight centuries, the Moors brought new agricultural techniques, botanical and scientific knowledge, poetry and intellectual development.
The Christian monarchs in northern Spain took advantage of its political decay, accelerating the Re-conquest. Cordoba fell in 1236, followed by Seville in 1248. The Kingdom of Granada was the last bastion, conquered by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492. That same year, Columbus set sail from an Andalusian port, Palos in Huelva province, to discover America. The economic and political centre of gravity in the world now shifted.
An Andalusian city was to be the focus of this crucial moment, reaching its maximum splendour for 150 years, becoming the place where “Europe’s heart beat”. Seville was the nerve center for the Spanish empire; its port received ships loaded with gold and silver from the Americas, which in turn was minted and set out for distribution to other European countries. Later, Cadiz would continue Andalusia’s protagonism in relations with the Americas. Another Andalusian town, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, came to be both beginning and end of the first round-the-world journey.
The history of Andalusia in more recent times is linked with a convulsive 19th century, which began with the War of Independence and the passing of the first Spanish Constitution at the Court of Cadiz in 1812. Attempts at modernization and industrialization, massive exploitation of mining resources, spectacular increases in exports of wine and olive oil are the most noteworthy factors in an economic situation which resisted change and remained anchored in agriculture.
The 20th century
The 20th century opened with ideas of regeneration and was soon imbued with the optimism of the 1920s. Nevertheless, persistent social instability came to a head in the Civil War of 1936 and all its consequences. After the rapid economic and social transformation of the 1960s and 70s, democracy was established and Andalusia was constituted as an Autonomous Region in 1981, with the “Junta” (Regional Government) as its main governing body and its parliament the supreme representative instrument for a population now standing at around eight million.
Nature and Landscapes
The diversity, expanse and ecological wealth of Andalusia bring together the highest peaks of the Iberian Peninsula in Sierra Nevada, large areas of wetland, dense, shady forests, volcanic deserts and all but untouched areas of coastline.
Andalusia has a huge network of Protected Nature Areas, covering around 18% of the land area, designated as Nature Areas, Nature Reserves and National Parks, making this the Spanish region at the head of the list in terms of environmental heritage protection.
The majority of these areas consist of Nature Reserves. In addition to these is the emblematic Doñana National Park, which has the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation. Nature Reserves are located in mountainous or woodland areas, and areas of coast such as Cabo de Gata in Almería.
At the Nature Reserves in Grazalema, Sierra de las Nieves and Sierra Bermeja there are examples of Spanish Fir forest that are unique in the world. Those designated as Nature Areas are mainly wetlands, smaller than the reserves, but of huge importance in terms of flora and fauna, especially bird life.
Other, smaller protected areas, which are also of great importance, are nature sites. Their interesting variety takes us from the wonderful limestone formations of the Torcal in Antequera, to Tabernas, Almería, the only desert in continental Europe.
The coast is another area of Andalusia’s countryside with special personality. It stretches for more than eight hundred kilometres with many different areas of beaches.
From the Coast of Almería, the Tropical Coast of Granada province, the Costa del Sol in Malaga province to the Costa de la Luz in Cadiz and Huelva provinces, their increasing environmental credentials, along with the quality and warmth of the waters and the ever-present sun, have made them a favorite destination for travelers from all over the world.