The natural world around Priego de Córdoba
The Subbetica region in the southeast corner of the province of Córdoba covers an area of 159,190 hectares, and has a population of some 113,000 people, spread over 14 towns and villages. The Andalucian government’s environment agency has declared part of the region a national park, the Parque Natural de las Sierras Subbéticas de Córdoba, an area of major ecological importance and natural beauty, which includes the mountain ranges of Cabra, Rute and the Horconera, near Priego. The park covers an area of 31,568 hectares, uniting the towns of Cabra, Carcabuey, Doña Mencía, Iznájar, Luque, Rute, Zuheros and Priego itself.
The Sierra Horconera is particularly interesting to geologists, with its own flora and fauna, and stunningly varied scenery. Towering above it are the peaks of Bermejo, 1,476 metres high; and the highest mountain in Córdoba province, La Tiñosa , 1,570 metres, which combine to form an impressive limestone massif.
Deep valleys, soaring peaks, and almost vertical rock faces make up a rocky terrain which can be sometimes covered with snow.
The movement many millions of years ago of the earth’s surface, and the subsequent geological changes are responsible for the extraordinary variations to be found in the Sierra de Priego mountain range, the true heart of the Subbética.
From north to south, we can see the cultivation of fruit and vegetables all along the River Zagrilla; and the River Salado, which winds through the dramatic Angosturas gorge, a true natural gateway to Priego. If we trace their course upstream to the national park, we enter the foothills of the Horconera range, and the source of these rivers and others, such as the Genilla and the Tijeras. The river banks conceal a wealth of interesting plants -- a jumble of white and black poplar, willow, elm, ash, tamarisk and wild rose. During the autumn months, they take on the sinuous form of a multi-coloured serpent, with the leaves an array of shimmering greens and yellows.
One of the greatest attractions of the mountains around Priego is the vegetation. There is a difference of almost 1000 metres between the lowest and highest areas, which allows for a huge variety of plants. The species of greatest botanical value are found in areas of over 1,200 metres above sea level; the holm oaks of the lower slopes give way to varieties of rock plants, a cushion of scrub known as Nun’s Pillow or Shepherd’s Bed, and the ever-present thorn bushes. This is where we find the main native plant species of the region, plants which orignally migrated from north and south: in many tucked-away valleys we can appreciate outcrops of rosemary and thyme, so beautiful when they flower, with such an attractive scent.
Of the wildlife in the area, the eagle soars above them all, the queen of the wild sierras, her unmistakeable silhouette tirelessly searching for food. This distinctive bird of prey nests in the steepest cliffs: her neighbours are often the Griffon vulture and the Peregrine falcon, of which there are several nesting pairs in the Subbética.
In the past, the mountains of Priego were the habitat of bears, wolves and other large mammals, as recorded in the hunting diaries of King Alfonso XI. Outside the boundaries of the national park is another equally interesting mountain range, the Sierra de Albayate, whose peaks rise to more than 1,200 metres, and are covered with holm oak, gall oak, wild olive, lentisc, phillyrea, honeysuckle, and juniper.