Albera Natural Park of National Interest, Catalonia, Spain

The Albera Natural Park of National Interest is located in the northeast of the Alt Empordà region, in the area of the Sierra de l’Albera included in the municipalities of La Jonquera, Espolla and Rabós. The Albera Natural Park of National Interest is a high quality ecological and landscape unit where you can see the transition between the species of the Pyrenees and the most typically Mediterranean; all inserted in an area dominated by the metamorphic rocks of the Pyrenees, shales and slates.

It consists of two well-differentiated sectors, one in the west, that of Requesens-Baussitges and the east of Sant Quirze de Colera-Balmeta separated by the area of the famous Coll de Banyuls.

The Requesens-Baussitges sector has the wettest and highest areas, with a forest cover of almost 100% and with extraordinarily varied vegetation with cork oaks, holm oaks, chestnut trees, oaks, beeches and the alpine meadows of the culminating area. The Requesens area includes the headwaters of the Anyet River with splendid riverside vegetation with ash, willow and alder trees. The Baussitges area includes the upper valley of the river Orlina where the easternmost beech populations on the peninsula persist.

The Sant Quirze de Colera-Balmeta sector is structured around the important monastery of Sant Quirze de Colera, a true jewel of Catalan Romanesque art. It is already an area of fully Mediterranean characteristics, secularly punished by forest fires. The vegetation is dominated by sparse cork oaks, shrubs and bushes. In this place the last populations of Mediterranean turtle of the Iberian Peninsula subsist.

Albera massif
The Sierra de l’Albera, is the main eastern foothills of the Pyrenees. The Sierra de l’Albera is a mountain range located between the plains of the Empordà and Rosselló. Its ridge marks the dividing line of the Alt Empordà to the south, with the counties of northern Catalonia of Rosselló and Vallespir. It extends from the Coll del Pertús to the Mediterranean Sea, between the Costa Vermella and the north of the Costa Brava, between the towns of Algiers and Cervera. The east of the Albera is considered a sub-region of Roussillon called La Marenda.

It is one of the last foothills of the Pyrenees, although the low altitude and erosion of the mountains make them have very different characteristics from those of the central axis of this mountain range. It culminates in Puig Neulós (1,256 m). Other outstanding peaks are Puig dels Pastors (1,167 m), Puig dels Quatre Termes (1,156 m) and Pic de Sallafort (992 m).

From 1659 onwards, following the Treaty of the Pyrenees, the ridge forms the border between the states French and Spanish.

The place name Albera comes from the Latin Alberia (‘white’, applied to an area). The name first appears in 844 under the term Alberiæ. It emphasizes the use of the plural one in Latin, in French (Les Albères, false orthographic plural to adapt the Catalan term or Latinism?), As well as in the North-Catalan denomination, perhaps to interfere by the French (mountain range of the Alberes).

Albera Natural Park
The territory of Sierra ampurdanés satisfied, since 1986, the Natural Area of National Interest Albera, consisting of two distinct sectors: one west, the Requesens and Baussitges, and an Oriental of Sant Quirze de Colera and La Balmeta, separated by the Banyuls pass.

This natural setting allows you to observe the transition between the species of the Pyrenees and the most typically Mediterranean, in a terrain of metamorphic rocks such as shales and slates.

The highest areas have a varied vegetation, with cork oaks, holm oaks, chestnuts, oaks, beeches and alpine meadows. As it gets closer to the sea, the mountain range loses vegetation and is dominated by sparse cork oaks, bushes and scrub.

In terms of fauna, the last populations of Mediterranean turtle in the Iberian Peninsula survive in the Sant Quirze de Colera and La Balmeta sectors. The Albera cow, an autochthonous breed, lives in the forest in total freedom.

In Roussillon, the Maçana forest has also been a protected nature reserve since 1973.

History Background
The need to protect some of the ecosystems of the Sierra de l’Albera is already in a territorial plan drawn up by the Generalitat de Catalunya in 1931. But it was not until 1986 that the Catalan Parliament declared certain lands on the southern slope of the mountain range, in the northern sector of the Alt Empordà, a Natural Site of National Interest.

The protected area amounts to 4,207 ha (includes 969 ha of nature reserves and 742 ha of the attached reserve of Sant Quirze de Colera. The Natural Park includes within its perimeter two partial nature reserves. The first, at the head of the Orlina, with an area of 395 ha, its purpose is to protect the beech and oak groves between the Coll dels Emigrants and the Pic de Sallafort, the easternmost of the southern slopes of the Pyrenees, the second between the Sant Quirze valley and The headwaters of the Valleta stream, with 580 ha, are intended to protect the herpetological fauna, specifically the Mediterranean turtle, it was expanded in 1987with 680 ha outside the perimeter of the Natural Park, at the southwestern limit. On the northern slopes of the mountain range, in French-administered territory, the Bosc de la Maçana Nature Reserve is a protected area, between the Puig dels Quatre Termes and the Sallafort peak.

The Spanish Historical Heritage Council has selected the candidacy of the Mediterranean Slope of the Pyrenees, which includes the cultural and natural landscape of the Albera massif, as a candidate to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Natural heritage
The heritage of the Sierra de l’Albera is exceptional. In a relatively small space there is a wide variety of environments, with such emblematic species as the Mediterranean turtle, in an environment where human populations have left their mark from the Neolithic to the present day.

Vegetation
The Requesens-Baussitges sector has the wettest and highest areas, with a forest cover of almost 100% and with extraordinarily varied vegetation with cork oaks, holm oaks, chestnut trees, oaks, beeches and the alpine meadows of the culminating area. The Requesens area comprises the headwaters of the Anyet river with splendid riverside vegetation with ash, willow and alder trees. The Baussitges area includes the upper valley of the river Orlina where the populations of Beech persist easternmost of the peninsula.

The Sant Quirze de Colera-Balmeta sector is already an area of fully Mediterranean characteristics, secularly punished by forest fires. The vegetation is dominated by sparse cork oaks, shrubs and bushes.

Fauna
The last Mediterranean turtle populations in the Iberian Peninsula survive in this place. The great variety of the other species of the herpetological fauna (amphibians and reptiles) stands out: frogs, snakes, lizards, lizards, etc.

More than 200 species of birds have been detected. Of the fish, special mention should be made of the common trout and the mountain barbel. The diversity of mammals in the Natural Park and its area of influence is remarkable, 44 species have been counted, a number that represents almost 75% of all mammals in Catalonia.

The Albera cow is a native breed, endemic to the area, semi-wild.

Hydrology and geology
The Llobregat d’Empordà, the Anyet, the Torrelles stream and the Orlina, which descend perpendicularly from the highest peaks of the Albera, generally have a continuous stream of water. In its final stretch, the Llobregat d’Empordà receives the waters of these three rivers shortly before joining the Muga, the main river in the basin. The streams in the eastern sector already have a marked torrential character, the Garriguella stream descends to the Aiguamolls de l’Empordà system. The Valleta stream and the Garbet, Colera and Portbou torrents die directly into the sea.

One of the most important hydrological elements of the Albera are the ponds. They are small depressions in the land where rainwater accumulates, you can find about thirty of them and they are of great ecological interest. Some store water year-round, while others, most, dry out during the summer. The one with the largest extension, Gros de la Jonquera lake, occupies an area of 3.5 ha. The basic characteristics of the geology of the Sierra de l’Albera are those of the metamorphic rocks of the Pyrenees, shales and slates. The area with the most geological interest is the one in the vicinity of the Puig d’Esquers, in the municipalities of Llançà and Colera.

Landscape
The western sector, basically made up of two large estates, Requesens and Baussitges, has the wettest and highest areas, with a forest cover of almost 100% and extraordinarily varied vegetation: from bottom to top we find cork oaks, holm oaks, chestnut trees, oaks, mixed deciduous forests (maples, blades, elms, moixeres, etc.) and the meadows of the culminating area. The riparian vegetation, on the banks of the Anyet and the Orlina, with ash, willow and alder trees, also stands out. The eastern sector, the area of Sant Quirze de Colera-Balmeta, has more Mediterranean characteristics, with bushes, scrub and cork oaks in the lowlands and holm oaks in the highlands. The third sector is the foothills of Alberera or Aspres de l’Albera, the intermediate area between the mountain range itself and the Empordà plain.

Main Attractions
The main places of interest in the Albera are the megalithic monuments, the monastery of Sant Quirze de Colera and the castle of Requesens, as historical and cultural heritage. On the other hand, as a natural heritage, it is worth mentioning the Albera Turtle Reproduction Center, the lakes of La Jonquera and the French nature reserve of La Maçana.

The megalithic Albera
On its southern slopes there is one of the most important concentrations of megalithic monuments in the Mediterranean basin, there are four major categories of dolmens, corridor tombs, Catalan gallery, simple dolmen, cist with mound and menhirs, with a chronology between the Neolithic middle and the Calcolitic (3,500 / 1,800 BC) we find them located in flat areas, on hills and hills, at an altitude of 100 m and 460 m high and with an orientation to the south and southeast.

The Albera in the Metal Age
The bronze industry appears in the 2nd millennium, originating in the countries of the eastern Mediterranean, where it gradually enters the Neolithic communities. The model of pastoral and funerary life persists, several funerary cavities have been discovered, Roc del Napolità (la Jonquera) and Roc d’en Xuliman (Cantallops) Cau Coniller (Espolla) of the ancient Bronze Age. From the end of the Bronze Age (900-600 BC) we find the Necropolis of Vilars (Espolla).

The feudal Albera
In the 10th century, the first castles appeared, such as Castrum Bertini (in 948) in La Jonquera or Castrum Miralias (in 974) in Llança, all located at dominant points. There is also a rich heritage of pre-Romanesque and Romanesque art, the style of the High Middle Ages, when the settlement in the Albera was consolidated.

Within the area, the most notable monument is the Benedictine monastery of Sant Quirze de Colera, dating from the end of the 9th or beginning of the 10th century. Remains of the original building remain. At the beginning of the 10th century it was destroyed and replaced by a new one which was consecrated in 935. This building has a basilica floor plan with three naves and a transept, a barrel vault and a triabsidal head with a semicircular apse, modified in the 11th century. The western wing is from the s. XII – XIII, the House of the Abbot is of the s. XI XV. The complex is surrounded by a fortified enclosure of which there are still a tower, walls with loopholes and moats. The cloister retains only two semicircular arches supported on a capital. Currently this jewel of Catalan Romanesque art is in the process of restoration so it can only be visited externally.

Not far from the monastery is the church of Santa Maria de Colera from the s. XII presents / displays a semicircular head with pointed vault. Also noteworthy are the churches distributed by the municipal terms of: Sant Climent Sescebes: Santa Fe dels Solers from the 8th-9th centuries with a trapezoidal head. – Espolla: Sant Martí de Baussitges del SX, with a square head; Sant Genis d’Esprac from the 12th century; Sant Pere dels Vilars from the 10th century with an outdated semicircular head and Sant Miquel de Freixa from the 16th century. XI with semicircular head. – Llançà: Sant Genis del Terrer from the 10th century with an outdated semicircular head, Sant Martí de Vallmala from the 16th century. XI with trapezoidal head and Sant Silvestre de Valleta of the s. X with semicircular head. – Cholera: Sant Miquel de Colera from the 12th-13th centuries, with a semicircular head.

La Jonquera: Sant Martí del Forn del Vidre from the 10th century with the trilobed head, Sant Jaume de Canadal from the 10th century, Sant Pere Pla a l’Arca from the 10th century with a semicircular head overhanging with opus spicatum, Santa Llúcia, the current building dates from the s. XII-XIII, Santa Maria de Requesens del s. XI of two naves and two semicircular apses, was transformed into a farmhouse in the s. XVIII, the portal of the s. XII moved to the chapel of the castle restored in the s. XIX. The original castle of Requesens was built in the 11th and 12th centuries. Of the medieval building only a few bastion locks, a square tower and part of the upper door remain. It was almost completely renovated at the end of the s. XIX by its owner Mr. Tomàs de Rocabertí Dameto count of Peralada. In the same estate of Requesens, on the banks of the Puig Neulós, there is an interesting snow pit dating from 1779, although it was rebuilt in 1992.

Albera Turtle Reproduction Center
It is a facility managed by the organization Amics de la Tortuga de l’Albera (ATA) which is linked to the Natural Park. It is located in the sanctuary of the Virgen del Camp, in Garriguella. It has been created with a view to the reproduction and conservation of the Mediterranean turtle, an endangered species. Starting from individuals who have always lived in captivity, donated by individuals, their breeding is carried out and new individuals are released into their natural habitat. The Center also has specimens of other species of turtles, basically from the Mediterranean basin. Diverse information on the Albera is also given.

Estanys de la Jonquera
It is an area of small ponds and ponds of 30 ha. It is located at the southern end of the municipality of La Jonquera, near the municipalities of Cantallops and Capmany. Gros Lake (3.5 ha) is the only one that has water all year round, while the others – Petit Lake, Baix Lake, Terra Negra Lake, Figa Lake and Els Ullastres – can dry out. -if in dry and hot summers.

During times of migration, many birds find rest and food, especially those that have to cross the Pyrenees in a northerly direction on northerly days. In addition, the presence of a stable body of water makes the area a favorable place for the reproduction of many other animal species, especially amphibians. 115 species of birds, 23 mammals and 24 reptiles and amphibians have been observed and cataloged in the ponds. This area is protected by the General Urban Plan of La Jonquera and is included in the Plan of areas of natural interest (PEIN), approved by Decree 238, of 14 December 1992.

Forest of the Maçana
It is located on the northern slope of the Albera, in the municipality of Algiers (Roussillon), in French territory. It is an interesting ecological reserve, protected as a nature reserve. Located just 5 km from the sea, it is located between 600 and 1,150 m above sea level and has an area of 300 ha. It consists mainly of beech (Fagus sylvatica) and holm oak (Quercus humilis). It has not been exploited since 1850 and contains specimens over 300 years old. In addition to the purely botanical interest, the natural processes of life and death of trees favor the presence of an extremely rich and varied invertebrate fauna: 1,256 species of beetles have been found in an area of only 15 ha.

Cultural heritage
The Sierra de l’Albera, which has the lowest necks in the Pyrenees, has always been a place of passage between the peoples and cultures of Europe and the Iberian Peninsula, but also a place of human settlement. On its southern slopes there is one of the most important concentrations of megalithic monuments in Catalonia, with a chronology between the Middle Neolithic and Chalcolithic (3500-1800 BC). In the municipality of La Jonquera, the dolmens of Canadal, Mas Baleta, Els Mesclants, El Pedreguer and the dolmens and menhirs of Els Estanys stand out; in Espolla, the dolmens of the Cabana d’Arqueta —one of the largest in the Albera—, the Font del Roure, the Arreganyats and the Barranc —with a roof slab with sculpted engravings—, the menhir of Castellar or the hallstatic necropolis of the Vilars, and in Rabós, the dolmens of Coma de Felis, Comes Llobes, Solar d’en Gubert or the menhir of Mas Roquer. Nearby, in Sant Climent Sescebes, there is the remarkable dolmen of La Gutina and themenhir of the Murtra or Gentile Stone.

The Panissars and Pertús passes, both in the municipality of La Jonquera, are the most passable passages in the whole mountain range, crossed by important paths since time immemorial. On the border with France are the ruins of the old monastery of Santa Maria de Panissars (11th century), which served as a road hospital; Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered vestiges of the Roman road and large blocks of stone that have been identified with the remains of Pompey’s trophies on the Via Domitia – Via Augusta (1st century BC).

There is a rich heritage of Romanesque art, the style of the High Middle Ages, when the population of the sector was consolidated. Within the area of the place, the most notable monument is the old Benedictine monastery of Sant Quirze de Colera, documented since the tenth century, which remains the magnificent basilica church and remains of the cloister, monastic outbuildings and fortifications; near it is the old parish of Santa Maria de Colera, also Romanesque, all within the municipality of Rabós, in the valley of Sant Quirze. We should also mention the hermitage of Santa Llúcia (12th-13th centuries), formerly the parish church of Sant Miquel de Solans), the church of Sant Julià dels Torts (12th-13th centuries) and the interesting pre-Romanesque example of Sant Pere del Pla de l’Arca (10th century), in La Jonquera. The old parishes of Sant Martí de Baussitges (10th century) and Sant Genís d’Esprac (12th-13th centuries), pre-Romanesque and Romanesque, respectively, in Espolla; or the hermitage of Sant Quirc and the late Romanesque parish of Sant Julià (13th-14th centuries) in Rabós d’Empordà.

In the municipality of La Jonquera, strategically dominating the hills of the Sierra de l’Albera, there are the remains of the castle of Rocabertí, of a noble lineage linked to the county of Peralada that played a prominent role in the history of Catalonia. They also owned the nearby castle of Requesens, south of Puig Neulós, which was renovated at the end of the 19th century in the fanciful way typical of the so-called architectural romanticism, which Viollet Leduc had put in vogue in France; near it is the sanctuary of Santa Maria de Requesens (18th century), a center of popular devotion. A third castle in the district was that of Canadal, of which there are notable fortifications from the 14th-15th centuries. We can admire beautiful examples of popular architecture and stately homes, such as the Royal Post Office, Ca l’Armet and Can Laporta, in the castle of La Jonquera.

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