Pyrénées - Mont Perdu

This outstanding mountain landscape, which spans the contemporary national borders of France and Spain, is centred around the peak of Mount Perdu, a calcareous massif that rises to 3,352 m. The site, with a total area of 30,639 ha, includes two of Europe's largest and deepest canyons on the Spanish side and three major cirque walls on the more abrupt northern slopes with France, classic presentations of these geological landforms. The site is also a pastoral landscape reflecting an agricultural way of life that was once widespread in the upland regions of Europe but now survives only in this part of the Pyrénées. Thus it provides exceptional insights into past European society through its landscape of villages, farms, fields, upland pastures and mountain roads.

The Committee inscribed the site under natural criteria (vii) and (viii). The calcareous massif of the Mount Perdu displays classic geological land forms, including deep canyons and spectacular cirque walls. It is also an outstanding scenic landscape with meadows, lakes, caves and forests on mountain slopes. In addition, the area is of high interest to science and conservation. Concerning cultural values, the Committee inscribed the property on the basis of criteria (iii), (iv) and (v): The Pyrénées-Mont Perdu area between France and Spain is an outstanding cultural landscape which combines scenic beauty with a socio-economic structure that has its roots in the past and illustrates a mountain way of life that has become rare in Europe.

The transboundary site is centred on the peak of Mont Perdu that rises to 3,352 m in the Pyrenees mountains. The Pyrenees represent the tectonic collision point of the lberian and West European plates.

The most geologically outstanding portion of the Pyrenees is the calcareous massif centred on Mont Perdu. On the north (France) side the landscape is much more abrupt with three major cirques, while on the southern slopes (Spain) Mont Perdu (or Peridido) has three radiating spurs with deep canyons that gradually slope to the lberian Piedmont.

There are also climatic differences between the northern and southern slopes. The French side is humid whereas the Spanish slopes are dryer. Climate also varies also from the west (maritime influence) to the east (coastal Mediterranean climate).

The location of the Pyrenees between two seas, their geological structure and the climatic asymmetries result in a rich mosaic of vegetation types. Five vegetation types have been described: sub-Mediterranean, collinean, montane, subalpine and alpine.

There is a rich plant diversity (3,500 species and subspecies) and endemism (5%). The site supports many wildlife species typical of the Pyrenees. Mammals include the marmot and ungulates such as the Spanish ibex, of which there are only three female individuals. The insectivorous Pyrenean desman occurs in lowland elevation. The avifauna, reptiles, amphibious species and coleoptera are very rich.

There are human settlements in the area since the Palaeolithic (40,000-10,000 BC), as shown by sites such as the Anisclo and Escuain caves, the Gavarnie stone circles and the Tella dolmen. The permanent settlements entered history in documents of the Middle Ages. The massif has played a major role in the communication between Spanish and French communities bordering the site.

Several thousand years of human settlement has caused many changes to the natural environment of the site. Many large predators and carnivore species have been extirpated or severely reduced in number. In recent time some species have been reintroduced such as the marmot. The original forest has been removed by cutting or burning although it is now recovering. There has been extensive livestock grazing over much of the area although this is no longer permitted in the Ordessa National Park. The centuries-old transhumant system of grazing continues within the area, with frequent movement of herds across the French-Spanish border. One historic route accessible on foot connects the two sides and was a branch of the original route of Santiago de Compostela.

Humankind has contributed to the moulding of these landscapes and its traces are to be seen everywhere, thanks both to the material remains and to memory. Despite the difficult living conditions imposed by altitude, human beings are established here and provide what is above all a natural property with a meaning.

The Mont-Perdu forms the pivot of a geographical space crowned by the Tres Serols, which is the centre of the world that unifies, according to traditional mythologies, the Heavens and the Earth. It results from the coming together of two ancient comments and continues to serve as a frontier which acts both to define and to link all together in a symbolical sense that is in itself impressive It is, moreover, clearly defined in physical terms, providing its soils with specific characteristics in terms of geology, relief. hydrology, and climate which have had direct effects on the relationship of humankind with this environment.

Nature favoured the early appearance of humans in these regions, first as nomads and then as permanent settlers. Their settlements were organized so as to be able to make use of the resources of not only the valleys and their slopes but also of the high pastures, the woodland, the rock walls, the passes, the waters, and the mineral resources. There has been human settlement here since the Upper Palaeolithic period (40.000-10.000 BC), as shown by sites such as the Añiscio and Escuain caves, the Gavamie stone circles; and the Tella dolmen. The permanent settlements entered history in documents of the Middle Ages; they were situated on the slopes of the mad and in the valleys around it, formed by the hydrographic network of the rivers Ara, Yesa, Aso and Vellos, Yaga, Barrosa and Cinca, Neste d'Aure, Gaves de Gavamie, and Héas.

Here are to be seen tracks and roads, bridges, houses, and hospices (such as the espitau/hospitales of Gavamie, Bujarelo, Aragnouet, Parzan, Héas, and Pineta Humans and their flocks influenced the flora of pastures and woodland in many ways. The use of high pastures such as those of Gaulis or Ossoue is remarkable testimony to this system of transhumance

The valleys of Mont Perdu and their passes have saved as the means of contact between communities on either side, who have more in common with one another than with the communities on the plains below them. As a result there is a long-established juridical and political system to regulate them that has long been independent of central governments.


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