A guided tour of the Mina de Yeso del Castellon Alto de Galera, the geological, geomorphological and archaeological aspects of the site
Where else can you see the most complete set of fossil remains of the largest mammals to roam Europe during the last 2.5 million years? Nearby is one of Europe’s largest megalithic dolmen sites and an ancient travertine aqueduct. Towns dating back to the Iberian period and villages that have been occupied since the Neolithic dot the landscape that is largely made up of Badlands, a vast depression eroded by rivers and streams during the last 2 million years. This is the Granada Geopark.
The European Geopark week is an annual event to encourage people to appreciate and enjoy the unique features of all the 169 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 44 countries. The event was in its sixth year when Granada Geopark first took part in 2021. The week normally occurs during June and you can expect special guided tours and exhibitions like the Guided tour of the Mina de Yeso del Castellon Alto de Galera.
The Granada Geopark covers nearly 5,000 sq kilometres and comprises the Guadix and Baza depressions, an area that 5 million years ago was one huge lake that drained into the Atlantic Ocean. Now the depressions are surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the Iberian Peninsula, (Macizo Prebético and Sierra de la Sagra [2381 m], Sierra Mágina [2187 m], Sierra de Arana-Huétor [1940 m], Sierra Nevada [3484 m], Sierra de Baza-Filabres [2271 m], Sierra de las Estancias-Cúllar [1471 m] and Sierra de Orce-María [1612 m]).
The arid, rugged Badlands in the centre of these mountains, that includes canyons up to 250 metres deep, was formed when Lake Baza drained away. The fluvial terraces of the main rivers formed alluvial plains that are known as vegas.
Humans arrived on the scene whilst the area was a little less arid than today and rapidly occupied the fertile river valleys and the terraces at each side of the valleys. Wild animals were abundant for the hunter gatherers and the terraces later proved ideal for the Neolithic people. They were responsible for the dolmens at Gorafe. One of Spain’s first societies, the El Argar, evolved from those neolithic farmers and built their characteristic settlements on high outcrops of rock, such as the one at Galera called Castellon Alto. They were succeeded by Iberians and then the Romans, all of whom left their mark.
During European Geopark week activities are organised throughout the Granada Geopark area in the municipalities of Guadix, Baza, Huéscar and Montes.
Julie and I looked forward to an activity organised by Onturi.com. The activity was a guided tour of the Mina de Yeso del Castellon Alto de Galera. Castellon de Alto de Galera is an important archaeological site, its Argar history is well recorded, what is less well known is the spectacular gypsum mine on which it stands or the geological and geomorphological reasons for its being in that enclave. With an archaeologist, a geologist and a historian in tow, the tour was a huge success.
The tour will be conducted by professionals from three fields: official tourist guide, archaeologist and geologist who will, hopefully, integrate the geological, geomorphological and archaeological aspects of the site.
Of the 169 UNESCO Global Geoparks worldwide, 15 are in Spain. Andalucia has four Geoparks:
Cabo de Gata-Níjar
Sierra Norte de Sevilla