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The Sierra Morena at Despeñaperros

The Sierra Morena is a mountain range which stretches for 400 km East-West across southern Spain, forming the border of the central plateau (Meseta Central) of Iberia, and providing the watershed between the valleys of the Guadiana to the north and the Guadalquivir to the south.

Situated within the province of Jaén, the abrupt pass created by the River Despeñaperros, with sheer walls over 500 metres high, is the natural path for crossing the Sierra Morena into Andalusia from the north of the peninsula.

The Sierra Morena is the result of uplift produced by the pressure of the northward-moving African Plate. It has valuable deposits of lead, silver, mercury, and other metals, some of which have been exploited since prehistoric times.

Much of its natural beauty is now protected in natural parks, such as Despeñaperros, Sierra de Andújar (Jaén), Sierra de Cardeña-Montoro, Sierra de Hornachuelos, Sierra Madrona, Sierra Norte de Sevilla and Sierra de Aracena Huelva.

It has been referenced in the novel Don Quixote, wherein Sancho Panza suggests it to be a refuge from the Holy Brotherhood after Don Quixote frees a group of galley slaves. In Voltaire's satire Candide, the main characters stop there on their escape from Lisbon (chapter 9-10). Nikolay Karamzin's 1793 prose "Sierra-Morena", where the Russian writer tells of a love story between the author and young Elvira, is also dedicated to the mountain range. The Sierra Morena was also the setting for the majority of Jan Potocki's "The Manuscript Found at Saragossa". The famous song "Cielito Lindo" mentions the Sierra Morena.

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