El Torcal: A sea floor more than 1000 metres above sea level!

Taking the old road south from Antequera to Malaga takes you around the southern fringe of El Torcal, a Jurassic limestone massif that is an ancient sea floor that has been uplifted by tectonic activity to the extent DSCN0429that it now lies some 1200 metres above current sea level. The massif has been subjected to substantial weathering, leading to truly remarkable rock formations with rocks perched atop rocks and more rocks perched on the top of these. The presence of these is reassuring since it indicates that there has been no earthquake in this region for hundreds or possibly thousands of years – but of course it could mean that the next earthquake is more imminent!

The whole area is a Government of Andalucía Natural Park and is renowned as a home to a wide variety of vertebrates, including reptiles, birds and mammals. It has a visitor centre including an education centre, shop and cafeteria, and also an astronomical observatory. There are good marked pathways but these require sure-footedness and great care, especially when wet. The area is extremely popular as evidenced by its large car park, including many parking bays for buses.

This popDSCN0425ularity has implications for the observer, however, because at weekends and during school vacations a trek around the walkways can be a noisy affair, with loud chattering by the human throngs and sometimes lots of excited shouting by children. During these times birds tend to keep a low profile and are difficult to see. A visit at quieter time is, however, idyllic and in spring Crag Martins, Subalpine and Melodious Warblers, Black Redstarts, Rock Thrushes, Blue Rock Thrushes and Rock Buntings are commonly seen, along with many more common and widespread European birds. On my visit on 9 April the warblers and Rock Thrush had yet to arrive but the others were there in good numbers. Along the southern cliff face Griffon Vultures frequently soar while during peak migration periods other birds of prey, such as Honey Buzzards and Black Kites, can be seen in flocks as they arrive in or depart from south-western Europe.

During daytime a visitor can sometimes come face to face with an Iberian Ibex, a wild mountain goat, and on sunny evenings they can often be seen lying on the tops of exposed rocks, presumably warming themselves in the last rays of the sun. However, most reptiles, and also animals like scorpions, and mammals such as the Wild Cat, are nocturnal and therefore rarely seen by visitors.

For any visitor to central Andalucía, El Torcal has much to offer, be it ancient geology, modern astronomy, current natural history, and fascinating walks to burn the calories gained from tapas, “bienmasabes”, riojas and other culinary delights to be found in towns and village outposts in this wonderful part of southern Spain. On most days a good coating with a high factor sun cream is recommended!

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