The Picos de Europa National Park is the largest national park in Spain and one of the largest in Europe.
In northern Spain, the largest limestone rock massif in Atlantic Europe has been transformed into a protected area for the conservation of Cantabrian ecosystems and wildlife. A world of high mountains, alpine meadows and leafy forests which was also the stage for important episodes in Spain’s history.
The Picos de Europa National Park covers 64,660 ha. which are divided among the provinces of León, Asturias and Cantabria. It was created on May the eleventh, 1995, as an extension to the first national park to be set up in Spain, that of the Covandonga mountain, which was nominated 1918.
The history of man and the Picos de Europa has been very intense from the outset. From the time of the Celts, who worshipped the god Vindius, these mountains have had a sacred character. Subsequently, their relation with the battle and victory of King Pelayo against the Moslems, the origin of the Reconquest of Spain, finished by transforming them into a symbolic place revered by its inhabitants. The relief of those first settlers of the Quaternary has survived to this day and man continues to live inside the park.
Pasturing is an activity which dates back centuries and which is still permitted within the protected area.
When the Covadonga Mountain National Park was created, precursor to the present-day Picos de Europa park which encompasses it, locals were already grazing their flocks in the region, which is why they were allowed to continue with their domestic animals. Man’s pressure on nature then began to intensify. Wild animals gradually started taking shelter in the protected areas, while their numbers began to decline in the forests that were free of restrictions.
However, for the men living within these protected areas, where hunting was forbidden, the sheltering of certain species within them didn’t take long in developing into a problem. For farmers, the increase of herbivores within the reserves represented a continuous threat to their crops, while shepherds and livestock farmers looked on in concern as wild carnivores sought refuge in the areas where they grazed their herds. Among the latter were the shepherds of the Picos de Europa. Because within the park, in the same areas where cows, sheep and domestic goats roam, lives the most powerful predator of the Spanish forest: the wolf.
The inside not only contains important images of worship, it also serves as the eternal resting place of the famous King Pelayo, the one who gave Covadonga an unforgettable role in the history of Spain.
In historical times, the forests of the Picos de Europa were populated with a large number of bears. The very son of Pelayo, Fabila, died while hunting them in these mountainous lands. Today, however, the bear is the rarest and most powerful animal in the park.
For centuries, men have hunted and killed the bear, fearing for their herds or attracted by its trophy, until pushing it to the edge of extinction. It’s a similar story to that of the wolf, but the bear is less adaptable and finds it much more difficult to recover its numbers. Today, the reserves of the Cantabrian mountains are the last hope for the Iberian bear, since the Pyrenean population seems condemned to disappear definitively. The authorities compensate livestock and crop farmers for damages caused by the bears. The government and private institutions are joining forces to save them. And little by little, it seems that the bears are beginning to recover. Perhaps at some point in the future they will become numerous again in the fertile beech forests of the Picos de Europa National Park.