Vincent Lowe Photography - Index to the Pyrenees photographs
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The Pyrenees extend from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean Sea and separate the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe.  Except in a few places, such as the area occupied by the tiny semi-autonomous principality of Andorra, the boundary between France and Spain runs along the crest of the chain, with approximately two-thirds of the mountains lying in Spain.  They extend for about 435 km (270 miles) and cover some 55,374 sq km (21,380 sq miles); the maximum breadth of the system is about 129 km (80 miles).

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The mountains form a regular and continuous chain, divisible into western, central, and eastern sections.  The western section, which runs from the Bay of Biscay to Somport Pass and merges into the Cantábrian Mountains of northern Spain, has the lowest altitudes of the chain, with most of its peaks ranging between about 915 and 1,220 m (3,000 and 4,000 ft) above sea level.  The central Pyrenees extend to the Col de la Perche and contain the highest peaks of the system, including Pico de Aneto (3,404 m/11,168 ft), the loftiest point in the chain; Monte Perdido (3,355 m/11,007 ft); and Vignemale (3,298 m/10,820 ft).  The summits of the eastern Pyrenees, which extend to the Mediterranean, range between about 2,135 and 2,745 m (7,000 and 9,000 ft).  The Pyrenees, which are older than the Alps, were formed mainly during the Palaeozoic and Mesozoic eras.  The eastern half of the Pyrenees is composed mostly of granite and gneiss, whereas in the western half the lower slopes are made up of limestone and the peaks of granite.  They are a climatic divide; the French slopes receive abundant precipitation, while the Spanish slopes have very little.  The hot air of Spain meeting the moist air of France often triggers a rapid and spectacular build up of thunderstorms, as we found to our cost while returning over the Brèche de Roland.   Vegetation is most developed in the west, where the lower slopes are forested; in the east the mountains are almost entirely barren.  The permanent snow line is at about 1,829 m (6,000 ft), and small glaciers are found in the high central section.  Characteristic of the French Pyrenees, which are generally much steeper than the Spanish Pyrenees, are 'gaves', torrents that often drop from cliffs to form spectacular waterfalls.









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