A geopark is a region which promotes the usage and protection of a geological heritage in a sustainable means while advancing the wellbeing of the locals. Global Geoparks are unified regions which have geological features of international importance. UNESCO established the GGN (Global Geoparks Network) in 1998 to help preserve these places. The GGN conserves and promotes the world’s geological heritage while supporting the sustainable research and development by the locals living in these regions.
Countries with Geoparks in Southern Europe
Greece is a southeastern European nation which has thousands of islands throughout the Ionian and Aegean seas. Some of these islands have undergone geographical changes over the last millenniums to form some of the most beautiful geological features in the world which UNESCO recognizes as Global Geoparks.
One of the unique Greek geoparks is Chelmos-Vouraikos Geopark. The Chelmos-Vouraikos Geopark is in North Peloponnese, and it occupies an area of about 2,183 square miles. It joined the GGN in September 2009. Some of the most significant sites in the geopark include the Doxa lakes, the springs of river Aroanios, the cave of lakes, and the mythical waters of Tsivlos and Styx.
Another unique geopark in Greece is the Petrified Forest of Lobos which developed from the fossilized plant remains found in Lesbos Island. The Petrified Forest was created about twenty million years ago when a volcanic eruption left this place covered with lava and ash. The geopark became one of the UNESCO’s Global Geoparks in 2014.
Italy has 10 out of the 31 geoparks in Southern Europe with one of their main geopark being Rocca Di-Cerere Geopark. Rocca Di-Cerere is on the Erean Mountains in the central region of Sicily. Rocca Di-Cerere is on a Gypsum-sulphur plateau which has numerous sandstone peaks which were formed during the Messinian Crisis. Its border is determined by nine municipalities which are part of the Rocca Di-Cerere.
Another critical geological heritage in Italy is the Adamello-Brenta Geopark. It is on the Rhaetian Alps in the western parts Trentino. The parks represent a crucial-area for understanding the geological history of the Alps. It has robust biodiversity due to the presence of two mountains which are different geomorphically and geologically. UNESCO recognized the Adamello-Brenta Geopark as World Heritage sites in 2009. Another big Italian geopark is the Parco Del Beigua which was established in 1985, but UNESCO identified it in 2005.
Portugal has four geoparks which are part of the European Geopark Network, and this includes Arouca, Azores, Naturtejo and the Land of Knights global geoparks.
Arouca Geopark has 41 geo-sites and is considered to be one of the biggest geoparks in Europe. Arouca Geopark has some of the largest trilobite fossils in the world which were formed over 450 million years old. Arouca Geopark is on the western boundary of the northern sub-plateau of Iberian plateau in northern Portugal. Arouca has numerous mountains which are carved by some narrow valleys.
Naturtejo Geopark is on the southern Iberian Meseta near the Portugal-Spain border. Naturtejo features some geological wealth which dates back to over 500 million years ago. It has some of the oldest landscapes in Europe like the Meseta Meridional peneplain which is over 50 million years old. Naturtejo Geopark is within the borders of six municipalities.
Spain is home to a majority of the Geoparks in Southern Europe with 12 geoparks within its borders.
Cabo de Gata-Nijar geopark is the largest coastal protected region with an isolated and wild landscape which has some of the most original geological features in Europe. It is one of the sub-desertic parts of Europe, and it was the first terrestrial and maritime protected region in Andalusia. The park has over a thousand autochthonous herbaceous species, and hundreds of them have an ephemeral life.
Another geopark which occupies about half the area of the district of Sobrarbe is the Sobarbe Geopark. The park is in Huesca province, on the southern slopes of Pyrenees. It features some beautiful and peaceful landscapes which were formed over 500 million years ago. Sobrarbe Geopark encompasses 19 municipalities with a population of over 7,600 people living in the 150 inhabited regions.
Southern Europe Geoparks
31 out of the over 67 geoparks in the European Geoparks Network are in Southern Europe. These geoparks are in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece. Spain has twelve geoparks followed by Italy which has ten geoparks. Greece has five geoparks while Portugal has four geoparks. These parks have some of the unique landscapes with over 550 million years of geological history.