The Sierra Morena stretches for 450 Km in an E-W direction from the high course of the Guadalmena River in the Sierra del Relumbrar until northwestern Huelva Province, extending into Portugal. The system is the result of the uplift produced by the pressure of the northward-moving African Plate. It is made up of hard Paleozoic rocks such as granite and quartzite, as well as softer materials such as slate and gneiss.
Its name, roughly meaning 'dark range', is likely derived from the dark color of some of the rocks and vegetation of the ranges that make up the mountainous system. It is also mentioned as Sierra Mariánica in some documents. Formerly it was a border area, a vast wilderness with little population and its mountain passes were important for the communication between Andalusia and Central Spain.
The peaks of the ranges are not very high on average, in fact Sierra Morena's highest point is the lowest among the mountain systems of the Iberian Peninsula. They are, however, very consistent in altitude, averaging between 600 and 1,300 m all along the system. Since they form the southern edge of the Meseta Central, the Iberian Central Plateau, the northern Sierra Morena ranges barely rise above the level of the surrounding plateau in most places. Nevertheless, the Sierra Morena looks like a true mountain range seen from the Baetic Depression in the south with impressive southward-facing slopes and gorges. Located within the province of Jaén, the Despeñaperros, an abrupt canyon created by the Despeñaperros River, with sheer walls over 500 metres high, is the natural path for crossing the Sierra Morena into Andalusia from the north of the peninsula.
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