The Pyrenees (French: Pyrénées; Spanish: Pirineos; Occitan: Pirenèus or Pirenèas; Catalan Pirineus; Aragonese: Perinés; Basque: Pirinioak) are a range of mountains in southwest Europe that form a natural border between France and Spain. They separate the Iberian Peninsula from France, and extend for about 430km (267 mi) from the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic Ocean to Cap de Creus on the Mediterranean Sea.
For the most part the main crest forms the Franco-Spanish frontier, with the principality of Andorra sandwiched between them. The principal exception to this rule is formed by the Val d'Aran, which belongs to Spain but lies on the north face of the range. Other minor orographical anomalies include the Cerdagne fall and the Spanish exclave of the town Llívia.
The Pyrenees are part of the following French départements, from east to west: Pyrénées-Orientales, Aude, Ariège, Haute-Garonne, Hautes-Pyrénées, and Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
The Pyrenees are also part of the following Spanish provinces, from east to west: Girona, Barcelona, Lleida, Huesca, Zaragoza, Navarre, and Guipúzcoa.
Finally, the Pyrenees are also part of the independent principality of Andorra.
The Pyrenees are typically divided into three sections: the Central, the Atlantic or Western, and the Eastern.
The Central Pyrenees extend eastward from the Port de Canfranc to the Val d'Aran, and include the highest summits of the range:
- Aneto or Pic de Néthou (3,404 m / 11,167.9 ft ) in the Maladetta ridge,
- Mont Posets (3,375 m / 11,072 ft),
- Mont Perdu or Monte Perdido or Mont Perdut (3,355 m / 11,007 ft).
In the Atlantic Pyrenees the average elevation gradually decreases from east to west. In the Eastern Pyrenees, with the exception of one break at the eastern extremity of the Pyrénées Ariégeoises, the mean elevation is maintained with remarkable uniformity until a sudden decline occurs in the portion of the chain known as the Albères.
Conspicuous features of Pyrenean scenery are:
- the absence of great lakes, such as fill the lateral valleys of the Alps
- the rarity and great elevation of passes
- the large number of the mountain torrents locally called gaves, which often form lofty waterfalls, surpassed in Europe only by those of Scandinavia
- the frequency with which the upper end of a valley assumes the form of a semicircle of precipitous cliffs, locally called a cirque.
The highest waterfall is that of Gavarnie (462 m / 1,515 ft), at the head of the Gave de Pau; the Cirque de Gavarnie, in the same valley, is perhaps the most famous example of the cirque formation. Low passes are lacking; between the two end of the range, where the principal roads and the railways run between France and Spain, there are only the Col de la Perche, between the valley of the Têt and the valley of the Segre, and the Col de Somport or Port de Canfranc, on the old Roman road from Saragossa to Oloron-Sainte-Marie.
A particularly notable feature is La Brèche de Roland, a gap in the ridge line, in tradition created by Roland.