Breche de Roland, Gavarnie, Hautes-Pyrenees, South West France

Category: Midi-Pyrenees - Mountains
Altitude :2804 m
Height :40 m
Width :100 m

Key points about this information item Breche de Roland, Gavarnie, Hautes-Pyrenees, South West France




Breche de Roland, Cirque de Gavarnie, Hautes-Pyrenees


The Breche de Roland is an impressive gap, 40 metres across and 100 metres high, in the vertical cliff face of the Cirque de Gavarnie.  The Cirque de Gavarnie forms part of the border between France and Spain and is at an altitude of 2804 metres.  To give some perspective, take a look at the second picture.  In the bottom left hand corner, it is just possible to make out a figure standing in the breech.


According to legend the breech was cut by Roland, a nephew of Charlemagne, who was trying to prevent the sword Durandal falling into the hands of his pursuers.  The twelfth century Chanson de Roland (Song of Roland), part of the Matter of France, describes how the sword hacked out the breech and defied destruction.


The legend is a little flaky, since it speaks of his enemies being Saracens, while other historical data points to them being Muslim.  In reality, Roland was killed in battle about 100 Km west of the breech by a band of Basques.


Natural or not, the breech is well worth a visit.  A return trip from Gavarnie is an all day hike, taking at least ten hours.  To explore the area, try and stay at the Refuge de la Breche de Roland at the foot of the Cirque de Gavarnie, from where you can reach the breech in about an hour.  It is always necessary to book the refuge in high season as the 90 available beds fill rapidly.


Bear in mind that there are some difficult sections, particularly the glacier that must be crossed to reach the breech and it is only recommended for experienced walkers.  During the summer months however, there are a lot of people climbing up and you could join a group of more experienced walkers to help you tackle the climb.


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