The Sierra Morena is the result of uplift produced by the pressure of the northward-moving African Plate. It has valuable deposits of lead, silver, mercury, and other metals, some of which have been exploited since prehistoric times.
Situated within the province of Jaén, the abrupt pass created by the River Despeñaperros, with sheer walls over 500 metres high, is the natural path for crossing the Sierra Morena into Andalusia from the north of the peninsula.
Much of its natural beauty is now protected in natural parks, such as Despeñaperros, Sierra de Andújar (Jaén), Sierra de Cardeña-Montoro, Sierra de Hornachuelos, Sierra Madrona, Sierra Norte de Sevilla and Sierra de Aracena Huelva.
It has been referenced in the novel Don Quixote, wherein Sancho Panza suggests it to be a refuge from the Holy Brotherhood after Don Quixote frees a group of galley slaves. Nikolay Karamzin's 1793 prose "Sierra-Morena", where the Russian writer tells of a love story between the author and young Elvira, is also dedicated to the mountain range.
The famous song "Cielito Lindo" mentions the Sierra Morena.