Today we are taking a journey to into the Pyrenees to discover a hidden gem nestled snugly between France and Spain. Rome Across Europe is discovering the Principality of Andorra.
Before diving right in, we want to talk about how Andorra came to be. During the Roman Empire, the Principality of the Valleys of Andorra would have been in that sweet spot dividing Roman Gaul and Hispania.
Gaul consisted of an area of provincial rule containing modern-day France, while Hispania contained modern-day Spain and Portugal. Roman control of the area lasted for more than approximately 500 years, Hispania feel in 400 AD and the last vestige of Roman rule in Gaul was effaced in 486 AD.
The Roman Republic began its takeover of Celtic Gaul in 121 BC, when it conquered and annexed the southern reaches of the area. Roman armies invaded Hispania in 218 BC and used it as a training ground for officers and as a proving ground for tactics during campaigns against the Carthaginians, the Iberians, the Lusitanians, the Gallaecians and other Celts.
Although not mentioned in any source by name, Andorra was important to the Romans for it was a gateway keeping the northern Barbarians from Gaul from passing into the provinces of Iberia. When Rome fell and the gate was opened several tribes left traces of their passing through including the Alans, the Visigoths, and the Vandals.
The history of Andorra is rather sparse and not very well documented. In fact, no major historical work mentions Andorra but that of Charlemagne.
There story of Andorra properly begins with the Moors invasion of Spain at Gibraltar. After the defeat of the Spanish King Roderick at Jerez de la Frontera, the Moors spread like wildfire and Christian peasants near the Pyrenees found refuge in the many mountain valleys.
The Moors continued to raid into southern France. The inhabitants of Andorra appealed to Charlemagne for assistance.
Charlemagne swept the Moors out of Andorra and most of the adjacent Spanish areas, but when the French armies left the Moors returned. Charlemagne then sent his son, Louis the Pious, to deal with them, and he defeated them decisively at a battle on the plain where the Valira River forks.
After slaughtering the Moors, Louis formally settled the boundaries of the tiny buffer state, settled some of his soldiers in the villages, and established the original annual tribute. He placed Andorra into the care of the newly-created Count of Urgell, one of his knights who would undertake to protect France from incursion from the Spanish side of the mountains.
The most important document in Andorra is the Carta de Fundacio d’Andorra. Written by Charlemagne in 788 AD and given to Louis the Pious, this charter establishes the country of Andorra’s independence. There are many who suspect the document is a forgery dating from the 12th Century, made by the Andorrans themselves to support their claims to independence from both Spain and France.
After much back and forth upon who controlled Andorra, in 1278 the Acte de Pareage was created. This is the “Magna Carta” of Andorra, and established the co-rule of the Bishop of Urgel and the Count of Foix over the country.
This treaty, and another signed 11 years later, established that Andorra would become independent yet would still pay an annual tribute called questia. The tribute was alternated every year, first going to the Count of Foix and the next year to the Bishop of Urgell.
This agreement is still the basis of Andorra’s constitution and political independence. The questia is still paid to the Bishop of Urgell, and the President of France as the successor to the Counts of Foix. The twin heads of state are referred to as “co-princes” so therefore the country is referred to as the “Principality of Andorra”.
In 1793 the French monarchy was overthrown, and for the next fifteen years the Andorrans were without the protection of the French government due to the French Revolution. This was an issue for the Andorrans worried their Spanish co-prince would revoke their independence, and again make them a subordinate territory.
When the French Revolutionary Army was dispatched to take Urgel they requested rite of passage in Andorra. The request was firmly rejected and Andorra’s militia, about 500 strong, was mobilized for the first time in a millennium.
In 1933, France occupied Andorra as a result of social unrest before elections. On 12 July 1934, a Russian adventurer named Boris Skossyreff issued a proclamation in Urgel, declaring himself Boris I, sovereign prince of Andorra, while simultaneously declaring war on the Bishop of Urgell. He was arrested by Spanish authorities on July 20 and ultimately expelled from Spain.
During World War II, Andorra remained neutral and was an important smuggling route from Spain into France. The French Resistance used Andorra as part of their route to get downed airmen out of France.
In 1978 the parishes of Andorra were expanded from 6 to 7, with the establishment of the parish of Escaldes-Engordany.
In 1981 an organization called the Government of Andorra was created as the executive branch of government. It consists of the Head of Government, elected by the Council of the Land, and 4 to 6 Councillors who act as Ministers. Each of the Councillors looks after a particular area such as defense, education, finance, foreign affairs, etc.
Andorra formally became a parliamentary democracy in May 1993 following approval of a new constitution which retained the French and Spanish co-princes although with reduced and narrowly defined powers. Civil rights were greatly expanded including the legalization of political parties and trade unions, and provision was made for an independent judiciary.
Andorra entered into a customs union with the European Communities, now the EU, in 1991 and was admitted to the UN on 28 July 1993. The country has been seeking ways to improve its export potential and increase its economic ties with its European neighbors. The financial services sector of the economy is highly important, given Andorra’s status as a tax haven and banking secrecy laws.
Andorra has a total land surface of 181 square miles making it slightly less than five times the size of the city of Barcelona. Andorra la Vella is the nation’s capital and lies in the geographic center of the country, where the two tributaries of the Valira River merge.
According to current legislation, foreigners can acquire citizenship after 20 years of residence in the country. Their children, born in Andorra, acquire citizenship at age 18.
Catalan is the official language of Andorra. It is used throughout public administration, is taught in all schools, and is the language of all road signs. It is also the dominant language in communications media and is the language spoken by the national elites.
In commercial signage, Catalan alternates with Spanish and French, but Spanish dominants the streets of Andorra due to the Spanish population being the largest immigrant community. The use of French is limited to populations in the extreme southwest of the country.
Andorra after World War II achieved considerable prosperity through a developing tourist industry, now receiving an estimated 10.2 million visitors annually. This development, abetted by improvements in transport and communications, has tended to break down Andorra’s isolation and to bring Andorrans into the mainstream of European history.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Meritxell, patron of the nation, constitutes the most important religious symbol for Andorrans and is also an attractive spot for tourist visits in the summer. Its 30 Romanesque churches, old castles, medieval fortifications and other treasures of medieval art serve as historical referents as well as emblems of identity.
As a culture shaped by seasonally transient shepherds in the past and international merchants in the present, Andorrans are open in character and inter-ethnic relations are non-conflictive.
An urban rule also fixes the invented tradition of the “mountain style.” This demands that 30% of any facade be constructed of stone masonry. Hence large commercial buildings and the majority of urban public buildings show a blend of invented tradition and modernity, combining stone with iron and large surfaces of glass.
The diet in Andorra is based on consumption of meat, garden vegetables, and some fish. The most common winter dish, in rural and urban zones, is Escudella i carn d’olla. Normally, the midday meal is eaten near the workplace in a restaurant.
Andorra’s industrial development is extremely limited. Apart from tobacco, the most important industry is construction along with its derivative industries, hospitality industries, and semi-artisanal activities such as jewelry.
Class differences in Andorra are quite clear and possess marked characteristics, such as residence. Practically all the original Andorran population belongs to the high or medium-high stratum of society as the first group to arrive in the nation.
The rest of the Spanish population is basically salaried, although there are executive groups and small entrepreneurs among them. Most Portuguese are found in less-skilled labor positions, especially in hostelry and construction. The French population comprises bureaucrats and small-scale entrepreneurs in hostelry or commerce.
The family remains the basic social unit, more important than the individual, despite the accelerated evolution of Andorran society. Most enterprises and business are organized through the family, distributing functions according to capacities and the level of study of each member. These family groups, following the institution of the familia troncal (stem family), incorporate a married pair and their children.
Even though Andorra lacks a formal religion, Roman Catholicism is dominant. One fundamental element of this presence rests on the role of the Bishop of Urgel as co-prince and, at the same time, head of the Andorran Church.
All public ceremonies, including some sessions of the parliament, are accompanied by a Catholic mass. The Andorran festive calendar adapts to the Catholic liturgical calendar.
The nation, like every parroquia, has a patron saint and a collection of religious and lay celebrations. In addition to the national festival of the Virgin of Meritxell on September 8th, each parroquia has its own patronal festival.
Given the commercial orientation of the nation, which remains open for business especially when neighboring nations have holidays, the only formal holidays are Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Thanks for joining Rome Across Europe and we hope you enjoyed discovering this hidden gem of Europe. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!
Armengol, Lídia. Approach to the History of Andorra , 1989.
Bladé, Jean François. The Valley of Andorr , 1882.
Deverell, F. H. All Round Spain by Road and Train, with a Short Account of a Visit to Andorra , 1884.
Eyre, Mary. Over the Pyrenees into Spain , 1865.
Newman, B. Round about Andorra , 1928.
Riera, Manel. La llengua catalana a Andorra. Estudi dialectolo`gic dels seus parlars rurals , 1992.
Sáez, Xavier. “Informe sobre l’economia andorrana, 1995.” Andorra, anuari socio-economic, 1996 , 10–67, 1996.
Sermet, Jean. Problemas de la frontera hispano-francesa en los Pirineos , 1985.