From Carcassonne, we headed south to our final microstate – the Principality of Andorra, which is squeezed between France and Spain in the heart of the Pyrenees:
As noted in our initial summary post for this trip, the existence of Andorra prompted our micronation fascination and – ultimately – this trip.
Here’s one view of the principality through a series of quotes from our much loved and candor-filled Cadogan Catalonia guide:
- “The Principat de les Valles de Andorra, as it is officially known, is an independent historical oddity in the manner of Grand Fenwick and the Marx Brothers’ Fredonia, a Catalan-speaking island of mountains measuring 468 square kilometers that has managed to steer clear of the French and Spanish since its foundation by Charlemagne.”
- “They’ve turned their lovely corner of the Pyrenees into a single garish supermarket. It’s a worthy competitor for Europe’s other Ruritanian craphole, San Marino, which, if you’ve never been, is the first country in the world to be entirely paved over with factory outlet car parks.”
- “It’s a sleazy little paradise, Andorra.”
Sheesh! We’d see about that during our visit.
History: From multiple sources, each linked from the end quotes: “After the death of Charlemagne, the Carolingian Empire fell into divisive territorial quarrels, and Andorra fell into the rule of the Count Of Urgell, one of the powerful families of the Spanish nobility. In 1133 the Count of Urgell ceded the lands to the Bishop of Urgell.
In 1159 Andorra became the subject of a prolonged struggle between the Count of Foix and the Bishop of Urgell. Although an agreement was signed that year which recognized the Bishop’s authority while ceding certain rights to the Count of Foix, the dispute lasted through many bloody, bitter battles until 1278 when Roger Bernard (Count of Foix) and Father d’Urtx (Bishop of Urgell) signed a peace treaty forced upon them by the King of Aragon.
This treaty, and another signed eleven years later, established that Andorra would become independent, but pay an annual tribute called questia. To whom the tribute went alternated every year; first to the Count of Foix, then to the Bishop of Urgell, then the Count of Foix, etc. This agreement, called the Pareage is still the basis of Andorra’s constitution and political independence.“
“Over the years, the title to Andorra passed from the Counts of Foix to the Kings of Navarre. After King Henry III of Navarre became King Henry IV of France, he decreed in 1607 the King of France and the Bishop of Urgell were the co-princes of Andorra. Later through revolutions and counter-revolutions France became a republic and today the French President and Bishop of Urgell serve as the co-princes of Andorra.“
Why it still exists: “If both Urgell and Foix had ended under the same realm, Andorra would have probably been absorbed into it. But history didn’t go that way: Urgell was absorbed first into the county of Barcelona, later the crown of Aragon and finally Spain (if we don’t count some historical oddities like Napoleon’s empire, when Catalonia was part of France, or the ephemeral Catalan republics); Foix became part of Navarre and later of the kingdom of France. So, in short, the current heads of state of Andorra are the bishop of Urgell and the president of the French republic, and thus both Spain and France have the obligation of militarily protecting Andorra. Which means that neither Spain or France will let the other absorb Andorra.“
Absolute size: 181 square miles
Relative size: Largest of the European microstates, but still the 16th-smallest nation in the world and smaller than Fairfax County (at 400 square miles).
Population: 77,281; world’s 11th-smallest country by population
Capital: Andorra la Vella (the highest capital in Europe)
Government. “Andorra has two ‘co-princes,’ the Count of Foix in France and the bishop of La Seu d’Urgell in Spain. In 1589, the Count of Foix, Henry of Navarre, was crowned King of France and became Henry IV, and the county became a holding of the Kingdom of France. According to an agreement spelled out in 1278, in odd-numbered years the French co-prince is sent 1,920 francs in tribute, while in even-numbered years the Spanish co-prince receives 900 pesetas, 12 chickens, six hams and 12 cheeses. Napoleon thought it was quaint and left it alone, he said, as a living museum of feudalism.“
Tiny state trivia:
- Andorra declared war on Germany at the breakout of WW I, but never participated in the conflict itself, nor attended the peace conference at Versailles in 1918. As a result, they were still technically at war with Germany through WW II and until 1957, when the country issued a peace declaration.
- Andorra is the world’s only co-principality
- Andorra has never had a national bank nor any national currency
- The country has not been in a war in more than 1000 years
Enough of that – on to the day’s trip.
Our trip planning to head a little out of our way to Carcassonne between Monaco and Andorra provided us with a significant historical benefit. We’d be traveling right by the town and fortress of Foix, where one of Andorra’s co-princes once ruled. (Also, as a total non sequitur, notice the little yellow kidney-shaped area to the east of Andorra? That’s Llivia, the Spanish town stuck inside France that caught our interest last year during Catalonia’s clamor for independence from Spain.)
Our stop in Foix was the highlight of the day – cool town, even cooler castle, and a market was in full swing in the center of town:
Made-to-order latkes – perfect starter for our lunch:
A little traveling entertainment while we snacked:
A quick visit to Fanjeaux, another Cathar hill town between Carcassonne and Andorra:
Across the border and traveling through the valleys of the Andorran Pyrenees:
One of the cool things about the isolated country is the preservation of so many medieval Romanesque churches, which would have been rebuilt as shitty, gaudy Gothic or Renaissance structures in other countries. Below is the perfectly Romanesque church of San Joan de Caselles encountered on the way to Andorra la Vella, the principality’s capital. The church dates 11th or 12th century and features the typical architectural layout of the Romanesque churches in Andorra: rectangular nave with wooden roof, semi-circular apse and Lombardian style bell tower.
Wandering in Andorra la Vella to Casa de la Vall, home to the Consell de la Terra – the General Council of Andorra (which the Andorran’s generously refer to as a “parliament”). The Consell de la Terra founded in 1419, one of Europe’s oldest continuous parliaments.
Casa de la Vall was built in 1580 as a manor and tower defense by the Busquets family. In 1702 it was acquired by the Consell de la Terra for its current use.
Um . . .
We think this is the progenitor to Ben the Boss Tone, the dancing guy on the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. If you don’t believe us, check this out at, like minute 0.50:
Signage in downtown Andorra la Vella reinforcing Andorra’s geopolitical situation:
Someone’s gotta watch over the town:
Views over developed Andorra la Vella:
The 12th-century, Romanesque Església de Sant Esteve in the middle of Andorra la Vella:
Statue of Princep Benlloch in front of Església de Sant Esteve. “Joan Benlloch was named Bishop of Urgell on 6 December 1906; in this position, he was also Co-Prince of Andorra. . . His tenure saw his country enter World War I on the side of the Allies, but Andorra was not included in the Treaty of Versailles and officially remained in a state of belligerency until 1957.“
Another awesome hotel pool in which to unwind with a few drinks in the late afternoon – this one built into Pyreneean granite on the mountain:
Trip target finally achieved in Andorra, the microstate that started it all: completion of visits to all five European microstates in a single road trip!
The only thing left now is a brief morning drive southeast to Barcelona to spend a little time there before our flight out the day after.
Are we a trip behind? When do the Greece photos come out? That’s been a maybe on our list every year and would love to hear about your experience. Thanks for sharing your adventures.
Hope all is well. Sorry we missed you last visit.