St Joan de Caselles church, near Soldeu, Andorra

Andorra, The Little Country that Could - in a Nutshell

Author: Sue
Date: 5th August 1999

A Brief History of Andorra

  • Andorra is believed to be the last independent survivor of the Marca Hispanica, the buffer states created by Charlemagne to keep the Islamic Moors from advancing into Christian France. Tradition holds that Charlemagne granted a charter to the Andorran people in return for their fighting the Moors. In the 9th century, Charlemagne's grandson, Charles the Bald, named the Count of Urgell as overlord of Andorra. A descendant of the count later gave the lands to the Diocese of Urgell.
  • Conflicts in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were resolved through a sharing of Andorra’s sovereignty between the Count of Foix and the Bishops of 'Urgell in Spanish Catalonia. Andorra's borders have remained unchanged since 1278. In return for this political recognition Andorra pays an annual tribute to the co-rulers consisting of four hams, forty loaves of bread, and some wine.
  • Things became complicated when Henry IV ascended the French throne, as he was also, concurrently Count of Foix and his role as co-prince of Andorra was transferred to the head of the French state.
  • Despite several hiccoughs in the French role, the situation now remains relatively unchanged. It is the world’s only co-principality; the president of France and the Bishop of Urgell both serving as princes for the country.
  • Andorra formally became a parliamentary democracy in May 1993 - the new constitution retained the French and Spanish co-princes although with reduced and narrowly defined powers.
  • In 1958, Andorra did not declare peace with Germany after World War I until 1958. It had been forgotten in the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Women were not awarded the vote, until the 1970s.

Facts and Factoids

  • Wikipedia says that Andorra is a tiny principality. They're not wrong. it's 40 kilometres from one side to the other. it's a micro-state.
  • The population of Andorra is about 85,000.
  • It is officially the Principality of Andorra, or the Principality of the Valleys of Andorra
  • The official language is Catalan; but Spanish, Portuguese, and French are also commonly spoken (they say).
  • Andorra is sometimes known as ‘The Little Country That Could’, due to its ability to survive as a small sovereign nation. The nickname was first used when this tiny nation refused to comply with Nazi Germany’s demands for troops.

Is Andorra in the EU?

  • Andorra is not a member of the European Union, but the Euro is its official currency and it is part of the Customs Union
  • It has been a member of the United Nations since 1993.

What is There to See and Do in Andorra?

This is a contentious one. Andorra, perhaps surprisingly, has the most visitors in the world per capita. Andorra is known in the main for its ski resorts and tax-haven status. The vast majority of the visitors to Andorra are Spanish and French citizens who go there to shop and purchase fuel at cheaper prices. Duty-free shopping has made Andorra a wealthy country. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost. The huge malls and cement buildings have earned Andorra the nickname ‘The Ugliest Country in Europe'.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, Pas de la Casa, the first town one encounters when entering from France, has also been dubbed ‘The Ugliest Town in Europe’.

There are also, apparently, beautiful mountain views, skiing (in Arinsal and Soldeu) and hiking, lurking beyond the glass and concrete.

Look at Andorra La Vella - Summer Covid-19 Part 6 to see what I did.

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