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Entries in Andorra (2)


Andorra, old and new


The state of being a State

We spent our long weekend in Andorra, the European micronation nestled between Spain and France. I sometimes get ribbed about visiting obscure countries, as if I am visiting them just to add them to the list. Actually, these micronations are typically fascinating glimpses into our history precisely because they are micronations.

Take Liechtenstein, for example. Would I have gone to that tiny valley in the middle of the Alps if it was not a country? No, but then if it was not a country then it would not be anything special. Instead, it is a relic of the Holy Roman Empire, the age where a third of Europe centered over modern Germany was all broken up into the tiny valleys ruled by princelings. With the unification of Germany, Liechtenstein is all that is left of that age, so visiting Liechtenstein is one of the few ways to capture a glimpse of that history.

How about Andorra then? Likewise a cynic could just label it a few valleys wedged in the Pyrenees, known only for being a micronation. But Andorra is also a unique glimpse back in time. Andorra was created as one of the border states (in 988 CE) to protect Europe from the Islamic state occupying most of Spain. With the subsequent Christian conquest of Spain, these states all disappeared except Andorra. Instead, Andorra survived by a series of unusual events, combined with the important provision of not being important enough for the big states to care about. The fledgling state was under the domain of the Catholic Bishop of Urgell (Catalonia). The area was too far from his power-base to fully control, so in 1278 he made a deal with the Count of Foix (in France) to co-rule the little province.

The borders of Andorra have not changed since that deal in 1278, and the rulership has changed surprisingly little too - Andorra is still ruled over by two co-princes, one being the Bishop of Urgell and the other (due to a series of marriages and revolutions) being the President of France. This put Andorra in the unique position of being ruled by two non-Andorrans, one elected by the people of another country, and one appointed by the Catholic church. Completely non-democratic, of course, but it has the inerta of ~800 years of peace, for which the Andorra pay the discount tribute of four hams, forty loaves of bread and some wine.