Andorra

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Andorra

A tiny border state between France and Spain. This is typical of many European borders: e.g. between France and Germany (Alsace-Lorraine), Switzerland and Austria (Liechtenstein), France and Italy (Monaco); history has not always divided countries "neatly," but has left instead little crumbs which for one reason or another couldn't be assimilated into either side.

In the case of Andorra, the main reason is geographical. The Pyrenees mountain chain has isolated the people of these valleys, who have clung to their traditions while the modern world went on around them. At times in history, ambitious conquerors have had to scale the heights: Hannibal the Carthaginian. The situation hasn't improved all that much since! The roads are steep and winding. No railroad station at all in Andorra. This isolation brings tourists today: mountaineers, fishermen, skiers, canoers...and archeologists (ancient remains are found in some of the caves).

Dual Sovereignty  Andorra is one of the last vestiges of feudalism in Europe. Unlike other "mini-states", Andorra hasn't been assimilated, even culturally, into her neighbors. Sheer inaccessibility is the explanation. The country is administered as a republic, with an elected Council. But in theory the country owes allegiance to two sovereigns: the President of France, and the Bishop of Urgel (in Spain). The President of France inherited this title from the French kings, who received it from the counts of Foix (the lords who once shared rulership with the Bishop of Urgel).

The country has 20,000 citizens, who speak Catalan (a separate language spoken widely in Catalonia, based on original Spanish and French).

No Andorran currency. The French franc and the Spanish peseta (now Euros!) are used.

Land Area  190 square miles, but so much of the land zigzags vertically that if the mountains were flattened, the area would double!

Life in the Valleys  Herdsmen, farmers continue ancient pattern of life. Villages clustered against mountains for protection against strong winds. The official name of the country is: Las Vals d'Andorra (Valleys of Andorra), and valleys are where life goes on. Not much has changed since the 13th century, except hydroelectric power and highway construction. A major crop is tobacco. People cling to their medieval piety: wayside shrines are seen everywhere on the mountains, dedicated to the nation's patron saint, the Virgin of Meritxell. Andorra is best known to stamp collectors; a predicable industry in a small, exotic country is the manufacturing of postage stamps, and Andorra's are highly prized.

The "Capital"  The town of Andorra la Vella. A colorful place on market day, when farmers bring in their produce, often by oxcart. The capital's greatest landmark is the Renaissance-style Casa de la Val (parliament building), and its Gothic church.

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