History of Andorra

andorra history

World history. History of Europe. AndorraPyrenees

The first settlements in the territory of what would later become Andorra began in the Ice Age, but there were no large groups inhabiting this territory until after the retreat of glaciers. Archeological excavations demonstrate that from 3500-2000 BC small groups of people lived in valleys near the Rio Valira and in caves in what would later become known as Andorra. Later, groups of people migrated to the lower mountain levels, where they began to live in small groups or villages. It is a scientifically proven fact that people in those settlements used bronze tools. Worshipping the spirits of nature, forests and lakes, ancient Andorrans constructed megaliths and dolmens. Iberian coins were also found in the territory. It is believed that the name Andorra comes either from Iberian words “ando” (highest) and “ore” (iron), or from Celtic words “an” (blow) and “dor” (wind).

The war between Rome and Carthage for control over the Iberian Peninsula began in 220 BC. In 219-218 BC Carthaginian troops under the direction of Hannibal marched through the Pyrenees to Rome. The second Punic war lasted from 218 to 201 BC. In the resulting victory over Carthage, Romans took possession of Iberia. The Roman Empire gave the citizens of Andorra their language and laws, together with advanced agricultural tools that allowed larger harvests. Andorra was a part of the Roman Empire until 414 AD, when the country came under the control of a German Visigoth tribe that founded their kingdom in Southern France and in Spain. In the beginning of the VIII century theVisigoths’ state was annihilated by Arabic conquerors that marched into the Pyrenean Peninsula from Northern Africa. Today the only visible remnant of an Arabic presence in Andorran history is a Moorish tower near Ordino. It turns out that Arabic conquerors used the territory of Andorra as the shortest route to Southern France.

Charlemagne (742-814) is considered to be the founder of what is today known as Andorra. According to legend, several thousand Andorrans led by Mark Almugaber helped the army of Franks to win the battle against Arabic invaders. As a sign of gratitude, Charlemagne proclaimed Andorra an “independent nation” whose citizens were protected under his favor. The state of Andorra was founded as a buffer for the protection of the Frankish empire from Arabic invaders.

In 817, together with the lands to the south of the country, Andorra came under the sovereignty of Frankish empire. In 819 Louis the Pious (778-840), a son of Charlemagne who in 814 became the Emperor of Franks, gave the Great Charter of the Liberties (Magna Carta) to the citizens of Andorra. In the summer of 819 Catalan bishops wrote and ratified a so called “Letter of freedom”—this document became the basis of independence for the communities of cattlemen and farmers, it was further officially named “Endor”, a biblical name.

After the collapse of the Frankish empire in 843 the king of France Charles the Bald (823-877, a son of Louis the Pious, granted the territory of Andorra to Suñer I, who was granted the title of count of Sardinia and Urgell in gratitude for his assistance in repelling the attacks by moors from Narbon. In the course of the IX and X centuries the counts of Sardinia and Urgell expanded their holdings in Andorran valleys by acquiring, adjoining and exchanging lands. The property of the Urgell bishopric also expanded – mostly through contributions for the sake of the episcopate from the property of the counts and other persons. It is well known that Andorra is mentioned as an independent state in the documents of the Urgell episcopate dated 805.

In 1133 the rights for the eternal usage of Andorran valleys were sold by the count of Urgell to the bishop Berenger. Spanish bishops became feudal lords and the citizens of Andorra were obliged to pay them annual tribute. In the middle of the XI century the defense of Andorra became the responsibility of Caboet noble family; the representatives of this family obtained the proprietorship for Andorran valleys in exchange for the oath of fidelity to the bishops.

In 1185 a woman of the Caboet family married Viscount Arno de Castelbon. Arno and his daughter were adherents of albigensianism (a heretic movement typical of Southern France of the XII-XIII centuries; Albigenis were against Catholic Church dogmas, landowning and tithe). In 1208 a daughter of Viscount de Castelbon married the Count de Foix, also an adherent of albigensianism. Later, in 1257 their successor (Count Roger Bernard III de Foix) by means of a dynastic marriage, became one of the most powerful lords in Southern France. Viscounts de Foix refused to obey the Urgell bishops and that began a lengthy, bloody dispute. This strife lasted until the lord of Aragon was able to force the bishop of Urgell, Pedro de Castrobono, and Count Roger Bernard III de Foix to come to a peaceful agreement.

On September 8, 1278, in Lleida, the bishop of Urgell and the Count de Foix concluded a treaty (“Act- Pareage”) about double suzerainty over Andorra. Both co-Princes lived beyond the borders of Andorra and had to appoint representatives –vicars — for successive reign. Andorrans were obliged to pay tributes to the co-Princes: in the even years—to the bishop of Urgell, in the odd years—to the Count de Foix. On December, 6 1288 the second “Act-Pareage” was signed. In accordance to the treaty Andorra had to pay annual tribute to Spain and France –430 pesetas and 960 francs correspondingly. The treaty is valid up to now—the successors of the Spanish bishop are considered to be one of the co-Princes of Andorra. The rights of the Counts de Foix were transferred to the king of Navarra, later to the king of France and finally to the president of France.

In 1419 Andorra gained permission for calling an elective body – “The council of land” that later evolved into the General Council. The heads of the five most powerful Andorran families obtained the right to elect their representatives into this council.

In later centuries, Andorra managed to keep its independence from powerful neighbors on both sides of the Pyrenees. Andorrans enjoyed the benefits of a neutral state: they didn’t serve in the army, didn’t pay military contributions and took profit from free transfers of goods through the Pyrenees.

In 1580 the “House of the Valleys” was built in Andorra la Vella, nowadays the offices of the Government, Court and prison are housed in it. Now the prison is situated in other place in Andorra la Vella.

In the beginning of the XVIII century Andorra maintained a neutral position in the war for Spanish heritage that almost destroyed the neighboring Spanish province of Catalonia. In 1715 the bishop of Urgell officially prescribed the Councils of the Valleys of Andorra from obeying any orders except those issued by himself or the king of France.

In 1748 Antoni Fiter-y-Rossell collected and edited in a separate book materials about the traditions of Andorra, and in 1763 Anton i Puig edited “Politar Andorra” – a code of laws and traditions of the country.

The French Revolution (1789-1799) overthrew the French monarchy. The French king Louis XVI, one of co-Princes of Andorra, was executed in 1793. French revolutionists revoked the “Act-Pareage”. Andorrans were worried about the possibility of losing their independence and being annexed by France. In 1794 French troops entered the territory of Andorra in an attempt to conquer La Seu d’Urgell, its nearest Spanish neighbor, but representatives of the Valleys managed to assure French General Chabrez to refuse the mission.

In 1806 Andorrans petitioned French Emperor Napoleon I asking him to retrieve the “Act-Pareage”. Napoleon agreed, noting that “Andorra is a political curiosity that needs to be preserved”. In a special decree he stated that in accordance with the demand of Andorran citizens about the retrieval of “Act-Pareage”, the king of France, together with the bishop of Urgell, were declared the co-Princes of Andorra. This decree was temporarily interrupted in 1812-1813, when France annexed Andorra and included it in the territory of Segr (in 1813 the department Segr-Ter).

In the nineteenth century the world slowly began to discover the small Principality. European travelers visited Andorra and admired the beauty of its countryside. In 1848 the Paris Opera staged a performance of Galevi “The Valleys of Andorra”; in 1852 a homonymous zarzuela (in XVII-XX musical stage genre close to operetta) of Gastambide was performed in Madrid.

Civil wars in Spain, ignited in XIX century by Carlists (clerical-absolutist party in Spain; named after a claimant to Spanish throne Don Carlos Senior), presented a serious threat to the neutrality of Andorra. Its territory often sheltered both Carlists and their rivals. In 1866 a rich landowner Gilien de Plandolit-y-d’Areno initiated the movement “New Reform”, and on April, 14 1866 bishop Josep Caishal-y-Estradez (1853-1879) approved the clauses of the Constitution. On May, 31 1866 the first Constitution of Andorra was adopted – “The draft of the reform, adopted in the valleys of Andorra”. In 1869 the Constitution was ratified by French Emperor Napoleon III. In accordance to the Constitution the main legislative body was the General Council that consisted of 24 members, elected by “sindics”—the heads of local authorities. Beginning in 1867 the extent of authority of the Spanish bishop was somewhat narrowed (especially in matters concerning the internal life of the communities). His power was amplified with respect to church related matters.

At the end of the century economic problems caused the many people to emigrate from Andorra. The expansion of communication methods in the world favored the entrance of Andorra into world markets. The first telegraph and telephone lines were installed. However, Andorra remained a largely unknown and isolated country, with few tourists or other travelers visiting it.

In 1911 the first highway that connected the country with the Spanish city of La Seu-de-Urgell was built.

In 1914 Pope Pius X proclaimed Our Lady of Meritxell “patron saint of Andorran Valleys”. On September, 8 1921, the bishop of Tarragona and the bishop of Urgell crowned the icon. In the course of the ceremony the national anthem was performed for the first time. The lyrics include the words: “I am the only remaining daughter of the Carolingian empire believing and free for eleven centuries, a believer and free I will be”.

After 1914 Andorra began to emerge from its traditional isolation and interact with countries of Western Europe.

In 1928 the Government of Spain established postal communication with Andorra and printed postal stamps with magnificent Andorran views. France repeated this experience 3 years later. In 1929 the first big power plant was constructed in Andorra. Until that time, electric power had been supplied by small electric generators that belonged to separate communities in Andorra (the “comus”). All the rights to supply electric energy were transferred to a new company, “Force hydroelectrique d’Andorra”. Specialists from abroad were invited to work for the company.

The 1930s were marked with a struggle for the implementation of overall electoral rights. In the autumn of 1933 most of the adult population of Andorra demanded both from local authorities and from France and Spain the ability to implement overall control with respect to usage of natural resources of Andorra. Spain accepted this demand, but France threatened to introduce troops (which violated the agreements between France and Spain over Andorra). The printed media of Spain and France called these events the “Andorran revolution”.

On June 10, 1933, judicial authorities dismissed the General Council of Andorra, and the vicars of the co-Princes called for new elections. On July 17 a reform of the Andorran electoral system was carried out which resulted in the right to vote being given to all males of the country aged 25 or over. Feudal rights declined and Andorrans obtained the right of privileged usage of natural resources, including lands, meadows, forests and waters. The highway to Pas de la Casa was extended to the French border to connect France and Andorra. Before it was built, the only access was by mules at mountain paths.

In June, 1934, Russian immigrant Boris Skosyrev named himself “count of Orange”, and accompanied by several White Russian officers and assorted Russian nationals, surreptitiously entered Andorra from France. He and his followers first settled in Andorra la Vella and later in the nearby city of Soldeu He seized power with complete support of local citizens. He proclaimed himself the king of Andorra “Boris I”, and promised to implement reforms and to modernize the country.

Boris Skosyrev was a son of frail nobility that migrated from Russia to Spain. In 1934 he was 38 years old. In his youth he was interested in diminutive states and underinvestigated lands. During his visits to Marcel or Toulouse, Boris Skosyrev used to spend hours at local libraries, studying the history of Andorra in detail. In Southern France he contacted not only guides of stock caravans through the Pyrenees but also migrants from Andorra. Boris Skosyrev was especially interested in “Andorran revolution”. In the letters to his friends he often complained that “Andorrans haven’t got a leader, there is neither structure nor the program for further activity”. This fact ignited in him a desire to fill the vacuum.

The reign of Boris was accompanied by manifold orders and manifestos; he often dismissed ministers and the heads of local communities (districts) and sent many petitions to Paris, Madrid and the League of Nations asking for official recognition for the independence of “his” kingdom. The idea of such democracy under the “scepter of enlightened monarchs” was actively realized by Russian immigrants.

The first steps on the way to gaining sovereignty and “independent voice” in the region Andorrans relate to the name of Boris Skosyrev.

During his reign Skosyrev not only confirmed the overall elective right that was gained as a the result of the “Andorran revolution” but also issued a number of orders whereby he called upon Andorrans to ignore Spanish and French guidelines. All natural resources were declared national treasure, which included more than resort areas and mineral waters. The depths of Andorra contain iron, lignite, copper, and pyrite. In the mountains there are many precious wood species; quite a number can be found nowhere else in Europe. “King Boris I” prohibited private ownership of the land and its resources. Even today these are considered either the property of the state or the property of the communities (comus) that let the land on lease or concession not only to the citizens but also to the foreigners. This system was eagerly supported by the citizens of Andorra but irritated Spain and especially France immensely.

The country moved forward in the process of modernizing. In 1935 the General Council issued a concession for organizing “The Radio of Andorra”.

When Civil War started in Spain, Boris Skosyrev did not openly take either side. In fact, he became a “shadow” associate in the struggle of Republican forces against the Nationalists, a fascist group headed by Francisco Franco. He allowed the transit of Spanish migrants to France and other European countries and prohibited “international observers” (from Non-intervention Committee to Spanish affairs in London) to control the neutral position of Andorra. This caused scathing criticism by Chamberlain (UK Prime Minister at that time), who called Boris Skosyrev “if not the agent of Moscow then the agent of Republicans or Super Activists (Dolores Ibarruri – the head of Spanish communist party) for sure”. When in February, 1939, members of the Spanish republican army and refugees were forbidden to cross the Spanish border, in spite of threats from Franco, Boris I allowed them to move to France through the territory of Andorra, obliging local citizens to provide the immigrants with all necessary assistance.

During the Spanish Civil War, Franco entered Andorra with the goal of overthrowing the “Russian king” Boris I. France, however, was not interested in a hostile regimen strengthening near its southern borders, and supported Andorra against Franco.

In 1940 France was occupied by the Nazis, who anticipated (with reason) that Andorra might become one of the terminal bases for the French Resistance, first of all for raiders and for General De Gaulle’s secret service. Consequently, it was decided in Vichy and in Berlin to overthrow Skosyrev and his regimen. In autumn 1941 the agents of Vichy France, backed up by the secret service of Franco, arrested the “King of Andorra Boris I” in Soldeu and sent him to the Verne concentration camp (France), where he died in 1944.

During WW2, 1939-1945, Andorra maintained a neutral position, though shelter was given to many refugees. In 1940 only the intervention by papal nuncio prevented the intrusion by German (Southern France) and Spanish (from La Seu de Urgell) troops into Andorra. Nevertheless, the years of war affected Andorra. In 1941 the overall electoral rights for male citizens were abolished. In 1944 German units and a detachment of Spanish civil guard entered Andorra, but the troops were pulled out in 1945.

After the war was over the electoral rights for male citizens were restored.

During the 1950s the development of Andorra accelerated; the population doubled during the period of 1952-1964 with total population surpassing 12,000 persons. The standard of living improved and the economy began growing. Isolated for many centuries, the country became a popular touristic destination, especially for skiing, which was declared a national sport in Andorra. Young Andorrans began to go abroad for university educations.

In 1966 social legislation was implemented; in 1968 the “Andorran insurance office” was founded, telephone and telegraph services were organized. In 1967 Andorra was visited by the co-Prince of France – the President of France, Charles de Gaulle. In 1973 the first meeting of the Spanish and French co-Princes since XIII century took place, attended by the bishop of Urgell, Joan Marti Alanis and the President of France, Georges Pompidou.

In 1970 electoral rights were given to all Andorran citizens (both male and female) aged 21 or more. In 1977 electoral rights were also granted to the first-generation foreigners aged more than 28. (In 1985 the electoral age was reduced to 18).

In 1975 political parties began to emerge in Andorra: the Democratic union that stood against discrimination, and was for the annihilation of feudal relics, freedom of speech and free association; the Conservative Party of the Principality’s majority and the moderate Liberal Party. The first newspaper was issued.

In January 1981 the “Decree for Institution Reformation” was passed, it presupposed the formation of an Executive Committee. A year later, the reform, which separated executive and legislative branches of power, was implemented.

In 1982 the country suffered from severe floods that caused numerous deaths and serious economic damage. As a result, the communications between Andorra and neighboring countries were temporarily interrupted.

At a referendum in 1985 the citizens approved a new Constitution; in accordance with it Andorra was proclaimed a “self-governing democratic state”. The power of the co-Princes was nominally acknowledged. For the first time in history Andorrans had a constitutional right to form political parties and trade unions; an independent judicial system emerged around the same time. Soon after the adoption of the Constitution, France and Spain admitted the sovereignty of Andorra. In December of the same year first elections for General Council positions were organized in accordance with a new electoral law that decreased the electoral age from 25 to 18. In January, 1986, in accordance with the “Decree on Institution Reformation” of 1981, an Executive Council was formed.

In June 1990 Andorra signed a customs union treaty with the EU. A new criminal code was adopted.

At the referendum that took place on March 14, 1993, a majority of the citizens voted for the implementation of a new democratic constitution that abolished the feudal system which existed since 1278. Thus Andorra became a sovereign parliamentary Principality (in fact, a Republic). It is governed by the co-Princes of Andorra – the President of France and the bishop of Urgell which are represented by their respective vicars.  The bishop vicars are changed every 3 years, the vicar of the French president is a prefect of the Eastern Pyrenees French department, he is appointed for a life-long term. The Co-Princes remained the heads of the country, keeping the right to veto on issues of international affairs and legislation. The Constitution guaranteed the citizens major human rights and political freedoms and allowed the formation of political parties and trade unions. The government of the country obtained the right to implement income taxes. The Constitution officially came into force on May, 4 (March 2) 1993 after obtaining official permission from both co-Princes and General Council.

On June, 4 1993 the “Treaty for neighborly relations and cooperation between the Kingdom of Spain, the French Republic and the Principality of Andorra” was signed. Pursuant to that treaty Andorra obtained a new status; a new parliamentary system limited the power of the heads of the state.

On July, 1993, Andorra became a member of UN. The country stopped imposing taxes on goods imported from EU countries, but did not become an official member the Union. France no longer represented the interest of Andorra in international affairs and lost the right to send police to Andorra for maintenance of law and order.

Beginning in 1997 Andorra began to consolidate its position as a significant touristic and trading center of Europe. There are no direct taxes in the country – Andorra is well known as a “tax heaven”.  The government implemented a number of direct taxes for nonresidents and later for local companies and citizens only at the end of 2007 as a result of global financial crisis. Currently the principality is very advanced technologically. Internet access is among the best in Europe. Andorra is the first European country to have fiber optic lines installed nationwide.

Look here for Pere Joan Tomas Sogero essay: “Legends of the Emperors’ Homeland: Ancient history, modern and contemporary history of Andorra”

See also Andorra la Vella history

See also Escaldes-Engordany history

See also Political system of Andorra