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LOCATION: Andorra (Principality of Andorra) (between France and Spain)
LANGUAGE: Catalan, French, Spanish, some English
RELIGION: Roman Catholic; some Protestants, Muslims, Hindu and Jews


The autonomous principality of Andorra is a tiny, mountainous nation in Western Europe. This isolated rustic region was virtu ally unknown to the outside world until the mid-20th century. Since that time, improved transportation and communications have strengthened its ties to neighboring countries, and it has grown to be a popular tourist destination for vacationers from Spain, France, and other countries throughout Europe.

At one time, the land that is now Andorra formed part of the Roman Empire. The Romans were succeeded by Germanic tribes and, in the 9th century ad, Moorish invaders who entered present-day Europe from North Africa. Charlemagne, the Frankish ruler who challenged the Moors and established the Holy Roman Empire, is credited with freeing Andorra from Moorish rule and is generally considered the country's first national hero. Charlemagne's grandson, Charles II, granted control of Andorra to a Spanish noble, the Count of Urgel. In the 12th and 13th centuries, authority over the region was dis puted by the bishops of Urgel and the French Count of Foix, who signed agreements in 1278 and 1288 establishing a system of joint rule over the area. The Count's claim on Andorra eventually passed to France's head of state. Except for a brief period following the French revolution, France's leaders (including all its presidents since 1870) have had the title of Prince of Andorra, sharing official control of the region with the bishops of Urgel. Andorra paid a nominal sum—under $10 in present-day U.S. currency—to each ruler every other year until the adoption of its present constitution in 1993. (The bishop of Urgel traditionally received part of his payment in produce and livestock, including 12 hens.)

Andorran farmers began raising tobacco in the 19th century, but their country remained isolated and relatively impoverished until the establishment of improved transportation and communication systems in the 1930s, thus laying the foundation for development of the nation's tourist industry following World War II. In the wake of a constitutional crisis in the 1930s, Andorra's General Council ruled that all male citizens aged 25 and over could vote, whereas the vote had previously been restricted to heads of families. In 1970 the voting age was low ered to 21 and women were given the right to vote. Andorra became a parliamentary democracy in 1993 when it adopted its first constitution, which retained the nation's relationship to its French and Spanish princes but limited their powers. Under the constitution, political parties and trade unions were legalized for the first time. Andorra became a member of the United Nations in July 1993.


Andorra is located on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. With a total area of 468 sq km (175 sq mi), it is one of the world's smallest nations—about half the size of New York City. Much of its ter rain has elevations of 2,500 m (8,200 ft) or more above sea level, and its highest peak reaches 2,946 m (9,668 ft). The land also includes picturesque meadows, fields, and lakes, and the Valira River, which flows into Spain. Only about 4% of Andorra's territory is cultivable. The Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley, in Andorra, was also designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2004.

About two-thirds of Andorra's 81,222 people live in urban areas, mainly the capital city of Andorra la Vella and the second largest city Escaldes-Engordany. Andorra has one of the highest population densities in Europe: 173 per sq km (449.5 persons per sq mi). Native born Andorrans make up only about 36% of the population. The greatest number of foreign-born residents are Spaniards, who account for over half the population. Other siz able groups include the Portuguese (10%) and French (over 6%). The diverse ethnic mix of people attracted to present-day Andorra also includes Belgians, Germans, Poles, North and South Americans, British, Australians, Filipinos, Moroccans, Indians, and others.


Andorra's official language is Catalan, a Romance language similar to the Provençal spoken in the south of France. Catalan is also the official language of Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain located in the northeast corner of that country, and is spoken in the Spanish region of Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and the French department (or province) of Pyre-nees Orientales. Besides Catalan, most Andorrans also speak French and Spanish, and many speak even more languages, such as English, if they are engaged in tourism or commerce. Official government documents are printed in Catalan.


Andorra's most famous religious shrine, the church at Meritxell, is the subject of a popular legend. It houses a statue—the Virgin of Meritxell—that is said to have been found on a snowy hillside surrounded by blooming plants hundreds of years ago. Travelers who found the statue tried repeatedly to move it to a covered area in town, but each time it disappeared only to be found once again on the hillside surrounded by flowers. Finally, it was decided that the statue was destined to remain in that spot, so a church was built to house it. The statue became Andorra's most important religious emblem and a popular destination for pilgrimages.

The lake of Engolasters is the subject of two more religious legends. One claims that the lake was created by flooding when Jesus Christ, disguised as a poor traveler, was turned away by a woman he had approached and caused a flood to show her the evil of her ways. According to another legend, the stars fall from the sky in order to stay in the beautiful lake permanently.

A famous character from secular lore is Andorra's "White Lady," who is part of all major festivals. According to tradition, she was a princess abused by a wicked stepmother. After surviving her stepmother's attempt to have her killed, she married a man who headed a rebellion against her father and step mother, and the two became Andorra's most illustrious couple.


More than 90% of Andorrans are Roman Catholics, and Catholicism influences many aspects of Andorran society. Even today the government of Andorra has a special relationship with the Catholic Church. The importance of Catholicism is reinforced by the fact that one of the principality's two princes is a Spanish bishop. In addition, the church's traditional parish system forms the basis of the country's administrative structure. All public records are kept by the church, and only Catholic marriages are officially recog nized in Andorra. The country also has small populations of Protestants (including New Apostolic Church, Mormons, Anglicans, Reunification, and Jehovah's Witnesses), about 100 Jews, and about 2,000 Muslims and Hindus.


Andorra's holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), Good Friday, Easter Monday, the Andorran National Day (September 8), and Christmas (December 25), as well as other holy days of the Christian calendar. The National Day is observed by mak ing a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Meritxell, Andorra's most important religious site. In addition to these national holidays, Andorra's seven parishes all have their own local festivals.


Baptism, first Communion, and marriage are considered rites of passage for Andorrans, as they are mostly Roman Catholic.


Life centers around the family for most Andorrans, and fathers traditionally exert tight control over their wives and children. The Roman Catholic Church also plays a central role in the social life of Andorrans. For example, only Catholics are permitted to get married in Andorra.


Many Andorrans still live in traditional slate-roofed stone farm houses, often built against mountainsides to leave stretches of level land free for planting. Most of these rural houses have livestock areas or tool sheds on the ground floor, a kitchen and family area on the second floor, and bedrooms on the third. The country's rapid development in recent decades has led to a boom in both residential and commercial construction. However, due to Andorra's scarcity of flat land, it is difficult to find space for the new buildings. Modern multi-story apartment blocks and rustic village houses crowd in on each other with only narrow lanes in between. While this aspect of Andorra's economic development has drawn criticism, many of its people have regarded it as a necessary price that must be paid for the advantages brought by increased prosperity and closer ties with the outside world.

Before the 1930s, when the first roads to France and Spain were built, Andorra had no vehicles whatsoever—not even horse-drawn carriages. All transport was by pack animals. Over the past half-century, the tiny nation has rapidly joined the modern world; by the 1980s, it had one motor vehicle for every four inhabitants. Although Andorra has no railways, excellent roads provide passenger and freight transport routes to both France and Spain. There are also several cable cars in operation. With no commercial airports of its own, Andorra must rely on international airports in Barcelona, Spain and Toulouse, France for air connections.

Average life expectancy in Andorra is 76 years. Catholic priests and lay personnel play an active role in the administration of the country's hospitals.


Family allegiance and cohesion are central to life in Andorra, although the absolute control traditionally exercised by fathers has diminished over the past half-century due to the social changes brought about by the opening of Andorra to tourism and commerce. A desire for change was already evident in the constitutional crisis of the 1930s that resulted in the granting of suffrage to all men over 25. Previously, the principality's politi cal structure had reinforced its patriarchal tradition by limiting the vote to male heads of households. Women were granted the right to vote in 1970.


Andorrans wear modern Western-style clothing like that common throughout Western Europe and in other developed nations. Traditional costumes—still worn for folk dancing and on special occasions—reflect the influence of Catalonia. Women wear full, flowered skirts over white petticoats; blouses (sometimes covered by flowered shawls); long, black, finger less net gloves; and black espadrilles with white stockings. Men wear white shirts, dark knee-length pants, white stockings, and black shoes. They may also wear broad red sashes ties at the waist.


During its centuries of isolation, Andorra evolved its own cuisine, distinct from that of its neighbors, France and Spain. Favorite dishes are often based on farm produce and freshly caught game. One popular type of dish is a stew made from hare, wild boar, or chamois (mountain goat), in which the animal is simmered in its own blood (the hare stew is called civet) . Other favorite meats include lamb chops (often grilled on hot stones), sausages, and ham (which may be fried in honey and vinegar to create the dish rostes amb mel). Common en-trees also include trinxat (boiled potatoes and cabbage), grilled trout (often caught in a nearby stream and seasoned with garlic and black pepper), and omelettes made with wild mushrooms. Andorra also has distinctive regional desserts, most notably coques, flat cakes made with grape syrup, brandy, and other flavorings. The village of Canillo is known for a special dessert called coca de canel, consisting of dried fruit simmered in wine and sugar.


Andorra has a literacy rate of virtually 100%. Schooling is compulsory from age 6 to 16. About 35% of Andorra's primary schools are French; 35% are Spanish and 29% are Catalan but follow a Spanish curriculum as well. Andorrans who attend college usually do so in France or Spain. However in 1997 the University of Andorra was established. Because the number of students makes it impossible for the University of Andorra to develop a full academic program, it serves primarily as a center for virtual studies, connected to Spanish and French universities.


Andorra has an old and rich folk heritage which is perpetuated in its folk dances. One of the most popular dances is the sardana, which is also the national dance of Catalonia in northeastern Spain. The dancers—young and old, male and female—form a circle or a long line, holding their clasped hands high in the air to perform this slow, graceful dance. Short, sedate steps alternate with longer, bouncy ones, and the dancers must pay close attention to the music to know when it is time for each type of step. While the sardana only attained its present form in the 19th century, it is based on an older dance that was formerly held in the open air after certain church services.

In addition to the sardana, which is popular throughout Andorra, various regions have their own dances, including the marratxa of Sant Julia de Loria, the contrapas of Andorra la Vella, and the Bal de Santa Ana of Les Escaldes, all of which are performed only on special occasions. Folk singing is also a popular pastime, and traditional pantomimes are still performed as well.


Until the 1930s most Andorrans were farmers and shepherds. They traditionally followed the Catalan pattern of leaving most or all of their land to one child (usually the eldest son) to prevent it from being split up into smaller holdings. This practice left the other children without a livelihood, forcing many to emigrate—today there are more ethnic Andorrans in France and Spain than in Andorra itself. With the growth of tourism since the 1950s, however, improved employment opportunities have kept more Andorrans at home, as well as attracting immi grants from Spain, France, Portugal, and other countries. Under Andorra's constitution, approved in 1993, the formation of trade unions was allowed for the first time in the country's history. Adoption of the constitu tion is also expected to create jobs in the newly expanded pub lic sector. Trade has become especially prominent in Andorra because of the lower tax rates for manufacturing and Andorra's Tax free Status. Also, the tourist industry has blossomed because of the number of products that can be purchased duty free, in addition to Andorra's attractive recreational opportunities. Tourism now accounts for more than 80% of Andorra's gross domestic product (GDP).


Located high in the Pyrenees, Andorra has the perfect climate to make it a prime ski area. It is snow-covered for six months of the year, but its skies are usually clear and sunny, providing a picturesque view of its beautiful scenery as well as safe skiing conditions. Its resorts attract visitors from France, Spain, and other countries throughout Europe. Each resort offers ski lessons through the Andorran National Ski School. Once the ski season is over, Andorra's mountains are still frequented by hikers, mountaineers, and rock climbers. Hunting, fishing, cycling, and horseback riding are other popular outdoor activities. Competitive sports include rugby, soccer, tennis, golf, and auto racing.


Andorrans receive both television and radio broadcasts from neighboring countries. In addition, Andorra has two powerful radio stations of its own, with the highest transmitter in Europe. Andorrans who spend their leisure time in outdoor pursuits have an unusual resource located in the scenic mountains of their country—a series of 21 uninhabited cabins that are open to the public for use as overnight shelters.


Traditional Andorran crafts include elaborately carved pine-wood furniture, pottery, and ironwork. A regional specialty is a class of products known as musicatures, which are decorated in a distinctive style with a knife point. These designs are found on many types of items, including wooden, leather, and even metal handicrafts, as well as furniture.


While tourism has brought new economic opportunities to Andorra since the 1950s, it has also marred the country's pristine landscape. In mountainous areas, high-rise residential accommodations for skiers have crowded out older wooden buildings. Towns have been overrun with tourist shops and restaurants and there has been a major increase in heavy automobile traffic. Real estate speculation has driven up property prices, making it difficult for young couples to afford their own homes.


Women in Andorra gained the right to vote in 1973. Today women have the legal capacity to act on equal terms with men. While there remain gender inequalities in the areas of employment and child care, the Andorran government has attempted to close these gaps. Women's rights are protected in the Andorran Constitution as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. However, culturally, those in the 45–65 age range still harbor sexist attitudes. Andorra has very strong laws against prostitution, which can result in imprisonment. Abortion is illegal except in order to save the woman's life.

Homosexuality is legal in Andorra and same sex partnerships were legalized in Andorra in 2005.


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—revised by C. Corrigan