Andorra — History and Culture
Andorran culture is in essence Catalan, including its music, literature, and dance. Visitors should not overlook the many opportunities to get up close with the principality’s history through its concerts, festivals, museums, and feasts, even though the territory’s duty-free shopping and superb skiing can be worthy distractions. Andorra’s long heritage blends this unique state, bringing together facets of the surrounding countries, especially in music, dance, and gastronomy. Andorrans consider their culture to be an important part of their modern, everyday lives, particularly at festival times.
The Principality of Andorra is the last of the March States to survive in the modern world. Originally created by Emperor Charlemagne as a defensive buffer between the Moors in Spain and Christian France, the March States were awarded charters in return for their successful campaigns against the Moorish invaders. In the 10th century, Charles the Bald, the grandson of the great emperor, gifted Andorra to the Bishop of Seu d’Urgell, the head of the Spanish Catholic diocese of Urgell.
By the late 11th century, as a result of local conflicts, the Bishop of Urgell was under the protection of the powerful Spanish Lord of Caboet, thus beginning the process of dual rulers over the country. Through a marriage, a French nobleman became heir to the Lord of Caboet’s estate including Andorra, considerably displeasing the Bishop of Urgell. Arguments continued until 1278, and the final agreement gave both the bishop and the French Count of Foix joint rights over the principality.
The inevitable ongoing squabbles over which country’s nobility had what and why were finally resolved in 1607, when an edict by Henry IV of France established the head of the French state in perpetuity and the Bishop of Urgell as joint princes. After several uneventful centuries in its remote backwater, tiny Andorra made the headlines in WWI by declaring war on Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany. Although no actual fighting took place in the principality, it continued in a state of belligerency for 40 years or so as its rulers refused to sign the Treaty of Versailles which ended the war.
Between 1936 and 1940, a French garrison was based in Andorra to prevent Francoist troops invading during the Spanish Civil War. Spanish troops were sent to the border region, but were unable to proceed. During WWII, the state was an important people and goods smuggling route between Spain and Vichy France, although Andorra remained neutral. Separated from the thrust of European history for most of its long years as a principality, Andorra is now a member of the Council of Europe and the United Nations, although it remains separate from the European Union.
Andorra’s ancient culture began with the Romans and was influenced by the region’s location close to several mountain passes leading to northern Europe. Over the centuries, Spain, Italy, and France played a strong part in its development into a primarily Catalonian area with Catalan its main language. Its most valued cultural asset is the long legacy of Romanic art, most visible in its 50 Romanesque churches and their interior murals and frescos, as well as in the displays in Andorran museums.
An essential and ongoing part of Andorran culture is its folk dances, performed with pride and enthusiasm at festivals and other events. Dances such as the contrapas and marraxta are Catalan in character, and have been passed down through the ages with little change. Music is also a strong part of Andorran culture and has expanded to embrace both classical and modern styles such as jazz and orchestral concerts. Additionally, traditional Catalan cuisine is considered a vital part of the state’s cultural glories.
The varied and rich Catalan folklore is a part of everyday life in the principality, with the roots of colorful legends and tales set as far away as Andalusia and the Netherlands. Literature is also important, with several famous writers from the 18th century and on making significant contributions to the country. Geographically isolated and traditionally tied to France and Spain, Andorra has developed its own significantly individual culture, which has only recently been affected by the arrival of a vast number of tourists from across the world.