Andorra History
History of the Principality of Andorra, Europe

Andorramania > Art & culture > History of the Principality of Andorra


By Josep Quereda Vàzquez
Translated by Xavier Pi i Garcia.

Historical Periods:

1. Prehistory (3.500 B.C.-2nd. century B.C.)
2. Ancient Age (2nd century B.C. till 7th century A.D.)
3. Middle Age (700 A.D.-1.1512 A.D.)
4. Modern Age (1.512 A.D.-1.899 A.D.)
5. Twentieth Century

1. Prehistory (3.500 B.C.-2nd. century B.C.)

There are no findings regarding populations in this area during the Paleolithic age, nevertheless nomad tribes crossed undoubtedly the area at that time. The valleys in the Pyrenees where inhabitated at a later time. The prehistoric glacial period delayed the population of the area.
During the period known as Neolithic (3.500 B.C.-2.000 B.C.) small groups of people lived by the Valira river, mainly at "Sant Julià de Lòria". Some other groups dwelled caves placed at "Cim de Pal", "Roc de Llunsí", "Massana" and "Arinsal". During the year 1.959, was found the oldest skeleton of Andorra. It was a woman that lived about 4000 years ago, and found at the "Balma de la Margineda", where they also found arrow tips, flinstone industry, bone tools, ceramic fragments, etc.
During this period, we can affirm the existence of the first stabilization of the population, that adopt the particular characteristics that will identify in the future as the genuine "andorrans", the "Andosins".
The Andorra dwellers at the time, passed from a depredation economy to a steady and constructive one, building hamlets at the foot of "Serra d'Enclar", "Roureda del Cedre" and others, receiving from the passing by travellers, the "Bronze-culture" (taking advantage of all the metals found in "Arinsal").
On the other hand, there is the evidence of progress in the Megalithic industry, as shown by some dolmens ("Encamp"), cave paintings as the "Roca de les Bruixes", "Prats", "Ordino" and "Massana". They spoke an Iberic dialect (Basque-type), that is still present at the toponymy of the zone (Andorra, "Ordino", "Canillo", "Arinsal", "Erts", "Certers", etc.). We know that the primitive Andorrans adore the forces of nature, the forests, the lakes, etc. From this time they found as well "16" Iberic coins at "Sant Julià de Lòria".

2. Ancient Age (2nd century B.C. till 7th century A.D.)

Centuries passed away. At 220 B.C. Romans and Carthaginians fought each other to conquer the Iberian Peninsula. Polybius, the greek historian, refers to the Roman expedition of Hannibal, that went through the Pyrenees (219 B.C.-218 B.C.):

"After he made all preparations during the winter, and once he had guaranteed the absolute security of Africa and Spain, and when the day arrived, he advanced his army with 90.000 infantry-men and 12.000 cavalry-men. (...) He passed and crossed the "Segre" river, submitted the tribes of "Ilergetes", "Bargusis", "Arenosis" and "Andosins" till he arrived to the Pyrenees, having many battles and a great deal of losses in his army ..."

But Hannibal failed and Rome strengthen its Empire. The Roman influence is evident in Law, language origin, coins of the period and toponimic names as "Escaldes", "La Massana", "Encamp", "Incles", "Sispony", "Tristaina", "Valira", "Runer", etc. Regarding the language, this was originally at the "Valleys" probably a conjunction "Basque Iberic", as shows the "Andorran toponymy", with some "basque" evidences. The agricultural improvements that came from outside, make a great deal of benefit, in the archaic mountain crops.
During 414 A.D. barbarian Visigoths took "Narbone" and passed to "Hispania". Andorra, was dependant of Visigoths Monarchs as said in the "Manual Digest".

3. Middle Age (700 A.D.-1.1512 A.D.)

Three hundred years later, the Visigoths were eliminated by other invaders, the "Muslims". The take over of the Muslims getting into Andorra, through the Segre valley, was absolutely minimal, at least in a direct way, and the real evidences are the minute remnants of Arab population used the Valleys of Andorra as a shortcut to reach Toulouse, Narbonne, Carcassone and Nimes.
The famous battle of Poitiers, where Carles Martell defeated Arabs, and that of "Roncesvalles" marked the end of those expeditions to the other part of the Pyrenees (732 A.D.-778 A.D.).
Andorra, is considered to be founded by the Emperor Charlemagne. As tradition says, five thousand andorrans, conducted by Marc Almugàver, appeared at the "Vall de Carol" to help the army of Charlemagne, located at "Pimorent" and "Campcardòs" in order to fight Muslims. The emperor thankful to the Andorran army gave his protection to Andorra and declare it as "Sovereign People" (788 A.D.).
"Fiter i Rossell" writes in the "Manual Digest" that the Valleys were recovered to the Arabs by Charlemagne, and so were submitted to his supreme dominion. The emperor give the "dècimes" (tenths) and some other rights to the Bishops of Urgell. There exists a "Bill of Andorra's Foundation", kept by the archive of the Principate; this bill was issued by Charlemagne to his son "Lluís" and it is not accepted by all the historians, because it was written and given in a late period. This document establish that Andorran people, where his tributaries, but however he specifies that they only have to pay "one or two fishes as tribute", this fact is quite peculiar, because is the first reference to the "Valira's trouts".
Nevertheless, Andorra yet reminds the protection of the great emperor, and at the National Anthem sings:

"The great Charlemagne, my father, set me free from the Arabs"...

The fact is that Andorra as well as L'Urgell and "La Cerdanya" passed in 817 A.D. to depend of the Carolingian Sovereignty integrating themselves in the "Marca of Tolosa". We suppose that when the Carolingian Empire disappear, during the kingdom of "Carles el Calb" (Charles the Bald) (823 A.D.-877 A.D.) this king gave the Andorran territory to Sunifred the first, count of Cerdanya and Urgell (843 A.D.), thanking him specifically his help in the fights against Normands.
The year 839 A.D. is the moment to rebuild the territory of the Pyrenees. Forty six years before, the Arabs have destroyed the cathedral of Urgell. At this time, they set up a new one in the place called "Vicus".
The first unquestionable document regarding the history of Andorra is the "Act of Consecration and Assignment of the Cathedral of Urgell" done by the bishop in front of the Count Sunifred the first of Urgell. In this document, they specifically cite the six andorran parishes, as being dependant of such diocese:

"Tradimus namque ipsas parroquias de Valle HAndorransis id est ipsa parroquia de Lauredia atque Andorra cum Sancta Columba sive illa Maciana atque Hordinaui uel Hencamp sive Kanillaue cum omnibus ecclesiis atque villulis uel uilarunculis earum."
("We give as well the parishes of the Valleys of Andorra, this is to say, Loria and Andorra, and Santa Coloma, Massana, Ordino, Encamp, and Canillo with all their churches and possessions, big or small.")

During this century and the next, by means of purchases and permutes, the successors of the counts of Urgell, enlarge their possessions at Andorra.
The year 988 A.D. count Borrell the second of Barcelona and the bishop, reach an exchange agreement for their property: the first mentioned gave lands of Lòria, Santa Coloma and Ordino in change of several rights for "Berga" and "Cerdanya".
While the "romanic" evolves at the Principate, the episcopal dominions increase at Andorra, thanks to several concessions from private people and from the counts of Urgell, always backed by the Popes, ending this situation in 1133 when count Ermengol the 4th of Urgell, gave to the bishop "Pere Berenguer" and the Cathedral of Urgell, by means of an indemnification of 1.200 "sous", all the rights that have or may have in the future to the Valleys of Andorra, "in perpetuity and without any reservation" and orders to the inhabitants of the Valleys to swear fidelity to the bishop and his successors, and respect all the duties of good vassals. Altogether with count Ermengol guarantee this donation the six andorran delegates, "Arnau" count of the "Pallars", "Pere de Castellbó" viscount d'Urgell and "Cerdanya" and "Miró Guitard", Master of the "Valls de Cabó and Sant Joan".
The territorial dominion of the bishop of Urgell, was then transformed into a "jurisdictional mastership" and their relations with Andorra will be in the future of "feudal style". So Andorra, converts in an episcopal mastery (mastership).
The "Caboet", Masters of the "Valls de Cabó and Sant Joan" convene with the bishop "Bernat Sanç", the supremacy of the "Mitre of Urgell" over his rights at the Valleys of Valira.
But when the mastery power exercised the "mitre", rose the trouble. During 1162 A.D. being bishop "Bernat Sanç", an agreement regarding the election of mayors was signed, compromising a yearly tribute: "four hams, forty breads and a little bit of wine". In 1176 a new agreement with bishop "Arnau de Preixens", completes and explains fully the above mentioned one, the people from Andorra accepted the compromise of giving the bishop "one hundred 'diners' every two years", in Christmas day. This concordant agreement was signed by 838 "house heads" from Andorra, and thanks to this data we can establish the existing population at the Valleys at that time (1176), 2.298 inhabitants approx.
But, since the middle of the XIth century, the Bishops of Urgell had lived quite worried, because they could not secure their dominions, so the bishop entrust the "Caboet" the defense of Andorra, giving in change properties and some rights in the Valleys. So, in 1096, "Guitard Isarn de Caboet" swear fidelity to the bishop "Bernat Sanç", in 1110 "Guillem Guitard" did the same, and in 1159 "Arnau de Caboet".
In 1185, "Arnaua", lady of the "Caboet family", married "Arnau de Castellbó" (heir at law of the viscountcy of Castellbó), and this unite his name to the destiny of Andorra.
Taking advantage of the antiecclesistical climate, promoted by the heresy, the troops of the "Viscountcy of Castellbó" and those of the "Count of Foix", steal and destroy the cathedral of Urgell and many other churches, because "Arnau" as well as his heiress and only daughter "Ermessenda" practice "Catarism". Anyhow, during 1201 A.D. the bishop "Bernat de Vilamur" and "Arnau de Castellbó" reach an agreement, and the bishop granted the Viscount and his daughter the "investiture" of the Valley of Andorra, asking in change to swear fidelity to him by both. Seven years later, "Ermessenda" marries "Roger Bernat II" count of Foix. Now they unite states and rights of the "Caboet", "Castellbó" and "Foix". The matrimonial alliances, enlarge even more the "House of Foix". In 1257, "Roger Bernat III", marries "Margarida de Bearn" and convert himself in one of the mightiest magnates of Southern France, as well as from the kingdom of Catalunya-Aragó. Considering himself that he had no ties and submission to the bishop, initiates a period of struggle in some cases serious and bloody. The situation get worse when "Pere III el Gran" from Aragó, gives support to the rights of the bishop, while his brother "Jaume II" of Mallorca, "Rosselló" and "Cerdanya", married to "Esclarmonda" (sister of "Roger Bernat III) protected his brother in law, the Count of Foix. "Pere II" of Catalunya forced the count of Foix and the bishop of Urgell to reach an agreement, by which the last party gave part of his rights, and both rested as co-sovereigns of Andorra. The signature was done at "Lleida" the 8th of September of 1278 A.D.
This agreement is known as "primer pariatge" (first co sovereignty) being a very important deed in the history of the Principate of Andorra.
Several years after, on December the 6th of 1288, both co masters signed a "second pariatge". The andorran people had the moment two sovereigns. Thanks to this situation, that remain through history, Andorra has maintained its independence if front of powerful nations on both border-lines.
Both co-princeps, living outside Andorra, named their councilors every other year alternatively, receiving the tribute of the "Questia", given by the andorrans. Andorra, then conforms as the actual co principate. The andorran people at that time feed normally of bread, milk, and some vegetables, as well as cheese "de llesca" (laminated), used usually to pay tributes.
In year 1419 A.D., "Andreu d'Alàs" as a messager of the Valleys of Andorra, got from the bishop co-prince "Francesc de Tovia" and the count of Foix, "Joan I" the permission to create the "Consell de la Terra" (Earth Council) -origin of the "General Council"-. At the same time they granted the right to the people of Andorra (in this election the only able to vote were the house-heads of the most important "houses or families") to elect several people to represent them in the Council. This Council may be considered one of the oldest Parliaments in Europe.
In the year 1469, "Ferran" of Aragó married "Isabel de Castella", and in 1479 on the other hand, "Gastó IV de Foix" viscount of "Castellbó" and of "Foix", co-prince of Andorra, marries "Joan d'Albret". The "Albrets" became the kings of Navarre, dominating as well "Foix", "Bearn" and "Bigorre", being at the same time co-princes of Andorra.
The attempts of annexation of the catalan lands dependant of the countcy of "Foix" to the crown catalano-aragonesa, done by Pere II de Catalunya (and IIIrd of Aragó) (1280-1283), "Alfons II" (1333-34) and "Marti the Human" (1396-1400) did not arrive, having account their temporary character, to interrupt the continuity of the peculiar regime of the andorran valley.

4. Modern Age (1.512 A.D.-1.899 A.D.)

The survival, after the definite union of those territories to the royal patrimony, decreed a century later by "Ferran II of Catalunya Aragó" (1512), results completely unexplained.
To say the truth, however "Ferran II the Catholic" (1512) conquers the southern part of Navarre and later obtains the viscountcy of "Castellbó" and the valleys of Andorra, and although he gave this as donation next year to his second woman, "Germana de Foix" as life present converted in perpetual by "Carles V" (1519 and 1523), the andorran people, continues being loyal and paying regularly the "Questia" to the kings of Navarre-counts of "Foix" as established in the previous "pariatges".
In 1589, "Enric III" king of Navarre and count of "Foix", became king of France, with the name of "Enric IV". This king, educated in the protestantism by his mother "Joana D'Albert", embraced the catholicism, in order to reach the French throne. "Lluís XIII" successor of "Enric IV" incorporates during 1607 the countcy of "Foix" to the French Crown, and this fact converted him in co-prince of Andorra with the bishop of Urgell, dignity that two centuries later, once disappeared the monarchy in France, passed to the following heads of the State.
Fortunately for Andorra, none of its mighty neighbours, never attempted to make reivindications that could go further that those established in the medieval "pariatges".
This let Andorra keep its co-sovereignty, and obtain as well a "corpus" of privileges, juridical (citizens of a neutral country, no military service, no war contributions or of a foreign country occupation) as well as commercial (basically, free circulation of goods between both border-lines and very reduced taxes).
The first years of the 18th century, Andorra maintains neutral during the war of Spanish Succession, that affected so much Catalunya. During 1715 the bishop of Urgell, "Simeó de Guinda" dictates several orders, indicating the consuls of the Valleys of Andorra not to obey any order dictated by third parties others than the king of France or himself co-princes of the Valleys of Andorra.
Later on, appears in Andorra the most important person of the "Il.lustració", "Antoni Fiter i Rossell", attorney at law, born in Ordino, that compiled "the uses and costumes" of Andorra in the "Manual Digest", published during 1748. In this book, he transcripted everything that was in the andorran archives starting with the documents of "Charlemagne" and "Lluís el Piadós". The original manuscript is kept at the House of "Ordino", but there are two more copies: one at the closet of the seven keys of the House of the "Valls d'Andorra" (1580), and the other one at the bishopric of "Seu D'Urgell".
In 1763, clergy "Antoni Puig", born in "Les Escaldes", writes another very important book for the history of Andorra, inspired in that of "Fiter i Rossell", entitled "Politar Andorrà", a costumes book describing the privileges of the Principate and the attributions of the authorities in other topics. These two books, well understood that have to be contextualized at that time, show evidence that Andorra did not live isolated of the european ideological currents in the 18th century.
In 1789, the French Revolution places Andorra between two powerful nations, France and Spain, confronted permanently. Beheaded "Lluís XVI" (1-21st-1793) the "pariatge" was interrupted because the french revolutionaries considered the acceptance of tributes of the "Questia", as simple feudal remnants. So, France decided to renounce to all her master rights on Andorra not accepting the payment of the "Questia", this fact put in a serious risk the neutrality of the Valleys as well as the privileges attained from the french kings in the past.
In 1794, during the war with Spain, french troops penetrate till "Soldeu" in an attempt to occupate the "Seu D'Urgell". Representatives from Andorra, went to "Puigcerdà", where General "Chabret" had his headquarters, and convinced him to renounce to the operation. Years later, on Andorran request, in 1806, "Napoleon Ist" re-established the positions of "Veguer" and "French Batlle", the "Questia" and the custom exemptions given in the past by king "Lluís XVth".
This definite re-establishment of the "co-sovereignty" marked a new period in the history of Andorra. We can say that the Valleys of Andorra get open to the world. The first european travellers, get interested by the beauty of landscapes and their customs. Appear the first books, as "Relació sobre la Vall d'Andorra" written by "Fray Tomas Junoy". Even the music crosses the border-lines: in 1848 the opera of Paris plays Halevy's piece "La Val d'Andorra", and in 1852 in Madrid was presented the "sarsuela" "El Valle de Andorra" from "mestre Gaztambide".
At the same time, the andorran neutrality was seriously threatened by the Spanish dynastic conflict, and their associated battles. Frequently, "liberals" and "Charlists" look for shelter in the Valleys, as for example "Dalmau de Baquer" that even wrote a book entitled "History of the Republic of Andorra".
In the year 1866, "Guillem de Plandolit i d'Areny" nobleman and rich landowner, headed the "Nova Reforma", that was accepted by the bishop "Josep Caixal i Estradé" in April 14th 1866. This deep reform of the institutions gives a more active participation of the people in the government of Andorra. The "General Council" is composed by 24 "Consellers", that will be elected by the "síndics". Three years later, the co-prince "Napoleon IIIrd" ratified the reform done.
During the last years of the last century, the economic difficulties, forced many people to migrate, at the same time they inaugurated the first telephone and telegraph lines. At the end of the 19th century, Andorra, was an almost unknown and isolated country, that from time to time was visited by some travellers that frequently wrote down the accounts of their journeys.

5. Twentieth Century

The institutions, maintain their spirit, and curiously are respected, as "Civil Justice" administered by "batlles" appeal judges and superior courts; "Criminal Justice" administered by the "Tribunal de Corts"; and the "Administrative-neighbour to neighbour" by the Court of "Veeduria" and places as "Sant Julià de Lòria" are witnesses. In 1899 they constitute the "Road Administrative Joint" that during 1907 found a definite impulse by the new co-prince, "Joan Benlloch i Vivó". Starting in 1914, Andorra, begins to break its traditional isolation, by the construction of the first road communicating Andorra and the "Seu d'Urgell". During 1933, this road is continued till the "Pas de la Casa", border-line with France.
Meanwhile, in 1914, the "Virgin of Meritxell" is declared "Patrona de les Valls d'Andorra", reckoning this way an andorran tradition of unknown origin, by Pope "Pius X". The Cardinal "Vidal i Barraquer", archbishop of Tarragone, altogether with the bishop co prince "Justí Guitart", crown the image of the "Mother of God from Meritxell" on September the 8th (National Holiday of the Principate) of 1921. We must emphasize as a highlight the first public interpretation of the National Anthem of Andorra, during the above mentioned act. In 1928, the Spanish Government creates a postal service between Andorra and Spain, printing stamps on andorran topics. France will do the same three years later. In 1929, are installed the first electric plants, because up to this point every parish made its own electricity with small electric generators. The new society "Forces Hidroelèctriques d'Andorra, S.A. (FHASA)", acquired all the exploitation rights of the andorran waters. The concession of this hydroelectric plant attracts workers from outside the Principate.
The aspiration of the Andorran people to exercise their universal right to vote (universal suffrage) not restricted, causes during 1933, a great political and social tension. On June the 10th, the "Tribunal de les Corts" removes the "Council", and the permanent delegates of the co-princes convoke elections.
The electoral system, was reformed in July 17th, and from now on every man older than 30 years would be eligible, voting only men 25 years and older.
As a curious happening we must say that during 1934, a Russian citizen called "Boris Skossyreff" Count of Orange, propose the "General Council" to be nominated King of Andorra, stating that he would accomplish the transformation and modernization of the country. The bishop of "Seu d'Urgell" disapproved it, and as an answer he declare the war, proclaiming himself "Sovereign Prince", and convoking general elections.
The bishop of "Seu d'Urgell" let a group of civil guards to enter in the Principate, under the command of sergeant, arresting the Russian citizen. He was sent to Barcelona, and once judged was sent out of Spain. During 1935, the "General Council" establish the concession of a radio: "Radio Andorra". Between 1936 and 1945 (Spanish Civil War and Second World War) Andorra continues with its strict neutrality, and gave shelter to the continuous arrival of political refugees and immigrants. During 1937 Andorra suffered severe floods. In 1940, during the second world war, German troops arrived till "Pas de la Casa", and Spanish garrison established at "Seu d'Urgell", but the intervention of the apostolic nuncio "Monseigneur Antoniutti", avoided confrontation.
In 1943, was done the last execution of a death penalty in the Valleys. In 1944, German troops, without any permission by the bishop of "Seu d'Urgell", and a group of Spanish Civil Guards stationed in Andorra, but they did not have any confrontation until they left in 1945.
The standard of living at the Principate starts being that of a modern state. Population duplicates in 12 years arriving to 12.199 in 1964. At this point begins the commercial and touristic take off, as a consequence of the increase in the standard of living. They developed the first ski resorts to practice winter sports. The ski is declared national sport. New generations of andorran people educated in foreign countries start to appear. In 1968, is created the "Caixa Andorrana de Seguretat" (CASS), and the automatic telex and telephone service. In 1967, the co-prince "Charles de Gaulle" was received enthusiastically at the Principate. Three years later, during 1970 the electoral law is reformed again, and women are allowed to vote from now on.
Now, men and women older than 21 years are allowed to vote, being eligible as well. In 1973, the first encounter of the co-princes since the 13th century S.S.E.E. "Joan Martí i Alanis" and "George Pompidou". In 1978, the parish "Escaldes-Engordany" segregates from "Andorra la Vella", and became the seventh civil parish of the Principate.
Years after, Andorra enter the "World Tourism Organization"; separate executive and legislative powers, and in January the 14th 1982 establishes the first government of Andorra, with "Mr. Oscar Ribas" as President. During this year, Andorra suffered severe floods, that left uncommunicated the Principate and caused a great number of dead and injured. During 1984, the Head of the Government, resigned and in 1989, the nationalist candidates won the elections. Between 1990 and 1992, Andorra signed an agreement with the European Economic Community, approves the "Penal Code", and the population census increases a great deal.
The year 1993, Andorra lived a great moment, approving the "Constitution", and the entry in the United Nations, and all their entities. The representative of the Principate, raises the catalan language to the highest European institutions, using this language (official language of Andorra) in his speech at the U. N.
Nowadays, Andorra, under the government of the "Molt Honorable Sr. Marc Forné i Molné", consolidates as a great touristic and commercial center, as well as in the practice of winter and mountain sports, as well as an incomparable place to enjoy some days with its thermoludic complex "Caldea".
Meanwhile, the modernization of the Principate continues, as is shown by the concession of new television frequencies that permit the reception of the spanish private televisions, because till now the only public televisions received were the catalans TV3 and C33, spanish (TVE-1 and the "2") and french (TF1, A2 and FR3, actually not all of them are public tv), and the definite consolidation of the Andorra Television (ATV).
At the moment, on December 11th 1997, the Government of Andorra made a proposal in order to issue driving licenses to young people (16 years old) being accompanied by an adult, and this can be compared with the rest of European countries such as France.