(fire up the flickr.com slideshow for Andorra while you’re learning about the country.
Remember to look through the slideshow once before showing the kids just in case anything inappropriate has gotten in there.)
Andorra is a Catalan-speaking 181 square mile country (about two and a half times the size of Washington D.C.) found high in the eastern Pyrenees mountains, bordering both France and Spain. According to legend, King Charles the Great (King Charlemagne), who was King of the the Franks starting in the year 768 and then Roman Emperor from 800 until his death in 814, granted the people of Andorra a charter to their land in 805 in exchange for their fighting for Christian France against Islamic Moors. Charlemagne’s grandson, Charles the Bald (most always seen in portraits, for some reason, wearing
his crown) declared the Count of Urgell, a Catalan-speaking county in what is now Spain, the overlord of Andorra. A descendant of the count gave the charter to the Church, granting power over the land to the Diocese of Urgell, headed by the Bishop of Urgell. In the 1100s and 1200s there was much fighting between French nobles and the Catalonian Church over the leadership of Andorra, though the issue found resolution in a deal that shared leadership between the French-leaning Count of Foix and the Bishop of Urgell. Eventually Andorra became a principality, with the co-princes being the Bishop of
Urgell and the President of France.Andorra has been able to remain relatively autonomous by shifting its allegiance from support of one of its ruling nations to another. Only in 1993 did Andorrans finally adopt their own constitution and enter the United Nations as an independent nation.
During World War I Andorra declared war on Imperial Germany and, like other Allied powers, they won…eventually. Somehow Andorra was never included in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, and was officially at war with Germany until 1957. Unofficially, Andorra was able to remain neutral, and unoccupied by German, throughout World War II, though its land was a regular route for smugglers working for all sides.
Today Andorra is a destination for both Western Europeans and their money; tourists flock to Andorra for its ski resorts and its duty free shopping. (Smuggling is less of a problem than it was during WWII, though old habits apparently die hard.) Since the 1980s Andorra’s infrastructure has modernized, even though there is still no airport or train service, and Andorra’s population has soared!…to 80,000. While Andorra has no formal army–in the case of real trouble, France and/or Spain would step in–Andorran males from 21 to 60 are required own a rifle (or, to borrow one from the police) to rise to defend their nation in case of an alarm.
Andorran traditional culture may be less a magnet for tourists than its shopping malls, but Andorrans still know how to have a grand time. The folk music of Andorra is,
not surprisingly, a mix of French and Spanish sounds with a distinct Catalan flavor. (At
public folk festivals Andorrans will dance a mean contrapás.)
The year 2004 was a particularly important one in the history of Andorran culture. In that year, Andorran pop singer Marta Roure represented the very small state in the very big
Eurovision song competition, presenting the first Catalan-language song in the continent-wide sing-off’s history (the music starts at about 0:45). While Roure didn’t qualify for the final, she paved the way for other Andorran Europop musicians to share the continental stage.