By Lawrence L. Klingman
Photographer: B.Anthony Stewart
The National Geographic Magazine
August 1949 Volume XCVI – number TWO
Published by the National Geographic Society
SATAN rode a fast-stepping, high-spirited stallion, mighty fine for the flatlands, but on the mule trail above Canillo, Andorra—high in the Pyrenees between France and Spain—that fancy thoroughbred just didn’t belong. Picking its proud way among the boulders, it slipped, and the Devil, to save himself a second Fall, grasped wildly out for support, but down he went too. That happened long ago, but if today you are skeptical, Andorrans will show you La Roca de la Salve, the jutting granite block along the road, where you can see for yourself the long gashes marked by Satan’s claws as he fell. That trail is a one-lane dirt road now and the rocks have been cleared; but it’s no longer safe to travel down it by mule, because you never know when a shiny new automobile will come speeding around the curve. The driver of that automobile, whether it’s a Lincoln or a cream coloured, red-leather-upholstered Delahaye you saw at the Salon d’Auto only a week before, is an Andorran peasant. And his wife seated beside him is certainly wearing nylon stockings and probably headed for town to make her weekly appointment at the beauty shop.
Electricity in Medieval Places
The 20th century has pierced the mountain-shelled isolation of Andorra and converted what was only a few years ago a sleepy little feudal country into Europe’s most bewildering land of paradox. Feudal laws— and electricity in the lowliest peasant hut; modern hotels alongside stone houses three and four centuries old; shop windows displaying the luxury goods of all the world, such as cameras, Swiss watches, English woollens, American nylon stockings; and flocks of sheep and goats that ramble through the streets— this is Andorra. Two more paradoxes explain the rest. Andorra is ruled jointly by “co-princes”— The President of France and the Bishop of Seo de Urgel in Spain. And this devoutly religious community has grown wealthy by smuggling and black-market trading.
A tiny triangle on the map, the country is only 20 miles across at its longest, 16 miles at its widest. Its gateways, the passes through the encircling Pyrenees, are all in the clouds, up the mountainsides on steep, torturous roads and trails. For 700 years the mountains insulated the country from the social and industrial development of its neighbours. In the 1920’s, despite Andorra’s opposition, France and Spain built roads to its borders. In 1933 the road on the French side was paved for motor traffic. It is open for five months of the year, from late June, when the snow melt, until mid-November, when they pile high again. But it has sufficed to change the ways of Andorran life. Revolution, war, and international tension have made it a well-travelled road. Down it refugee Republicans fled from Spain after the Civil War. Outbreak of global war sent spies from both sides cutting to this ideal vantage point and listening post. In the tragic summer of 1940 it saw the flight of anti-Nazis from France. Later, Allied airmen shot down over Europe mad it part of a regular escape route through Spain to Africa. Then the wheel came full circle as Nazi collaborators fled through Andorra to Spain.
Sheep Cross Border; Visitors Wait
We drove up the road from France on a stormy day in early November. At the border a convoy of six heavy trucks, surplus property sold by the United States Army, their green paint and insignia still untouched, was lined up before the French customs barrier. Forty feet up the road the barrier on the Andorran side had been raised to let a flock of some 100 sheep into France. We waited half an hour while the Andorran drivers of the trucks cleared the exit formalities. By that time three more flocks of sheep had come down from Andorra, to mill around expensive American and European cars whose owners were having more difficulty in crossing the narrow strip of no man’s land. When we had cleared French control, there was another wait for a fifth flock of sheep. Then we plunged immediately into a new atmosphere.
The paved roads ends at the border. Here, on either side of the dirt lane that succeeds it and runs on through Andorra to Spain, a collection of wooden shacks showing all the signs of resent and hasty construction had been thrown up. Their narrow windows were crowded with such merchandise as one found in France only on the black market, from American cigarettes to Spanish cordovan leather shoes. We sensed a Klondike air about this community. No gold had been discovered here; it was rather the equivalent of a western American frontier trading post of the past century, offering pioneers the last chance to purchase the products of the civilisation they have left. We entered one, a barracks like structure, lit brilliantly by the glare of strong and unshaded light bulbs. Bolts of cloth, wooden and cotton, were stacked to the ceiling along the walls, with cases of canned goods, shoes, wines, electrical equipment, and groceries.
Modern Goods — and Salesmanship
We soon found that not only modern merchandise but salesmanship, too, had invaded Andorra. As my wife purchased bananas and oranges, I asked the proprietress for a box of matches. “We have these, from Spain, with Don Quichote on the cover,” she said, extending a box. “Have you read Don Quixote” I answered that I would take the matches, and, yes, I had read the book. “Well then,” she said briskly, “You will be interested in this book about the book, and this one about Cervantes. And here we have some bracelets and brooches, very lovely, with the knight and Sancho Panza on them. And here are some picture postcards of the Cervantes country, and .. ..” She had everything, it turned out, except the original windmills. I finally escaped with only the matches and two postcards. It was cold and raining on the muddy road as we wound back and forth following the mountain contours, climbing to the Port (or pass) d’Envalira, the 9,226-foot-high peak of Envalira to our left, and the 8,661-foot peak of Mata on our right, both wreathed with clouds and crowned with snow. As we climbed the rain changed to snow, but through the 7,897-foot pass we could see patch of blue sky. We drove slowly, for the curves are sharp and bordered much of the way by sheer cliffs. The blue patch in the sky gradually grew larger. Suddenly we were through the pass. “Why, it’s like finding Shangri-la!” my wife exclaimed. And so it was. Below us stretched a splendid vista of warm and verdant valley, terraced fields dotted with farmhouses, villages, and cattle grazing peacefully in stone-fenced pastures. Beside the road ran the eastern branch of the Riu Valira— River of the Valley— sparkling like a million diamonds as it tumbled down the mountainside, winding its way swiftly between giant boulders, foaming into white spray at the rapids, now and again plunging over a little waterfall, and then stretching its way to run smoothly down the valley. Through the automobile windows came the first warm sunshine we had known since summer’s end in France. Tense from the cold and the long, difficult drive, we relaxed at once, feeling as prisoners must emerge from a dark dungeon into fragrant summer air. We drove through Soldeu, Canillo, Encamp, three of the country’s large villages, to Escaldes, best base for wandering through the country.
The typical Andorran is lean and dark, of less than average height, and,like many mountain people, extremely taciturn. There is an old Catalan proverb, “The fish opens his mouth once too often, and he dies,” which the Andorran learns in his cradle. Our first Andorran acquaintance, however, was a jovial fat man, bubbling over with good humour and talk. We sat at dinner in our hotel together, for our first Andorran feast: soup with tiny disk-shaped dough patties, fried brook trout, a salad of endive and pimento, veal chops fried in olive oil with fried potatoes and asparagus, and a sweet, dry Spanish cake, all washed down with the countryside’s favourite beverage, a half-and-half mixture of sweet red wine and dry white wine.
A Smuggler Reports His Business Good
Between the soup and the trout our jolly Falstaff told us he was a smuggler. “Andorrans have always been smugglers,” he said genially, ignoring my wife’s raised eyebrows. “In the old days the local government sold citizens monopolies on the right to contraband certain articles. Those days there wasn’t much to smuggle. But now business has never been so good, and there’s plenty for all the competition.” After World War II, he continued over the fish, the big profits lay in the semi-legal import-export trade, chiefly in automobiles. A car bought in France sold in Spain for twice its cost. Andorrans, with the prerogatives of both French and Spanish citizens, took advantage of the closed border blocking trade between their two big neighbours. They bought cars in France, registered them in Andorra, and sold them in Spain. I asked about the U.S. Army trucks we had followed on the road. “Ah,” he said, his chubby face lighting up, “this was the most profitable of all.” The French Government, he explained between mouthfuls of salad, acquired surplus American Army property in France. Trucks, greatly in demand all over Europe, were sold to individual Frenchmen for a million francs. Sales were on a priority basis, with former concentration camp victims and ex-prisoners of war getting the first call. “Now, I ask you,” he said with a deep chuckle and a glass of wine, “where could a man four years in a concentration camp get a million francs?” If he had had that much, he could have bought his way out from the Nazis.”
Changes in Smuggling Practices
Andorrans lent the money to individuals, he continued, and repurchased the trucks, often giving their intermediaries as much as a half-million-franc profit. They could well afford this, because the trucks sold in Spain for the equivalent of two-and-a-half-million francs. “And,” he concluded with the veal and a bang on the table, “it was almost legal !” With coffee and liqueurs we learned of changes in smuggling technique wrought by technological advances. In bygone days, our friend related, the smuggler put his pack on his back and climbed the mountains, sticking to trails known only to his family for centuries and proceeding on foot to the French or Spanish town where his contacts, descendants of those who had dealt with his grandfathers, were awaiting him. After World War II, three or four smugglers would drive in an automobile to within half a mile of the frontier. There all but the driver got out. Carrying packs and suitcases, they clambered over the mountain slopes and crossed the border at un-patrolled points to meet the car again on the road at a prearranged spot beyond the customs post. It is obviously impossible for either the French or the Spanish to patrol every foot of the wild mountain territory. In Olden times the main contraband commodity of Andorra was tobacco, for in both France and Spain tobacco manufacture has long been a government monopoly. When, early in the 18th century, tobacco cultivation was introduced in Andorra, both France and Spain energetically attempted to stamp it out. They met such determined resistance, however, that they soon gave up. Andorrans still raise more than 70,000 pounds of tobacco a year, most of which is smuggled into France, where the price is high. But after the war there was more important contraband. From France to Spain went perfumes, radio parts, tires, silk, and pepper. All brought high profits. Pepper for example, bought in France for 125 francs a pound, sold in Spain for the equivalent of 1,300 francs. From Spain to France went shoes and leather, fine woollens, oranges, sardines, and olive oil. Such sinister items of contraband as arms and narcotics were even more profitable. Everything that passes through Andorra leaves part of its profit behind. No wonder, then, that the Andorran is now wealthier than his wildest dreams of 20 years ago. An Andorran peasant who makes only a few smuggling expeditions a year may earn 80,000 pesetas, a sizeable fortune in either France or Spain.
Where Three Valleys Meet
Officially—and Aptly—named the Valleys of Andorra, for it is the valleys which support life, the country has a population of 5,900 Andorrans and 1,500 Spanish Republican refugees. Catalan is the Andorran’s native tongue, but he understand both French and Spanish. The franc and the peseta are interchangeably his official currency. Escalates, situated at a point where two of Andorra’s three main valleys meet and converge to form the third, boasts some 1,000 inhabitants, which makes it the country’s largest village. Its name is derived from the hot springs, sulphuric and magnesic, which hubble up from the mountainside at a temperature of 147° to 150° F. These have made Escaldes a vacation haunt for many wealthy Frenchmen and Catalonians. The waters are piped to a fountain in the village square from which housewives draw steaming bucketfuls all day long, and to the modern hotels, all which feature thermal baths.
Unfortunately for visitors, it has not occurred to most of Escaldes’ hotelkeepers to heat their hotels with the hot water or even to pipe it to the individual rooms. On cold, brisk mornings we warmed ourselves as best as we could by snuggling close to electric heaters, and the chambermaid had to bring hot water in a pitcher up two flights of stairs. The water was the softest we had ever known. A touch of soap produced rich, foaming suds, and although my tough beard normally requires a new razor blade daily, I was able to use one for six days in Escaldes. The dirt road running through the valleys is Escaldes’ main street. Here it is bordered on both sides by splendid new hotels, with balconies looking out across the valley to the mountains and on houses three and four centuries old alongside.
At night the street was lit brightly and shop windows gleamed with displays. Off the main street, though, we found old Andorra, largely unchanged. Ancient buildings seemed to lean toward each other across narrow alleys where women chopped wood and men slaughtered pigs for salting and smoking against the long winter months. Children played with their shaggy sheep dogs, and housewives gossiped gaily as they hung their wishing on the balconies. Old men sat reflectively on door stoops smoking their heavy pipes. Over all hovered the doors of Andorran cooking—frying olive oil, garlic, and strong spices.
Escaldes’ central position, plus its hotels and modern garages, made it the ideal base for exploration of the country. We found that we could reach any of the main villages in only an hour’s drive from here and that all of Andorra’s important officials and enterprises were near by.
Only a short walk down the valley is the town of Andorra, Andorra the Old, which is probably, with its 900 inhabitants, the world’s smallest capital. Here we found the ancient Casa la Vall, dating from the 1580’s and almost unchanged since then. A simple rectangular stone building, with little ornament of any kind aside from the paintings in its chapel, the Casa is the seat of Andorra’s government, as well as church, museum, prison, fortress, and monument. It is eloquently the main public edifice of a nation of farmers and shepherds. Twice a year, before Easter and before Christmas, the 24 councillors of the principality, four elected from each of the six parishes, meet here. We were shown through the Casa by its keeper, an old woman who had to use both hands to insert its foot-long 7-pound key in the antique lock. To my wife, the most interesting of its rooms was the historic kitchen, a dark, cavernous room with a hole in the ceiling designed to serve as an outlet for the smoke from the cooking fires built flat on the centre of the scarred stone floor. “Could they really cook anything here?” she asked. Our guide led us into a smaller room adjoining, where she showed us a framed document. It was the menu of a state dinner of 1688: chicken liver à l’ Andorranne with rice; roast goose; ham and olives; stewed goat au jus; whole mutton à la brioche; almonds, sugared and grilled; coffee and cigars; wines of the countryside, and brandy. Most of the excellent Andorran dishes we ate, we learned later, were cooked on wood or coal stoves, although there are some electric ranges in the valleys. Every Andorran kitchen, we also discovered, is equipped with a labor-saving device, a rack on the wall above the kitchen sink in which dishes are set sideways after washing, allowing the water to run into the sink and eliminating the necessity of whining dishes.
A High Living Standard
To my mind, the Andorran lives at a higher standard than many other Europeans today. He is able to do it partly because of a historical and geographical accident amazingly unmodified by the passage of centuries. “Great Charlemagne, my father, liberated me from the Saracens,” the national anthem of Andorra recalls. With the breakup of Charlemagne’s empire, Andorra became a bone of contention between the Count of Foix, in France, and the Bishop of Seo de Urgel, in Spain, and many minor, indecisive wars were waged over the territory. Finally, in 1278, Pedro III of Aragón intervened in the dispute, and on September 8 of that year the quarrelling feudal lords signed the charter which still constitutes the basis of Andorra’s semi-independence. It provided for joint overlordship by the Bishop and the Count, with a measure of local self-government vested in a council of Andorran landed gentry. This skeleton put on very little flesh over the years. As feudalism died in France, the hereditary rights of the Count of Foix passed first to the Kings, and later to the Presidents of France. In 1866 a minor social revolution tended to all heads of families the right of suffrage and election to the Council General. But the Bishop of Seo de Urgel and the President of France are still Andorra’s co-princes, and every year the feudal tribute—460 pesetas, six hams, six cheeses, and a dozen hens to the Bishop, 960 francs to France’s chief— is still paid. Napoleon, who might have ended Andorran independence for all time, is reported to have said: “Andorra is too fantastic. Let it remain as a museum piece.”
The supreme resident rulers of the principality are the veguers (administrative agents), one appointed for life by the French, the other named every three years by the Bishop. Each vaguer in turn select an Andorran from a list submitted to him by the Counsil General as his bayle (deputy). These officials execute laws and customs which have been handed down from medieval times. These laws and customs, which still give Andorra a museum like quality, were described to us by B. Riberaygua Argerich, secretary-general of the Council. A vigorous middle-aged man, he comes from an old Andorran family and was educated in France and Spain. An attorney by profession, he is a scholar by love. He had just published, in Catalan, the first thorough study of Andorran folkways. “By law and tradition,” he told us, “the cap de case, or head of the family, is the centre of Andorran life. He rules not only his children and grand children but the servants and their households. He alone may vote for the members of the Council General, and, if he is a man without either creditor or debtor, may be elected a councilor.” Only the cap de casa, Riberaygua continued, may negotiate for the marriages of members of his family. Boys may marry at 14 and girls when they are 12, but nowadays they generally wait a few years longer. Should the Council mobilise the militia, only the cap de case is obliged to serve. Against this contingency he must keep a riffle and ammunition ready in his home. The cap de case appoints his heir, who in turn becomes cap de case. The heir may be a younger son, or even a daughter, and inherits by law all but a fourth of the property. However, so strongly do Andorrans feel about preserving their family estates that normally this law is circumvented, and the other heirs yield their fourth share to the main heir. This strong attachment to the land, natural in a country where until only very recently the landless had to emigrate to live, is reflected also in an odd and complex legal tradition. This provides that anyone who sells land retains the right to repurchase it at the sale price. Should the buyer resell the land, he, too, acquires this right; and so on for future purchasers. The tradition was long ago modified to limit the repurchase right to a fourth of the original sale. But after many years four or five claimants with this right may suddenly sue to rebut the land. There are an uncounted number of lawsuits, growing out of this tradition, still unsettled after decades of litigation. With this attachment to land goes a deep devotion to the Roman Catholic Church, a strong family feeling, and intense clannishness. No one can apply for Andorran citizenship whose family has not resided in the valleys for three generations, unless he marries an Andorran heiress. Children born out of wedlock are not tolerated in the country. They must be sent over the border into either France or Spain to a foundling home. They may never obtain any rights in Andorra. Divorce is unknown.
Inheritance Laws Limits Population
The inheritance laws are responsible for Andorra’s static population, which has fluctuated between five and six thousand for centuries, despite the fact that Andorrans normally have large families. The disinherited have had to emigrate to France or Spain to earn their livelihoods, and there are more Andorrans in either country than in Andorra itself. The inheritance laws create many cases of ill feeling within families, as many children compete for the cap de case’s favour. From another source we heard the tale of Andorra’s most recent murder, which had taken place some four years before our visit. In a mountain wood neighbours found the body of an eldest son who had just become an heir. In accordance with the medieval tradition for cases of violent death, the rite of visori was performed. A bayle called out three times: “Dead one! Who killed you?” Since no reply was forthcoming, he repeated, again thrice: “Dead one! Who killed you?” Again silence, and the bayle turned to the assembled crowd and pronounced three times, “Here is a dead one who will not reply,” thus officially opening an investigation. Andorra, an orderly country, has only six policemen, non of whom knows how to classify a fingerprint, but it took no great detective work to fix the guilt on a younger brother of the slain man. In prison, the culprit confessed not only to the slaying of his brother but to the poisoning of his sister 15 years before so that he alone would inherit the one-fourth portion excluded from the patrimony of the main heir. On a Sunday noon, before the assembled populace in the square of the capital, he was sentenced to death. Within an hour he was shot.
Even today, with hundreds of refugees from Spain swelling the normal population, crime is almost negligible in Andorra. ( No Andorran considers smuggling a crime.) In November 1944, when France feared imminent trouble with Spain, 80 French gendarmes were sent into the country. Spain, in retaliation, sent in several companies of mobile guards, but after a short time withdrew them.
We sat basking in the sunshine one morning on a stone parapet on the cliffside at the edge of the town of Andorra, looking down on the Riu Valira and the green fields of the valley, talking with Paul Ramond, the French postmaster, and two of his daughters. The girls, aged 18 and 20, wanted to know about Hollywood. Ramond was curious about towns all over America and about Americans who write to him. “Not a day passes by,” he said, “but I get at least one letter from America, with money enclosed, asking me to send Andorran stamps. Both the French and Spanish have post offices here, and we both have special stamps for Andorra. But ours must be more beautiful, because I get the most requests. “I’m not allowed to send the stamps, so I write and tell them that. Of course I put as many stamps as possible on the envelope and postmark them with special care. Ramond, a wounded veteran of World War I, had brought his wife and five reluctant children to the mountains in 1935 when he received his appointment. “Now we are all happy,” he said. “Here is a clean and beautiful life, a paradise.” Both girls shrieked in protest. “Paradise! With no dances in the evenings and only one movie a week! And so few young men!” There is a big modern movie theater in Escaldes now. It features not only French and Spanish films but Hollywood products as well. Its chief attraction is for the young, especially the younger women. The men still prefer their cafes, their traditional card games, and evenings full of talk. No newspaper is published in Andorra, but the illustrated weeks of both France and Spain are widely read. Andorra has a telegraph connection with France since 1887, but with Spain only since the war. There is telephone service within the country, but as we learned when my wife tried to call our daughter in Paris, no no long-distance lines to either France or Spain. This lack, we found on investigation, stems from the Council General’s attempts to get more money from concession than has yet been offered.
Smuggling Approved; Gambling, No!
The people of the Valleys long preferred to be left alone. In the 1880’s a group of European promotors sought to establish a giant gambling casino in Escaldes, where it would be free from restrictions imposed by other governments. Handsome payment was offered Andorrans for the concession, but they turned it down.
Gradually the temper of the people changed. When in 1917 two Australian promotors, impelled by similar considerations, sought to establish a world-wide sweepstakes lottery headquarters in Andorra, but the Council General succumbed to the lure of easy money and accepted the proposition. This time the co-princes joined to veto the scheme. A concession was let, however, for the operation of a high-powered radio station which stands high on the hillside above Escaldes. Furnished with the best and most recent American equipment, including a large room stacked high with American jazz recordings, the station is heard far and wide. Primarily directed to England, France, and other European countries where radio broadcasting is govenmeng-controlled and no advertising is permitted, Radio Andorra’s programs are almost equally divided between commercials and ready-made entertainment. This enables it to pay a handsome tribute to the Council General.
The country’s one bank and the hydro-electric company pay a sizeable portion of their profits to the Council General. And the Council is anxious to develop the mining of Andorra’s deposits of iron ore. Revenue from these concessions is sufficient to meet all national expenditures. Add to this the fact that the French, Spanish and the Church support Andorra’s schools, and it will be no surprise to learn that there is always a surplus in the budget. “We may not always be so lucky as to have wars near our soil but not on it,” one member remarked at a Council meeting. I asked a leading Andorran why the Council General did not spend some of its budget surplus on paving Andorran roads because goos roads would attract more tourists. He replied matter-of-factly that the Council would soon force the concessionaires to build roads.
This is part of an old Andorran technique. Over the course of centuries Andorrans have played their co-princes against each other, gaining concessions from both they could otherwise never have hoped to gain from one. Today the Andorran has almost all the privileges of both French and Spanish citizens, with few of the obligations. Andorrans may live, work, and travel freely in France and Spain without the special permission and registration required of other foreigners. They pay no taxes to either country and are exempt from military service in both. “Frenchmen look at Andorrans as the kings of France,” Germain Soulié, the French veguer, and freer than Frenchmen in France.” Andorra has always offered sanctuary to political refugees. Even during World War II many Spanish Republicans lived in the principality unmolested by either the Vichy or Franco regimes. Only Hitler violated the country’s neutrality. “First there were ‘tourists’,” Soulié recalled for us. “Husky male tourists who always walked in perfect step. The only thing civilian about them was their cloths. Then came the Gestapo, asking questions and snooping. For there were Allied agents coming through shortly after the fall of France. “Two Gestapo men used to come to my office every morning. They would walk in without knocking, sit down, and remain a while. Then they would ask me, ‘What’s new?’ Always I would answer, ‘Nothing’s been new here for a thousand years.’ Then they would go away. “After a while it got so that when they came in I would ask first, ‘What’s new?’ We never learned anything from each other.” Meanwhile, the Maquis (Underground) organised in France. Its leaders frequently came to Andorra to hide out between raids. Allied agents made it more and more their headquarters.And, most important, flyers shot down over Europe were coming through in large numbers on their way to North Africa. About 200 Americans alone passed through, we were told, as well as many British and Canadian aviators. “Always the Gestapo sat and watched, although the strange faces must have warned them what was happening,” Soulié said. “Finally, in the summer of 1944, after the invasion of Normandy, they must have realised the jig was up,” he continued. “They made a raid one night and kidnaped eight people— two American flyers, some Poles, and others I had never seen. They knew just where the hiding places were and went directly to them. They took their prisoners down to France in two taxicabs. “Everyone was afraid. Nobody tried to stop them and nobody protested. Shortly after, the Gestapo, too, left.”
Life in the Open
Andorran life is lived mainly in the open, in the free mountain air. Diligent terracing of the slopes has made a fourth of the land arable, and, in addition to tobacco, Andorrans raise potatoes, spurred rye, oats, buckwheat, and maize on the mountainsides, to a height of 5,300 feet. Most of the land, however, is pasture. Andorra boasts an animal population of some 1,500 goats, 17,000 sheep, 400 cattle, and 300 mules. The sheep graze high in the mountains all summer, but are driven down to the near-by valleys in France for the winter. On the mountain trails the mule is still the only reliable method of transportation, and we frequently encountered him in villages, too. More than half of Andorra’s population lives in the tiny parish of Andorra, which includes Escaldes. Each of the remaining five parishes—Canillo, Encamp, Ordino, La Massana, and Sant Julia— has only 400 to 700 inhabitants.
Down in the valley near Andorra town the climate is mild, and the inhabitants boast of an average of 280 days of sunshine a year. On the slopes and in the high villages the winter snow falls heavily, pilling up to 15 or 20 feet. But around Escaldes more than a foot of snow is rare. Trout and other game fish abound in the streams and lakes that line the countryside, and high on the mountain crags Andorrans hunt the izard, or Pyrenean chamois. Everywhere are ancient chapels, solid stone structures which serve both as shrines and as refuges for wayfarers caught in a storm. “There is tranquillity here,” the one-armed teacher of Andorra’s French school told us. Educated at the Sorbonne and long a resident of Paris, he had returned to his native valley as soon as a post was offered. Education is not compulsory, but Andorra’s children are about equally divided among the three school systems, operated by the French, the Spanish, and the Church. Schools are one-room, one-teacher affairs, instructing children of all grades up to the age of 14. Those who wish to study further go to France, Spain or both. Although shut in by the beneficent mountains, even Andorra is not immune from world catastrophe. In 1933 hard times resulted in a minor upheaval when young Andorrans sought a political solution to their problems of unemployment, low prices for contraband, and the falling off of tourist travel. After an hour’s agitation at a meeting of the Council General they won the right of universal male suffrage. Backed by the French, this reform was instituted despite vigorous opposition from the Bishop of Seo de Urgel. It lasted until 1941, when the representative of Marchal Pétain joined the Bishop to rescind the law and reinstitute the old system under which only the cap de case can vote. Since then, despite the restoration of democracy in France, there has been no agitation for a return to this reform. “When everybody is fed,” a councillor said, “there are no politics here and nobody cares about the government.” Nevertheless, as Andorrans gathered in their cafes to play their traditional card games, murmurs of concern over the future were beginning to be heard. Raised from their former peasant standards by an artificial and temporary political situation, they were frightened by the prospect of a return to normalcy. Yet this seemed bound to come with the reopening, last year, of the frontier between France and Spain commerce. “Our wives are used to nylon stockings, fine clothes, and perfumes,” the Andorran worried aloud. “How can we ask them to return to the old life?” Andorra’s leading citizens had great hopes of solving this problem by turning their county into a tourist mecca, with both winter and summer seasons. Plans had been made to keep the road from France open all year. Golf courses were projected for the valleys and ski tows for the mountainsides, although many peasants objected that the cattle would be frightened by such unusual apparitions. Already new hotels were going up. They were building mostly in Escaldes, which has the added attraction of the thermal baths. But they were building also in Encamp, in Ordino, and in Sant Julia, 6- and 7-story hotels in the brown and purplish-gray stone of the mountains.
The Bishop of Seo de Urgel has long expressed his opposition to the erection of gambling casinos or dance halls in the country. But this did not discomfit the planners. They know that Andorra’s chief attraction will always be its quaintness, its distance and isolation from the world, the purple beauty of its mountains, and the serenity of its lonely forests and lakes. They do not intend to stain the splendour of clear and breath-taking Andorran nights by a neon-lighted landscape. And when the fever of the boom cools, the planners believe, a sane prosperity will once again make Andorra what it was in the olden days—an unchanging island of simplicity and a refuge for those who seek peace.
By Lawrence L. Klingman
Photographer: B.Anthony Stewart
The National Geographic Magazine
August 1949 Volume XCVI – number TWO
Published by the National Geographic Society