LOCATION: Andorra (between France and Spain)
LANGUAGE: Catalan; French; Spanish; some English
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Protestantism; Judaism
Andorra, a tiny, mountainous nation in western Europe, is an autonomous (self-governing) principality (territory ruled by a prince). This isolated rural region was almost unknown to the outside world until the middle of the twentieth century. Since then, Andorra has grown to be a popular tourist site for vacationers from Spain, France, and other European countries.
Since the late thirteenth century, Andorra has been under joint French and Spanish rule. France's leaders (including all its presidents since 1870) have had the title of Prince of Andorra.
Andorra became a parliamentary democracy in 1993, when it adopted its first constitution. It retained the nation's relationship to its French and Spanish princes but limited their powers. Andorra became a member of the United Nations in July 1993.
Andorra is located on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees Mountains, which form the border between France and Spain. With a total area of 175 square miles (453 square kilometers), Andorra is one of the world's smallest nations—about 2.5 times the size of Washington, D.C. The land includes picturesque mountains, meadows, fields, and lakes. Andorra has one of the highest population densities in Europe: 337 people per square mile (130 people per square kilometer.) Less than one-third of Andorra's residents were born there.
Andorra's official language is Catalan, a Romance language spoken in Catalonia, a region in Spain. Most Andorrans also speak French and Spanish, and some speak English.
Andorra's most famous religious shrine is the church at Meritxell. It houses a statue of the Virgin of Meritxell, which is the subject of a popular legend. People believe that hundreds of years ago the statue was found on a snowy hillside, surrounded by blooming plants. Travelers who found the statue tried repeatedly to move it to a covered area in town. Each time, it disappeared, only to be found once again on the hillside surrounded by flowers. Finally, it was decided that the statue was meant to remain in that spot. Then a church was built to house it. The statue became Andorra's most important religious symbol and a popular destination for pilgrimages (journeys to a sacred place).
A famous character from secular lore is Andorra's "White Lady" (also known as Our Lady of Meritxell or the Virgin of Meritxell). 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 stepmother, and the two became Andorra's most famous couple. The "White Lady" is part of all major festivals.
More than 90 percent of Andorrans are Roman Catholic, and Catholicism influences many aspects of Andorran life. All public records are kept by the Roman Catholic Church, and only Catholic marriages are officially recognized in Andorra.
Andorra's holidays include New Year's Day (January 1), Good Friday and Easter Monday (in March or April), 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 making a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Virgin of Meritxell, Andorra's most important religious site.
Baptism, first communion, and marriage are considered rites of passage for Andorrans, as they are for most Roman Catholics.
Life centers around the family for most Andorrans, and fathers traditionally exert strict control over their wives and children.
Many Andorrans still live in traditional, slate-roofed, stone farmhouses, often built against mountainsides to leave stretches of level land free for planting. Most of these rural houses have livestock areas or toolsheds on the ground floor, a kitchen and family area on the second floor, and bedrooms on the third. Andorra also has modern multistory apartment buildings. However, due to the scarcity of flat land, it is difficult to find space on which to build.
Family loyalty and togetherness are central to life in Andorra. However, the strict control traditionally exercised by fathers has declined over the past half-century due to the social changes brought about by the opening of Andorra to tourism and commerce. Exposure to Western ways has encouraged women and men to become more equal.
Andorrans wear modern Western-style clothing. Traditional costumes are still worn for folk dancing and on special occasions. The traditional costume for women features a full, flowered skirt over a white petticoat; a blouse (sometimes covered by a flowered shawl); long, black, fingerless net gloves; and black espadrilles (cloth sandals) with white stockings. The traditional costume for men is a white shirt, dark knee-length pants, white stockings, and black shoes. They may also wear broad red sashes tied at the waist.
Favorite Andorran recipes are often based on farm produce and freshly caught game. Common entrees (main dishes) include trinxat (boiled potatoes and cabbage), grilled trout, and omeletts made with wild mushrooms. Andorra also has distinctive regional desserts, most notably coques, flat cakes made with grape syrup, brandy, and other flavorings.
Schooling is compulsory between the ages of six and sixteen. About half of Andorra's primary schools teach in French; the other half offer instruction in Spanish or Catalan. Andorrans who attend college usually do so in France or Spain.
Andorra has an old and rich folk heritage that 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 form a circle or a long line, holding their clasped hands high in the air to perform this slow, graceful dance. In addition to the sardana, various regions have their own dances, including the marratxa, the contrapas, and the Bal de Santa Ana.
About 25 percent of the work force is employed in commerce; 20 percent in restaurants and hotels; 20 percent in manufacturing and construction; 10 percent in public administration; 1 percent in agriculture; and the remainder in other areas.
Andorra has the perfect climate for skiing. It is snow-covered for six months of the year, but its skies are clear and sunny. Once the ski season is over, Andorra's mountains are still frequented by hikers, mountaineers, and rock climbers. Competitive sports include rugby, soccer, tennis, and golf.
Andorrans receive both television and radio broadcasts from neighboring countries. Twenty-one uninhabited cabins in the mountains are open to the hikers for use as overnight shelters.
Traditional Andorran crafts include fancy, carved pinewood furniture, pottery, and ironwork. A regional specialty is a class of products known as musicatures, which are carved in a distinctive style with a knife point. These designs are found on many types of items, including wooden, leather, and metal handicrafts.
Tourism has aided Andorra's economy, but it has also had a negative effect on the country's beautiful landscape. Towns have been overrun with tourist shops and restaurants. Heavy automobile traffic has led to the growth of Andorra's police force from four officers in the 1950s to 150 in the 1990s.
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