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Andorra: “A Political Curiosity”

I have heard of this Andorra, and have purposely abstained from touching it, because I think it ought to be preserved as a political curiosity.

Napoleon Bonaparte
(Image: Wikipedia Commons)

When writing Discover Charming Andorra I came across the above quote attributed to Napoleon by the celebrated American author and travel writer Bayard Taylor, who visited Andorra in 1867. More about Taylor shortly.

While today the principality of Andorra is a modern, forward-looking micro-state, nonetheless Napoleon was correct when he made his observation. Andorra is a quirk of history with a medieval and feudal system of governance that lasted well into the 20th century. Although it now has its own parliament, until 1993 the principality was jointly ruled by a Spanish bishop and the President of France, both of whom continue as constitutional figureheads.

When the French Revolution swept across France in 1789 the French monarchy was bloodily overthrown. The revolutionary authorities also revoked the ancient feudal Andorra pareatge agreements that established Spanish and French co-suzerainty over the principality. In 1806 the Andorran people petitioned Napoleon (now Emperor Napoleon I) to restore the co-principality. He agreed, observing that Andorra was a political curiosity that should be preserved.

The above quotation is attributed to Napoleon by and appears in Bayard Taylor’s By-ways of Europe written in 1869. He visited this part of Europe—including Andorra—in 1867 and his travelogue offers a fascinated insight into life in the region during that time. Andorra was very, very different then.

A full-text version of Taylor’s book is available on the University of Michigan website and is worth the read. For those seeking an abridged account of his time in Andorra Taylor also published a shorter account which appeared in The Atlantic magazine in 1868 (a year before his travelogue was published).

Some of the contents of this blog post are taken from Discover Charming Andorra, by Calvin Smith (2023). It can be downloaded now on Amazon Kindle. A paperback version is also available.

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