Book Review: Andorra: The Hidden Republic

Andorra:  The Hidden Republic, by Lewis Gaston Leary

One of the funniest parts of this book is that the author himself engages in the sort of duel that one expects in more competitive challenges than “oldest tiny European republic” than in a book that purports to tell about an obscure place.  The author dismisses the claims of the longevity of the San Marino republic and claims Andorra as the most obscure and remote of the European microstates that then existed and that still exist now, as if that meant something in particular and was a bragging point that could be used to increase one’s clout in the competitions among microstates.  Additionally, this book, which was published in the early 20th century, has a prophetic air in that it speculates correctly that the rise of transportation routes would connect Andorra to the outside world and remove its remoteness and make it wealthier, but fortunately the nation retains its Catalan importance as well as its freedom as a buffer state between Spain and France.  Reading about the rigor of this particular trip to Andorra makes it clear that it was not always as easy to get to Andorra as hopping on a bus in Barcelona or Toulouse and making the trip over the course of a few hours.

This book is a short one of about 200 pages or so.  It begins with a preface that discusses the remoteness of his trip and the rarity of books about Andorra.  After that the author discusses the valley of Endor and its ancient history (1) as well as the counts and bishops who fought over the land before being joint-sovereigns (2).  The author then pays attention to the area of Foix where he begins his journey (3) and life on the French side of the Pyrenees (4) in a remote area.  He follows the Ariege river upstream up the steep face of the mountains (5) until he finally finds himself in the hidden valley of Andorra, some 75 pages into the book (6).  The author discusses the silent people of Andorra who were apparently an extremely taciturn people (7), and discusses the hourses and buildings (8) as well as their feudal but somewhat egalitarian existence (9).  The author then looks at their miniature republic (10), the feasting and gladness that the area celebrated with (10), and the new road that was being built from the Spanish side (11).  The book ends with appendices about the counts of Foix, the concordat of 1278, and an index.

Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects, and sadly one that dates this book and is not relevant to contemporary travelers, is the way that it takes a significant part of the book before the author finds himself in Andorra at all.  To be sure, the account of the trip certainly makes the author seem like he is engaging on an epic quest to reach a remote place.  Nowadays no one would want to publish a book about a trip to Andorra because it is something that tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people could make without any difficulty whatsoever.  But this is a trip that required crossing mountain rapids and climbing over a trackless mountain into a land of smugglers who mostly were okay with their picture being taken and who were just starting to have routes planned into their nation from the outside world.  The author himself seems to have nostalgia, knowing that as long as places are hard to get to that he can publish books simply by being intrepid but that if a trip because too easy it would no longer be possible for him to make a living traveling to such places.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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