Daily Archives: 16 October 2007

A Quite Unique Spanish Town – Llívia, in France


Llívia is a very special Spanish town, that most people have never heard of.

To be honest, there is not all that much to know about Llívia, other than it is small, charming, and rather laid back. The town sits at an altitude of 1,223 m due south-east of the Principality of Andorra, and its municipal boundaries extend to an area of less than 13 square kilometres. The area is quite pleasant for serious walking or some rather challenging mountain biking. Of course, the spellbinding Pyrenees mountains rise to an impressive height in the very near distance. There is a small museum that houses the complete remnants of what is said to have been the most ancient pharmacy in Europe. Some decent café solo, some proper tapas and a truly scrumptious tortilla are served in the local bar, and the 1,300 inhabitants are really friendly if you speak to them in Catalán.


Hey, that’s what makes this place so special. Everybody else in the area speaks French.


What and why and whence and who?

Llívia is a unique Spanish town in as much as it is completely surrounded by French territory (Pyrénées-Orientales département). Llívia is plainly situated in France and should normally be French, if you ask me, if it were not for the ominous Treaty of the Pyrenees.

The town of Llívia is part of Cerdanya, a province of Spain, and forms a Spanish exclave surrounded by France. The exclave is separated from the rest of Cerdanya, and Spain, by a corridor with a width of about 2 km, a corridor which also includes the French communes of Ur, and Bourg-Madame. Access is provided between Llívia and Puigcerdà, the nearest Spanish town in the Pyrenees, via a road that is considered neutral and that is administered in turn by France and by Spain, with a rota of 6 months each.

The Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed in 1659 to end the war between France and Spain that had begun in 1635 during the Thirty Years’ War. It was signed on Pheasant Island (called Isla de los Faisanes by the Spanish and Île des Faisans, Île de l’hôpital or Île de la Conférence by the French, or Konpantzia by the Basque people), a river island on the border between the two countries.

A long time ago, Llívia was the site of the Iberian Oppidum (Roman settlement) commanding the region and was named Julia Libica by the Romans. It was also the ancient capital of Cerdanya up to the early Middle Ages.

The Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) ceded the Spanish territories of Roussillon, Conflent, Capcir, Vallespir, and northern Cerdanya (called Cerdagne in French) to the French Crown. Llívia did, however, not become part of the French kingdom as part of this agreement, because the treaty stipulated that only villages were to be ceded to France, and Llívia was considered a city and not a village due to its status as the ancient capital of the region.

Julia Libica, now Llívia, is a charming political anomaly in our contemporary European knit. You might want to visit and perhaps enjoy some tortilla and a copa, if you are anywhere near, any time soon.

But, please, don’t tell anyone in Brussels of the fun you had amidst this curiosity, or else the peaceful days at the foothills of the Pyrenees might soon be over.


Things used to be even more complicated a few years ago when the French neighbors in the area had their French Francs, whereas the Llívia folks had to pay for their vino tinto in Spanish Pesetas, but, with the onset of the Euro, there now is one less problem to deal with.

And thanks to www.klyk.net for the photo of the forlorn Llívian cow. Small wonder that the bovine creature looks a bit confused.