ANDORRA : The capital - Andorra La Vella
Andorra la Vella is the capital of the Principality of Andorra, and is
located high in the east Pyrenees between France and Spain, in the Gran
Valira valley, on the eastern slopes of the Pic d'Enclar. Rugged
mountains encircle the city. With an altitude of approximately 1,079 m
(3,540 ft) Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe, and
the only sizable community in the tiny country of Andorra.
The site of Andorra la Vella (literally, "Andorra the Old") was already
inhabitated before the Christian era. It has been as the principal city
of Andorra since 1278 when the French and the Episcopal co-princes
agreed to joint suzerainty. In 1993, the country's first constitution
established a parliamentary democracy with executive, legislative, and
judicial branches located in Andorra la Vella.
It is a busy shopping centre, selling duty-free luxury goods imported
from Europe and Asia to French and Spanish shoppers and to tourists. It
is also developing offshore financial services. The legislative General
Council of the Valleys meets in a 16th-century house called the Casa de
la Vall (1580). The suburb of Escalades-Engordany has the 11th-century
Romanesque church of Sant Miquel d'Engolasters, and the thermal baths of
Caldea (opened in 1994).
Most of the inhabitants are Roman Catholics. The population is very
diverse: Spanish 43%, Andorran 33%, Portuguese 11%, French 7%, other 6%
(1998). Catalan is the official language, although Castilian and French
are also spoken.
Today, Andorra la Vella receives approximately 6 million visitors a
year. They are drawn by the principality’s duty-free shopping and the
area’s excellent winter sports facilities, which offer access to some of
the best skiing and snowboarding terrain in the Pyrenees. The city’s
growth as a tourism center has brought Andorra considerable prosperity,
but also unsightly development and heavy automobile traffic that have
diminished the city’s historic character.