Thursday, 21 February 2008

Llívia - a Spanish Town in France

When you leave Catalonia after Puigcerda, you drive through one idyllic village after the other, all with shop signs in French. If, all of a sudden, you see that the cars have Spanish registration plates, then you have reached Llívia.

“Which languages do you speak here - Catalan and French?”, I asked in Catalan in a grocery store. “No, Spanish and Catalan”, answered the shop assistant in Spanish – a situation which could have taken place anywhere in Catalonia of today, but Llívia is totally encircled by France.

According to the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, Spain had to cede land and villages of this area to France. What the French had overlooked was that Llívia counted as a town (vila) and therefore could be claimed by the Spanish crown.

The place is as busy as you can expect from a town with just over 1.000 inhabitants. The architecture is very different from what we are used to in the coastal area, but in all honesty looks the same as in the other villages of the Cerdanya valley. What makes Llívia unique is its history which you are able to discover on multi-language plaques in the streets. I would have loved to visit the museum as well but it is currently being renovated. Imagine how isolated it must have been to live here during the years of the paranoid Franco dictatorship, when there were strict controls on the border with the rest of Spain.

Thanks to the Schengen treaty, you nowadays easily move from one country to the other. Llívia is a good example that people do not change as fast. Instead, we stick to the language which is given to us by birth and convention, also when that is not necessarily practical any longer.

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