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La Margineda and Santa Coloma heritage                 Source: Photo by Visit Andorra

La Margineda: A Mountain Pass of Ages and Archaeological Gem

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Believed to have been created by  Charlemagne, Andorra is a tiny country nestled between Spain and France and the only country where Catalan is the official language. It is a place not everyone has heard of and yet this Pyrenean nation boasts many historic sites, the most important of which is La Margineda archaeological site which contains the remains from the Bronze Age to the 19 th century.

The History of Andorra

Andorra is one of the world’s microstates. It is a sovereign state and officially known as the Principality of Andorra. It is located on one of the routes through the Pyrenees and has been settled since the Stone Age.

The remoteness of the area meant that it was effectively ruled by the local bishop for centuries. The country was a co-principality whose sovereignty was shared between the Kingdom of Spain and France. In the 19 th century Andorra became an independent state. Today, it is best known as a tourist destination and a producer of tobacco.

The History of La Margineda Archaeological Site

The site is located in the Pyrenean mountains , along one of the few passable sites through the Pyrenees. Since early times until relatively recently, shepherds and traders had to pass through La Margineda. There is evidence that at least 10,000 years ago, ancient nomads used the site as a seasonal camp , grazing their sheep in the warm months and moving into the valleys in the winter months.

Nearby, Santa Coloma, Andorra’s oldest church built in the 8th or 9th century. (milosk50/Adobe Stock)

Nearby, Santa Coloma, Andorra’s oldest church built in the 8 th or 9 th century. ( milosk50/Adobe Stock)

A permanent settlement was built at the site in the Bronze Age, controlling trade and migration routes. The site was permanently occupied throughout the Roman, Visigoth and Muslim rule in the area.

This area became densely populated in the Early Middle Ages , relating to the rise of the Northern Christian kingdoms such as Leon in the north of Spain . La Margineda flourished and a small castle was built at the site. The small village’s population was mostly shepherds and their families.

La Margineda was inhabited until the 19 th century and finally abandoned when the people moved to the modern village of La Margineda. The site was first excavated in the 1950s and today is protected by the Andorran government.

The Sights of La Margineda archaeological site

The La Margineda archaeological site is 4000 square meters in size (12,000 feet), situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty . Remains from both prehistoric and relatively modern times have been discovered during the site’s multiple excavations, including a rock shelter once used by Stone Age shepherds and travelers.

Relics such as the rock walls of a hut dating to Bronze Age habitation have also been uncovered, but most of the site contains the remains of medieval dwellings unearthed over time. The cluster of five houses, dating from 1100 to the 1300s, are accessible and visitors can witness how medieval Andorrans lived. The outline of a village square and a street can also be seen.

The famous medieval bridge near La Margineda. (Anibal Trejo/Adobe Stock)

The famous medieval bridge near La Margineda. ( Anibal Trejo /Adobe Stock)

Perhaps the most important and impressive ruins are that of Sant Vincent fortress, a small military outpost built to control this important route through the mountains.  The remains of houses that date from later periods, including the 18 th and 19 th centuries, are remarkably similar to the medieval dwellings and shows how little life changed in this remote area down the centuries. Nearby is the modern village of La Margineda, famous for its medieval bridge .

Visiting La Margineda archaeological site

The archaeological park opened in 2007 after several years of restoration.  An entrance fee is payable, and tours can be pre-booked.  It is advised to contact a tourist office before going as opening times can change throughout the year. There is plenty of accommodation near the archaeological site.

Top image: La Margineda and Santa Coloma heritage                 Source: Photo by Visit Andorra

By Ed Whelan

References

Angelucci, D. E., Boschian, G., Fontanals, M., Pedrotti, A., & Vergès, J. M. (2009). Shepherds and karst: the use of caves and rock-shelters in the Mediterranean region during the Neolithic . World archaeology, 41(2), 191-214

Available at:    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00438240902843659

Auban, J. B., & i d'Arqueologia, D. D. P. (1999). Pots, symbols, and territories: the archaeological context of Neolithisation in Mediterranean Spain . Documenta Praehistorica, 26, 101-118

Available at:   https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/4904070/potsSymbolsTerritories.pdf?response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DPots_Symbols_and_Territories._The_archae.pdf&X-Amz-Algorithm=AWS4-HMAC-SHA256&X-Amz-Credential=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A%2F20191005%2Fus-east-1%2Fs3%2Faws4_request&X-Amz-Date=20191005T104309Z&X-Amz-Expires=3600&X-Amz-SignedHeaders=host&X-Amz-Signature=1f4207c6f0694dbf8e70197551d481fa303df5ac4754e6aebe0fd515636c0d3e

Mickoleit, A. (2010, April). Andorra. In Elections in Europe (pp. 149-168). Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG

Available at:   https://www.nomos-elibrary.de/10.5771/9783845223414-149/andorra

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