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Andorra

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Andorra, country in southwestern Europe, located high in the eastern Pyrenees Mountains between France to the north and Spain to the south. Andorra is one of the smallest nations in the world, with an area of 468 sq km (181 sq mi) and a population (2008 estimate) of 72,413. The capital and largest city is Andorra la Vella (population, 2004 estimate, 22,035).

Andorra is a rugged land marked by deep gorges, narrow valleys, and towering mountains. The lowest part of Andorra stands about 914 m (3,000 ft) above sea level. Due to its alpine location, winters are cold, and heavy snowfall frequently blocks the mountain passes, especially the road linking Andorra to France. Summers are cool, dry, and sunny.

Isolated for centuries, Andorra had become a popular tourist destination by the 1950s. Although tiny, Andorra offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the Pyrenees. Great hiking, mountain biking, and stunning alpine scenery attract visitors in summer. But most of the visitors to Andorra are day travelers from France or Spain, who take advantage of Andorra’s duty-free shopping. Merchants selling electronic goods, alcohol, tobacco, and luxury items crowd the streets of Andorra la Vella and other nearby towns.

Tourism is Andorra’s main source of revenue, but some Andorrans still raise sheep and cattle as they have since ancient times. In the summer months, villagers herd livestock up the mountains to graze in alpine pastures. Most of the small patches of land suitable for cultivation are used to grow tobacco.

For more than 700 years Andorra was ruled jointly by the leader of France and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Urgel in northwestern Spain. These leaders, known as the “princes of Andorra,” served as overlords of Andorra. The country formally remains a co-principality (jointly ruled by princes) to the present day. In 1993 Andorrans adopted their first constitution, which established the country as an independent democratic co-principality. Today, the president of France and the Bishop of Urgel remain Andorra’s heads of state, but their roles are largely ceremonial.

Land and Resources

Andorra occupies a region of gorges and valleys in the eastern Pyrenees. The country is almost completely encircled by high mountains. The Coma Pedrosa, which rises to 2,946 m (9,965 ft), is Andorra’s highest peak.

Over the centuries, settlers have cleared much of Andorra’s original alpine forest cover, including birch, pine, and fir, creating pastures in valleys and on the slopes. Overgrazing by livestock has caused soil erosion in some mountain meadows.

Andorra is drained by the Valira River. Many streams meet to form the Valira, which flows south into Spain. Waterpower is one of Andorra’s few significant natural resources, and it permits the country to produce nearly half of its electricity needs. Andorra has small deposits of iron and lead, but they have not been mined extensively because of the high costs of transportation. Some marble is also quarried.

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