Home Features History Letters from Spain New Arrivals Profiles Recipes Sightseeing Vocabulary Weather

Catalans outside Spain; a foreign village – the curious case of Llivia

This little-known Spanish enclave, completely surrounded by French territory, lies in the Pyrenees, 1,223 metres above sea level and just about one kilometre from the Spanish border.

Administratively a part of Cataluña, it’s 153 kilometres to the North of its administrative capital, Girona.
Catalan is still the main language spoken here.

The pharmacy in Llivia, now a museum - Photo Wikipedia


The town remained a part of Spain under the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees signed between Louis XIV of France and Philip IV of Spain which put an end to the Franco-Spanish conflict which began in the Thirty Years War.

The Treaty was signed on La Isla de los Faisanes, an island in the Bidasoa River which marks the border between Irún, Guipúzcoa and Hendaye, in the French Pyrenées Atlantique district, and which is administered alternately by the two towns for a period of two months.

The agreement defined the new Franco-Spanish border, and ceded previous Spanish territory to France: the 33 villages of Roussillon, Conflent, Vallespir, Capcir and the northern half of Cerdanya – the Alta Cerdanya. All now form part of the French departement, the Pyrenées-Orientales.

Llívia had been granted status as a town by the Roman Emperor, Charles V (Carlos I of Spain) in 1528 owing to its history as the capital of Cerdanya, and so escaped the stipulation. It remains part of Spanish territory to this day, and comes under the jurisdiction of the capital of the Baixa Cerdanya district, Puigcerdà, 5 kms away.

With a total area of less than 13 square kilometres, marked out by 45 border stones, this mediaeval town was the ancient capital of the Romans’ Ceretania, who named it Julia Lybica: Llívia lost its position to the village of Hix, now in France, in the early Middle Ages.

The remains of a mediaeval castle can still be seen atop a hill some five kilometres outside the town centre, destroyed on the orders of Louis XI in 1479. Also dating from that period is a 15th century church, the Iglesia de la Mare de Déu dels Ángels, Our Lady of Angels: it is here that the prestigious Llivia Classical Music Festival has taken place every August since 1982.
And beside the Church is the Torre de Bernat de So, a circular tower which also dates from the 15th century, and which once housed a prison.

A carved Baroque cabinet in the Pharmacy © Karsol | Dreamstime.com - Old Pharmacy Llivia Photo

One of the greatest tourist attractions, however, is La Farmácia de Llivia, the oldest pharmacy in Europe, which, according to documentary evidence, dates back to 1594 and was run by the same family for seven generations. It closed its doors in 1926 and reopened as the municipal museum after the building was bought in 1965 by the Diputación de Girona, the provincial government of Girona.