bordermarkers of the
Pyrenees : curiosities
|There are 720 bordermarkers (I
seems so simple: no. 1 is near Hendaye in the Basque country,
the last one is no. 602 at the mediterranean
coast. So there are 602 bordermarkers. But no, there
See this page for a full explanation.
The following text is part of the special Llivia-page
is situated 1 km from the Spanish border en about 20 km east from
Andorra. It's size is 12 square km and the village of Llivia has 1200
inhabitants. In roman times Llivia was an important place in the
region. In the middle ages a castle was built on the hill above the
village (now ruined). Puigcerda, just across the current Spanish
boundary, had become the primary town in the Cerdagne, which belonged
as a whole to Spain. For what ever reason, Llivia received city rights
from the Spanish king which turned out to be crucial in later days.
1659 the Spanish-French border was established in the treaty of the
Pyrenees. In the treaty of Llivia (1660) the half of Cerdagne including
33 villages was given to France. Spain however refused to hand over
Llivia, simply because it was a city and not a village. That's how
Llivia became an enclave.
The exact demarcation of the
French-Spanish border was undertaken in the 19th
got his own range of 45 bordermarkers. Until then the
border of Llivia was considered as the international border but there
were many conflicts. One centuries-old stone however (Pedra Detra, on
the spot of the current marker nr. 1) was recognized on both sides as a
de la Conférence - a condominium since 1659
condominium is a piece of territory shared by two nations. The "Isle of
the conference" (or 'Pheasant island' or 'l'île de Faisans') is a
small island in the Bidassoa-river close to the Atlantic coast. At that
place the Bidassoa is the border between France and Spain. Thus
situated in the middle of a border-river, it seemed the perfect
location for signing the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659 between the two
adjoining nations. Also for Spanish-French royal couples as a first
meeting place and for exchanging hostages.
Treaty of Pyrenees this island received its special status of a
condominium. There are more condominiums in the world but this one is
unique. It's unique because its sovereignty changes every six months
from Spain to France and back again.
The island cannot be visited but on the Spanish side the water is
undeep and an approach seems possible there with low tide.
An unidentified bordermarker
In spring 2011 I received a documentary on Jean Sermet ("L'homme de la frontière'').
Jean Sermet was an erudite French bordermarker-commissionary who did a
great job in surveying and maintenance. In the documentary we see Jean
Sermet while showing slides of bordermarkers.
This slide puzzles me: no number or location was mentioned and I can't
identify the bordermarker. The peculiar situation shown here is not
existant any more (I would have found it) but where is it and
concerning which bm? I guess it's in the Basque country, white
houses being so common there. Apparently, part of the hill-slope has
been removed to build this parking-lot but they were not allowed to
move the bordermarker. Who can help me? Well, Robert Darrieumerlou did: he solved the mystery. See this blog-post.
Pays Quint -
spanish soil, solely for the French
(For the original & full
map: click here )
The valley of Baïgorry was a common land since the Middle
Ages. No continuous use was allowed. But in later centuries shepherds
from either the north (the French village of Saint-Etienne-de-Baïgorry)
or the south (the spanish valley of Erro) started to build illegal
farms which were regularly demolished by the French authorities.
As the competition between the villages on either side of the border
for the access to the pastures grew fiercer, the national authorities
became involved in the 18th century. After intense negotiations the
Treaty of Elizondo (1785) was signed. It established the so-called
d'Ornano", two straight lines as the new borderline, neglecting the
watershed which is more to the south. The first line is from bm130 to
the summit of Ichterbegui, the second from this summit to bm155 (these
bordermarkers however date from 1856 or later). So the valley was
two distinct pastoral areas. The north-side of the Ornano-line was
reserved for the Baïgorry shepherds. The inhabitants of the Erro-valley
got the usufructuary use of the southern part.
However, the disputes went on and were only resolved with the Bayonne
treaty of 1856. In that treaty, the Ornano-line was established as the
final borderline as it is still up to this day. It allowed the French
shepherds to live and build farms on both sides of the Ornano-line
while the Spanish shepherd were restricted to only grazing their flocks
in the summer. So the French shepherds were favored but France agreed
to pay an annual payment which they still do.
The 'Pays Quint' is the part between the Ornano-line and the watershed.
It is Spanish territory but its use for farming and housing is
primarily meant for French citizens. The treaty (article 16) gives them
the perpetual right of grazing between the new boundary line and the
ridge (watershed) further south. This perpetual right is apparently
exceptional in international law.
According to Jacques Koleck eight French families remain in this
situation. They pay property taxes to the Spanish neighboring town and
the Guardia Civil ensures their safety. But for everything else, they
act as if they were in France, that is to say for civil affaires like
birth, marriage, death and elections, they depend on the French village
of Urepel. They are also attached to France for taxes, social security,
education, health services, mail, electricity.
An additonal bordermarker, placed in 1997. A strange
involving a correction of the French-Spanish border in the high
mountains near Mount Valier. France lost about 400 hectares to Spain in
a territorial claim.
What happened? An officer of the geographical service of the Spanish
army discovered that the borderline on the French maps at that spot -
near the 'passage de la Lègne', 2503m - was situated too far to the
At this remoted spot, there's a sort of bassin (known as "cuvette de
Renadge d'en Haut" or
"Coma Gireta") and the real watershed - and that means the border in
the central parts of the Pyrenees - was approximately 1 km to the
The Spanish claim was recognized and to mark the new
bm420bis was placed on 10 september 1997. The picture above
of Coma Gireta in Google Earth, seen from the west. The 3d-feature of
GE allows to recognize the bassin. Watching the bassin, a misstake
seems understandable. But when examining the altitude lines on the
IGN-map, it beomes clear that the cartographers simply made an
error somewhere in the past.
not shown yet on the IGN-25k-maps but is indeed placed at the Passage de Lègne. See my pictures at this page
pdf-file with an official report by J. Sermet
pdf-file on the actual placement
l'Inventaire à la
Prévert (a random list of facts)
- the most western bm: bm001
- the most eastern bm: bm602
- the most nothern bm: bm018
- the most southern bm: bm522
- the lowest bm: bm602 (± 5 m)
- the highest bm: bm510 (± 2790 m)
- the two bm's closest to each other: that's either bm305-305bis or
bm574bis-575 (both ± 5 meters) but if we restrict it to the bm's
mentioned in the original treaties: bm018-019 (± 10 meters). But if we
include the double bm's (near Puigcerda and along the Llivia-border
there is a dozen with the same number on either side of streams or a
dirtroad) there are some even closer to each other (± 3m)
- the two bm's that are furthest apart: bm426-427 (± 27km)
Cartographic errors & omissions
In the past 10 years of searching bordermarkers, I came across several
discrepancies between the borderline-reality and the topographic maps. A list:
- Bm062 is wrongly indicated on the French 25k-map
- Between bm067 and 068, the borderline is a straight
line as it should be. However: on the new French 25k-map the borderline suddenly
appears differently with a wrong location of bm068: see 20090408
- Bm235 - near Pic d'Orhy - is indicated wrongly on the French IGN-map. In fact, the bm is ± 150m off the borderline itself. See esfr-html-markers-230-236.html
- Bm257 is wrongly indicated, the borderline has changed here in 1985: see esfr-html-markers-256-264.html
- Bm330 is indicated at Port de Clarabide (and present)
but the original bm330 was discovered in september 2012 at Port
d'Aygues Tortes. The bordercross 330 at Port de Clarabide should be
considered as bm330bis. See esfr-html-curiosities.html
- The Table de Trois Rois, tripoint of
France-Navarra-Aragon between bm272 and 273. There's confusion on
Spanish maps about what is the Table: is it the Pic or the tilted
plateau east of it? See 20110820
- Between bm363 and 366 the actual borderline is different from the French IGN-map: see 20110901
- Between bm407 and 409, there has been a
border-dispute in the 1960-ies which led to a different borderline,
more to the north. But the French maps still show the old borderline,
locate bm408 on a wrong place and give no indications of the
submarkers bm408 I-IV. See esfr-html-markers-408-submarkers.html
- The submarkers bm044A to L are not indicated on the French maps.
- Bm244 - not indicated on the French-map.
- Bm261 is not indicated on the French maps (and is off the actual borderline): see 20100907
- Bm329 is not indicated on the French maps.
- Bm330: idem
- The 14 submarkers of bm409 are not indicated on the French maps.
- Bm412: in not indicated on the French maps
- Bm413 idem
- Bm414 idem
- Bm415 idem
- Bm416 idem
- Bm417 idem
- Bm418 idem
- Bm420bis: idem
- Bm424: idem
- Bm425: idem
- Bm567bis: idem
A to-do list for the CMA
The CMA is the Commission Mixte d'Abornement: the Franco-Espagnol
commission who supervises the check-up and maintenance of
esfr-bordermarkers. If I were the chairman (a kind of "Si j'étais
président") I would insist on the following priorities:
- formulate a mission-statement which emphasizes the
cultural-historic dimension of the maintenance of the
esfr-bordermarkers. All bordermarkers represent a cultural heritage and are cultural-historical monuments. They should be
treated as such.
- paint all crosses (in red?) if not yet painted.
- re-install bm067
- re-install bm098
- re-install bm157
- re-erect bm183
- re-erect bm194
- restaurate bm234 and bm234bis
- engrave a new bm236-cross or install a pillar.
- re-install bm255
- engrave a new bm271bis-cross
- engrave a new bm297-cross and/or restaurate bm297sub1
- add "bis" to the 330-bordercross on Port de Clarabide
- bm359: determine its original location and make a new bordercross on the exact borderline
- re-install bm364
- find the submarkers 408 III and IV or replace them; establish the exact borderline between bm407 and 409
- bm508: re-engrave the number besides the existing cross.
- re-engrave bm510
maintenance-jobs: erecting bm's 030, 065, 089, 159, 167, 188, 194,
245, 250, 337, 433. Repairing: bm's 044 (unnumbered metal plates in the
tarmac), 044J (replace at original spot), 143, 172, 234
(engraving/painting a number), 599
A fake-cross at Col de Lourdes
Bm316 is located at Col du Cardal. But strangely enough, at Col de
Lourdes, there's another bm316. It's not engraved but painted on a
Robert Darrieumerlou provided the answer. The Procès-Verbal states that
Spanish shepherds may only pass the border at the cols with bm315, 316 and
bm317 to bring their cattle to the pastures of 'Quartier de Lourdes'.
But there was also a convenient route along the Col de Lourdes and that was
apparently the reason to falsify bm316. Nowadays the 'transhumance'
(the cross-border transfer of cattle) only takes place at Col de
But where is Col de Lourdes? We don't see any 'Col de Lourdes' on the various maps. It's a col between Pic
de Lourdes and Col du Cardal. See the bibliograpy-page for the reference to an article by Clarens, Jean de. For more pictures of Robert: see this page.
Changing toponomy: how the original bm330 was forgotten and refound
In september 2012 Jean-Paul Laborie climbed to Port d'Aygues Tortes in freezing
weather, his thumbs literally frozen. But he had a mission: finding
the original bm330. We know that this bordercross was engraved in the
19th century at Port de Clarabide and nowadays there is still a
cross 330 at this col. But that cross was engraved in 2003 because
the previous one was unfindable.
Jean-Paul Laborie is a “délégué à l'abornement” of the Pyrenean bordercommittee. Apparently bm330 puzzled him
and at some point he got a brilliant idea. Could it be that the
toponomy of the borderpasses as shown on the maps have changed in the
course of years? And that the original Port de Clarabide was somewhere
else? Together with Michel Bachus of the IGN cartography institute he
compared old and contemporary maps:
And his hypothesis was confirmed. We see that the contemporary Port d'Aygues Tortes used to be Port de Clarabide.
And that's where Jean-Paul found the original bm330. For pictures of
this bm: see esfr-html-markers-315-330bis.html