An Occitan country
The history of Val d’Aran is closely related to the Occitan culture from the South of France. Its bonds with France have already been stronger than the ones with Spain due to the complex orography that has acted as a natural frontier for centuries, while the Garona River and its flow towards the North has always kept an open door with the neighbouring country. It must be remembered that 30% of the territory in the valley is 2000m above sea level and its Atlantic climate keeps a thick snow blanket on the mountain passes for several months over the year. This was indeed a great cause of isolation until the tunnel of Vielha was inaugurated in 1948.
The first signs of life in Val d’Aran date back to the Bronze Age and were found in archaeological sites in Naut Aran, mainly in the area of Plan de Beret. There are other archaeological sites nearby, which are currently being researched in the sourrounding area of Aigüestortes i Sant Maurici National Park; they are mainly remains of funeral monuments. Other remains, that were found in several locations of the Valley (among them Arties, Les and Tredòs), date back to the Roman Age, from the 4th and 5th centuries BC. They were discovered in the surroundings of their thermal baths and they correspond with the first ones of Polibio, whose writings talked about a native ancient town that he named ‘arenosi’ (past inhabitans of Val d’Aran).
The christening of Val d’Aran took place very intensely as it is also shown by the remains from the Paleochristian Age found in Garòs, whose archaeological site is still today a subject of research, and where a fragment, well documented and marked, can be seen in the Camin Reiau in its entry behind the parochial church of the town. The Romanesque churches, many of them with phases added during the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods, are also a testimony of the christening that the Valley experimented after the fall of Charlemagne’s empire.
Without feudalism and with autonomy
But the foreign towns attempted to invade the region in several occasions from the 11th and 12th centuries on. The fights and disputes between the Franks and the Spaniards (noblemen who tried to rule the Valley with feudal formulas backed by kings and Sirs) were intense, especially from the 14th century on. Nonetheless, the Aranese people maintained their system of self government with a territorial division in ‘terçons’ (political divisions), their own ‘conselhers’ (counselors) and their ‘Sindic’ (trustee), in a system of communal lands where the house and the family were the base of the social and economic organization.
The Aranese people voluntarily decided to stay under the Catalonian-Aragonese Crown in spite of the many cultural bonds with France, since it was their kings who honoured and respected their administrative organization by means of different treaties and documents. A good example is the ‘Querimònia’, by James II at the end of the 14th century. Thus, feudalism was never established in Val d’Aran and neither was any other language or dialect of the Gascon branch of the Occcitan language or language of Oc. This language is spoken today and evolved directly from Latin in a parallel way but separated from the language of Oil which would develop into today’s French language.
History does not forget
During centuries, the Aranese house was the base of the economy and the administrative organization was always in hands of the Aranese people even during the Absolutism period of Philip V who, in 1717, did not include it in the so-called ‘Nueva Planta’ decree. The Aranese people had to pay a high price to maintain their privileges with the taxation of the Galín Reiau (unit of measure) that every single household must pay without exception. One hundred years later, Napoleon would invade the Valley in 1810 and the French king Louis XVIII would give it back to the Spanish Crown in 1815, so that the wife of the regent would abolish their privileges (the ones the Aranese people had been able to keep with great effort for centuries) and include Val d’Aran in the new province of Lleida.
The following years were also turbulent, with two republics and two dictatorships (the so-called Dictablanda of Primo de Rivera and, after the Second Republic, the dictatorship of General Franco). During these years all the privileges conquered during centuries were lost in the ups and downs of history … although the Aranese people would not forget their fight and historic rights.
The prohoms of the Valley did not hesitate to demand their privileges back again when Democracy arrived; in 1979, the “hecho diferencial” (distinguishing fact) of Val d’Aran was acknowledged. But it would not be until 1990 that the same Aranese administrative system was recovered with the six ‘conselhers’ (one per terçon) and the Sindic was democratically elected, this time by means of voting and universal suffrage. On June 17th 2009, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the restoration of the Conselh Gererau d’Aran and its administrative organization, the proposal of the New Act of Aran was presented to the “Conselleria de Governació de la Generalitat de Catalunya”. This proposal goes more deeply into the current competences of the Aranese autonomous government (Conselh Generau d’Aran.