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The map at right shows the location of the département of the Pyrénées-Orientales, which roughly corresponds to the territory known as Northern Catalonia but also includes the district of Fenouillèdes ; the map at left shows Roussillon and Catalonia.

Northern Catalonia ( ), is a term which is sometimes used, particularly in Catalanmarker writings, to refer to the territory ceded to Francemarker by Spainmarker through the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. The area corresponds approximately to the modern Frenchmarker département of the Pyrénées-Orientales.

The equivalent term in French, Catalogne du Nord, is only rarely used: the terms Roussillon (in reference to the pre-Revolutionary province) or sometimes French Catalonia are usually preferred.


Northern Catalonia forms a triangle between the Pyreneesmarker to the south, the Corbièresmarker to the north-west and the Mediterranean Seamarker to the east. The Roussillon plain in the east, by far the most populated area, is formed by the flood plains of the Techmarker, Têtmarker and Aglymarker rivers ( ). The districts of Vallespirmarker and Conflentmarker cover the upper valleys of the Tech and the Têt respectively. Themassif of the Canigoumarker ( ), 2785 m, dominates much of the territory.

The climate is of the Mediterranean type, with hot, dry summers and winters which are relatively mild, at least on the Roussillon plain where snow is rare.

The city of Perpignanmarker ( ) accounts for over a quarter of the population, over one-third of its urban area is taken into account, and is the only major administrative and service centre. Major road and rail links run north–south through Northern Catalonia between France and Spain, while a railway line also links Perpignan to Latour-de-Carolmarker (Catalan: La Tor de Querol) via Prades (Catalan: Prada de Conflent or Prada).


Haute-Cerdagnemarker ( ) is geographically distinct from the rest of Northern Catalonia, lying to the south of the Pyrenean watershed in the upper valley of the Segre. It is a mountainous and sparsely-populated district, even taking into account the town of Llíviamarker (pop. 1252 (2005)) which forms an enclave resting under Spanish sovereignty.

The district lies on the most direct route between Toulousemarker ( ) and Barcelonamarker (via Foixmarker and Ripollmarker), and a railway line still links the two cities via Latour-de-Carolmarker ( ).

Administrative history

Eighth to twelfth centuries

Northern Catalonia formed part of the Spanish Marches, established by Charlemagne as a buffer territory againstthe Moorish forces. As such, it was divided into feudal counties, Rossellómarker, Vallespirmarker,Conflentmarker north of the Pyrenees and Cerdanyamarker to the south. By the end of theninth century, these counties had gained de facto independence from the Carolingian kings and operatedas princely states (whose rulers nevertheless retained the title of count).

As the seigneury of the counties became hereditary, the total number of Catalan counts fell steadily. One individual oftenhad the charge of several counties, but these were not always transmitted on the basis of primogeniture. Hence CountMiró II the Young, third son of Wilfred I the Hairy, inherited the counties of Cerdanya and Conflent from his father in 897, and the counties of Besalú and Vallespir from his elder brother Sunyer I when the latter became Count of Barcelona in 911.

The Counts of Rosselló, in alliance with their cousins the Counts of Empuriés,tried to resist this dilution of their power. However the Counts of Barcelona steadily gain suzerainty over theother Catalan counts, a process which was virtually complete by the twelfth century. The last Count of Rosselló, Girard II, left his title to theCrown of Aragon on his death in 1172 to prevent the territory passing to his illegitimate half-brothers.

Under the Crown of Aragon

Royal administration in Catalonia under the Crown of Aragon was organised on the basis of vegueries,under the charge of a veguer appointed by the King of Aragon as Count of Barcelona. In Northern Catalonia, the vegueriesfollowed closely the boundaries of the old counties. The district of Capcirmarker was a sotsvegueria, based aroundthe castle of Puigbalador (French: Puyvalador) but subordinate to the vegueria of Conflent.

The Treaty of Corbeil of 1258 confirmed the frontier between France and Aragon as the Cerbères,leaving the Occitan district of Fenolheda to France.

On the death of King James I the Conqueror in 1276, Northern Catalonia was combined with the Balearic Islesmarker toform a new Kingdom of Majorca, which passed to James II while the rest of theterritory of the Crown of Aragon passed to his brother Peter III. This division satisfiedneither branch of the family, and the Kingdom of Majorca was retaken militarily by the Crown of Aragon in 1344.

After the Treaty of the Pyrenees

The Treaty of the Pyrenees of 1659 ceded Northern Catalonia to France, where it became the province of Roussillon. The French provinces were abolished at the Revolution (Law of 1789-12-22), and Roussillon was joined with the district of Fenouillèdes(Occitan: Fenolheda) to form the département of the Pyrénées-Orientales, with Perpignanmarker (Perpinyàmarker) as its administrative centre.

Present day

The département of the Pyrénées-Orientales is divided into the arrondissements of Céret (Catalan: Ceretmarker), Perpignanmarker (Perpinyàmarker) and Prades (Prada de Conflentmarker), which are further divided into cantons and communes. Perpignan and sixteen surrounding communes are also associated in the Communauté d'agglomération Têt Méditerranée, created in 2001. Enclaved in the southwest of the département there is the Spanish (Cataloniamarker) exclave of Llíviamarker.
Arondissement Cantons Communes Population (1999) Area Population

Céret (Ceret) 5 40 66,624 954 km² 69.8 /km²
Perpignan (Perpinyà) 20 86 287,272 1317 km² 218 /km²
Prades (Prada) 6 100 38,907 1845 km² 21.1 /km²
TOTAL 31 226 392,803 4116 km² 95.4 /km²
All figures include the district of Fenouillèdes.

As is common, the present-day arrondissements do not correspond to pre-Revolutionary boundaries. The arrondissement of Prades (Prada) covers the whole of Haute-Cerdagnemarker (Alta Cerdanya) and Conflentmarker (includingCapcirmarker), as well as about a third of Fenolheda (not part of the province of Roussillon).The arrondissement of Céret covers the whole of Vallespirmarker but also the Côte Vermeillemarker (Costa Vermella), which was historically under the control of the counts and veguers of Rosselló at Perpinyàmarker (Perpignan).

Catalan writers sometimes speak of the "comarques of Northern Catalonia".Unlike the autonomous community of Cataloniamarker, these comarques have no administrative significance, althoughthey usually correspond to a certain historical and geographical unity. A commonly used division is that of Joan Becat in his1977 work Atles de Catalunya Nord, which follows closely the boundaries of the former vegueries except insofar asit promotes the former sotsvegueria of Capcir (177 km²,pop. 1532 (1990)) to a full comarca.


French is the official language in these municipalities. Catalan, in its Northern Catalan variety, is estimated to be spoken by a quarter of the population, but understood by a higher percentage.

Its public usage was forbidden by means of a Louis XIV royal decree in 1700 prohibiting the usage of Catalan language in official documents. Then in the 1950s, after centuries of being forbidden in education, Catalan language could be taken 1 hour per week in secondary school. In the 1970s, the Arrels Association and la Bressola network of private schools started to offer complete bilingual French/Catalan classes from nursery up to secondary education.

On December 10, 2007, the General Council of Pyrénées-Orientales proclaimed Catalan as one of the languages of the department, alongside French and Occitan language (in Fenouillèdes), with the goal to further promote it in public life and education.

See also


  1. CRUSCAT - El coneixement del català
  4. Charte en faveur du Catalan

External links




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