The Isle of Pheasants was the stage for love affairs between the Kings of France and Spain. Centuries later, the dispute still has very bizarre repercussions.
THE ISLAND in Europe that changes NATIONALITY every six months
# The island of Pheasants. France and Spain swap it every six months
Enclaves are territories of a nation included in one state but belonging to another. An example, on a smaller scale, is San Colombano al Lambro in Italy which is part of the province of Milan although it is entirely surrounded by the province of Lodi. On a national level there is Monte Campione which belongs to Italy even though it is surrounded by Swiss territory. The Island of the Pheasants is one of them, but it has a unique characteristic: every year it changes nationality twice. Let’s find out why this happens by retracing its history.
# Between engagements, political instability and new peace thanks to the Sun King and Maria Theresa of Austria
The Island of the Pheasants is located on the river Bidasoa, which marks the northern part of the border between Spain and France. In the past it was used as a meeting place for diplomats from the two states. At the end of the 16th century, when marriages were synonymous with alliances, Henry IV of France and Philip III of Spain agreed to a double betrothal celebrated on the Isle of the Beans. After various betrothals, betrothed ladies and marriages, political instability ensued when hostilities between France and Spain began in 1618 during the Thirty Years’ War. In 1659, thanks to the engagement between Maria Theresa of Austria and Louis XIV (known as the Sun King), peace was achieved between the two states.
# The two viceroys in charge of the island who alternate every six months
In 1856 with the Treaty of Bayonne, later ratified in 1901, Spain and France agreed to share sovereignty of the island for an alternating period of six months each. From the 1st February to 31th July it falls to Spain, while from 1st August to 31st January it is under French sovereignty. There are no mayors or governors on the island: for Spain, it is the commander of the Hondarribia base who holds power, while for France, it is the commander of the Adour base who is responsible. The two persons in charge were given the title of ‘viceroy‘.
# The island of Pheasants is in danger of disappearing, who can save it?
The island, which is completely uninhabited due to the lack of bridges, is left to its own destiny and year after year the vegetation grows undisturbed. At low tide, it is possible to reach the island on foot, although the police are ready to block your way. On the island there is only the monument commemorating the Treaty of the Pyrenees of 1861, which, with the waters of the river slowly eroding the island, could disappear along with the island. The island can be saved, but who will bear the costs and projects? Spain or France?
(Original article by Marco Abate)