The island of Europe that changes nationality
In Roman times, the island was known as “Pausoa”, the Basque word for passage or stage. Then the French translated it by “Paysans”, meaning peasant, before transposing it by “Faisans”, for pheasant. Over time, the name Île des Faisans stuck.
The humble island finally rose to prominence in 1648, following a ceasefire at the end of the Thirty Years’ War between France and Spain, when it was chosen as a neutral space to delimit the new borders. In fact, 24 summits have taken place, with military escorts on standby in case the talks break down. Eleven years later, the peace agreement of the Treaty of the Pyrenees is concluded.
To honor the occasion, a royal marriage was proposed, and in 1660 King Louis XIV of France married King Philip IV’s daughter, Maria Theresa of Spain, at the place of declaration. Wooden bridges were built to facilitate passage, royal parties arrived in barges and state carriages, and tapestries and paintings were commissioned. Diego Velázquez, Philip’s court painter and whose magnum opus remains The Meninas (a portrait of Marie-Thérèse with her bridesmaids) was responsible for organizing a large part of the festivities.
Pheasant Island was so symbolic as a metaphor for peace, in fact, that it was decided that the two countries would have joint custody of the territory. Spain would provide stewardship from February 1 to July 31 each year, while Île aux Faisans would become an official part of France for the remaining six months. At that moment, the smallest condominium in the world was born.
By definition, condominiums are places determined by the presence of at least more than one sovereign state. The meaning is derived from Latin, “com” meaning “together” and “dominium” meaning “right of ownership”. And over the centuries, many countries have found themselves embroiled in geo-wars over condominiums, with governments spending decades happily debating the intricacies of who owns what and why. Most are not centers of empire, but rather experimental geopolitical addenda.