The Island that Switches Countries

Shruti Patel, Contributor

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Every six months, Pheasant Island switches ownership from France to Spain. And, in August, Spain will give the island back to France.  Pheasant Island, also known as Faisans Island, is on the very middle of the border of France and Spain, and is one of the oldest condominiums- or joint sovereignty- in the world.  The switching of the island began with the Treaty of the Pyrenees which marked the end of the war between France and Spain. This island is very important due to this historical significance because, in 1659, it was the neutral location where the treaty was signed and the war came to an end. The treaty agreed to redraw border lines, exchange territories, and tied the deal with the marriage of King Louis XIV of France and the daughter of the Spanish king, Philip IV. In the Treaty, it was also included that the island would be shared by the two countries, swapping sovereignty every six months.

The island is very small, approximately 200 meters long and 40 meters wide, and uninhabited. Occasionally, the public is allowed to visit the island on heritage days; however, the attendance tends to consist more of the elderly than youth due to lack of interest in this significant part of history the island contains.

As of late, the crossing from France to Spain is quite simple, but in the past, the bridges were heavily enforced with armed guards and soldiers. The island is of very low priority for both countries because it has been halved of its original size due to snow rushing down from the Pyrenees Mountain, slowly eroded away from the island.

Responsibility of the island switches from the mayors of Irun and Hendaye. Both of the mayors do not pay much attention to the island due to its lack of resources and because it does not provide any benefits. Due to this, the island has been left neglected to the elements and the occasional trespasser. Also, neither country wants to spend money on fixing the island’s borders. As a result, they only spare a few guards on the island to make sure there are no illegal campers. Before there used to be sentry points every 100 meters along the river to prevent opponents from getting in and out of both countries.

This year the switching of ownership occured on February 1st, which will mark sovereignty to Spain and France will gain back the island on the 31st of July. There will be no ceremony as marking the switch due to riots that would trouble the exchange. This switching over is one of the most peaceful and oldest among other joint sovereignty territories.

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/stories-42817859

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