Pyrénées-Orientales is a department of southern France adjacent to the northern Spanish frontier and the Mediterranean Sea. It also surrounds the tiny Spanish exclave of Llívia, and thus has two distinct borders with Spain.
Prior to the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, most of the present department was part of the former Principality of Catalonia, within the Kingdom of Spain, so the majority of it has historically been Catalan-speaking, and it is still sometimes referred to as Northern Catalonia.
The modern department was created early during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790, through the application of a law dated 22 December 1789. Pyrénées-Orientales corresponds almost exactly to the pre-Revolutionary province of Roussillon, but it also includes Fenolheda, a small piece of territory which had formerly been on the southern edge of Languedoc.
Invaded by Spain in April 1793, the area was recaptured thirteen months later during the War of the Roussillon.
During the nineteenth century, Pyrénées-Orientales proved one of the most consistently republican departments in France. The intellectual and republican politician François Arago, who, during the early months of the short-lived Second Republic in 1848, was briefly de facto Head of state, came from Estagel in the east of the department.
The département is managed by the General Council of the Pyrénées-Orientales in Perpignan. The Pyrénées-Orientales is part of the region of Languedoc-Roussillon. The General Council of the Pyrénées-Orientales is more and more involved with the European Union to create with the Generalitat of Catalonia, and Andorra, a Eurodistrict.
Pyrénées-Orientales has an area of 4,115 km². and a population of 422,000, of whom just over a quarter live in the capital, Perpignan. Other towns include Argelès-sur-Mer, Thuir, Elne (the ancient Illiberis) and Prades, each of 6-10,000 inhabitants.
Pyrénées-Orientales consists of three river valleys in the Pyrenees mountain range –from north to south, those of the Agly, Têt and Tech– and the eastern Plain of Roussillon into which they converge. Most of the population and agricultural production are concentrated in the plain, with only 30% of the area. There is one water reservoir at Lac de Matemale.
The upper Têt valley comprises the departments westernmost third, with just over a tenth of the total population. To the south-east, the Tech valley and the Côte Vermeille contain nearly 100,000 inhabitants. The Agly basin in the north-east has much in common with neighboring areas of Aude. Llívia is a town of Cerdanya, province of Girona, Catalonia, Spain, that forms a Spanish exclave surrounded by French territory.