I’m glad to announce an update of my main website www.grpdesbf.nl
See for the update-details the update-log
Corinne Gourgeonnet is an enthusiastic bordermarker-devotee. She spent some days around new year near Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. How great was her surprise that the landlord of her B&B told her that he had a bordermarker in his garden! He had found it at his premises when he bought it. The previous owner was apparently a collector of strange items, found or otherwise acquired. Let’s show Corinne’s pictures of this strange item:
This is definitely an esfr-bordermarker but of a type never seen before. Perhaps it was once made to replace the bm171 at the border-ridge 11km SE. But there we find a much more massive marker:
Where can you find this marker? The address is
14 Route d’Ascarat
And this is a map of the premises of the B&B and where the bm is located:
I have discussed in previous posts the borderline between bm407 and 409 several times and was critical of the new borderline of the CMA 2015. In my opinion, the French delegation had the best cards in every respect but gave in to the Spanish far too easy. Who would care, they might have thought. Well, I do!
The head of CNIG-department, charged with the digitalization of the French border – Pierre Vergez – is a strong defender of this compromise. He asked for a ‘right of reply’ in the way of a Gif-animation. Here it comes:
1. the treaty is not speaking of a source but of the “origine du ruisseau du Terme” and “la naissance du ruisseau du Terme”. That does make a difference: every stream has a beginning, it can be a well-defined source (water bubbling from the ground) or a ravine where somewhere the rainfall or melting snow merges enough to form a stream. If that is a permanent or periodical beginning or stream is not relevant in this context, the treaty doesn’t make such a difference. Sources and origins of streams on upper hill slopes tend to be periodical, subject to season and rainfall/snowfall.
2. the bordermarker B.F. 408 is shown at a wrong place.
3. the new borderline (CMA 2015) was a compromise: they cut the disputed terrain in half. From bm408 it follows a ridge between the two streams of the two ‘interpretations’ downhill to a point where the two streams merge. It no longer bears relevance to the Treaty-text: a direct line from bm407 to a stream with bm408 above its beginning.
4. Pierre Vergez has made his own calculation and brought down the loss of French territory back from 8 hectares to 5 hectares.
5. ‘Scientific proof’? What would that mean? Close reading of the treaty text and plain thinking will do the job.
Mr Vergez accused me of a tunnel-vision on the interpretation of the Treaty. I should consider other interpretations and ask myself how the origin of the Ruisseau du Terme could be perceived from another point of view. However, he didn’t tell which interpretation of the Spanish delegation was so convincing that they had no choice than to seek a compromise.
And a tunnel-view? Well, he underestimates me. Of course, I did this mental exercise before. The border-conflict around 1960 (see this webpage) was centered around the same question. Let’s show which other interpretations are possible and discuss them.
1. The treaty-text (in English)
“From bm407 the borderline leaves the ridge and heads directly on the northern slope to the origin of a stream, the “Ruisseau du Terme”. Bm408 is placed 312m from bm407, on a rock above this beginning of the stream. Then the border follows the course of the stream until its confluence with the Garonne where bm409 is placed.”
2. The historical locations of bm407 and 408, disputed by no one. Though rebuilt in the 1950-ies, their ruined predecessors were still present. That’s how the treaty was implemented in the 19th century and only challenged around 1960. Don’t forget that the rebuilding of the bordermarkers in the 1950-ies was a bilateral project and finished with a mutual declaration of agreement on their locations. In the 1960-conflict, the position of bm408 was nu subject of discussion.
We can see on a Google Earth-background the two borderlines on the French and Spanish maps (before 2015) and the various streams which finally come together and merge with the Garonne. We can identify three beginnings or origins or sources of streams. Thus there are three candidates for the origin of the Ruisseau de Terme. Let’s start with spelling the treaty-text and see which candidate fits best.
Option 1 can be eliminated easily: the distance is too far (± 675m), there’s no rock nearby for bm408 to stand on and this cannot be fitted in the description of a borderline leaving the ridge and continuing on the northern slope of it.
Option 2: this is where in the 1960-ies bm408-I was placed at the top of a small cascade-like stream. However, it is not a continuous stream downhill, not even with a continuous streambed and one could ask if they are not separate streams. But never mind, we keep this option in competition.
Option 3: no comment, qualifies straight away for round 2
We have two options left which both match with
– a direct line to the origin of a stream
– with a minimal distance (on the ground, measured in Google Earth) of ± 300m because bm408 has to be placed at 312m distance on a rock above it’s beginning.
Without the actual and historical location of bm408, both options would make sense. But given the position of bm408, there is only one option reasonable: the direct line heads via bm408 to the origin of the Ruisseau du Terme. Otherwise, the direct line would have been a bent line: from bm407 directly to bm408, bending sharp north to option 2, let’s show that:
And that’s a silly thing to think. It was already in the 1960-conflict a peculiar thought, incompatible with common sense. Plain thinking involves: a direct line is a straight line and bordermarkers are placed on the borderline unless stated otherwise.
1. could bm408 have been placed outside the borderline but still “on a rock above the beginning of the stream”? In that case, the direct line goes from bm407 straight to option 2 and that would make option 2 the “Ruisseau du Terme” of the Treaty. Does that make sense? Answer: no. Why would they have put bm408 at a distance of 100m south when a suitable position was available at the current position of bm408-I? And why not mention it in the Treaty?
Moreover: the ‘rock’ of bm408 is steep above the hillside SW (towards the Ruisseau du Terme) and S of it but provides a more gentle descent towards the cascade-like stream. Thus, the description of “a rock above” wouldn’t suit if the cascade-like stream was meant to be the origin of the Ruisseau du Terme.
2. could bm408 have been placed (or rebuilt) at a wrong place? Though Jean Sermet tells us that there was a ruined predecessor present at the spot in the 1950-ies, there are nowadays no remains visible. But as said: the project of rebuilding the bordermarkers in the 1950-ies was a bilateral project completed with a mutual declaration of agreement. So both parties complied with the rebullding on this spot. So: is this presumption plausible? Answer: no.
After examining several options, there can be no reasonable doubt about what is meant in the Treaty. Other options simply do not fit in the treaty-text and the given locations of bm407 and 408. The borderline from bm407 onwards goes in a straight line via bm408 to the ravine where the Ruisseau du Terme has its beginning. On a map:
And I have to repeat my verdict: the French delegation in the CMA 2015 didn’t do their job well. They gave away 5 hectares of French territory in an easy compromise.
Pierre Vergez asked if his name could be erased from my previous posts. I thought about that, my remarks on his role, reasoning and attitude were not too flattering and this is not a personal vendetta. On the other hand: we are talking about public matters – the integrity of the French territory – and he has responded not as a private person on personal matters but as a civil servant to the public. Then you should take responsibility for what you write. He was not pleased: “I am embarrassed that my name is mingled with the empty rhetoric of the internet. Thank you for removing it from your fantasies.” and “I m chocked to see such fake News on internet. I was patient enough to reply to you, but by évidence you aren’t able to be honest enough to write my point of view. I think the best way is to show around your name and internet site as liers.”
Well, so be it.
I was surprised by a tweet of Joan Capdevila, border commissioner on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees Orientales:
about the restauration of the old and worn bm508 west uphill of Coll d’Eina.
While the cross is still well visible, only the ‘8’ of the number 508 was left recognizable. Enough reason for the commission to superimpose a granite plate.
One can argue if it would have been more elegant to place the granite plate just besides it, so as not to cover the original engraved cross. But I herald the efforts of the cross-border commission to maintain and restore the bordermarkers which are lost or damaged. And this restoration gives a good reason to return to this fabulous border-ridge for my own pictures.
In the Pyrenees, close to Bagnères-de-Luchon at the Bidaubus-hillside, France has lost 8 hectares for no reason. In a way, it is kept secret, decided upon in closed meetings with no publicity or justification. Can it be reversed?
The Bayonne Treaties 1856-1868
France has a vast length of borders with its neighboring countries. In the south, it’s the borderline in the Pyrenees with Spain and Andorra and that’s the one I’m very familiar with. Once – in terms of binational agreements – it was a vague line but since the 19th century, a very well described borderline complemented by more than 700 bordermarkers. The so-called Bayonne treaties between France and Spain were a result of decennia of investigation, negotiation and tough fieldwork.
Digital measurement of the border
The digital age offers new possibilities to delimitate the border more precisely. That’s where the European INSPIRE-project stepped in from 2007 onwards. The borderline and bordermarkers between France and Spain are precisely measured with gps-devices and the results discussed in the binational committee of the Commission Mixte d’Abornement (CMA). However, in this case (CMA-meeting 2015) its proceedings are not public and we have no idea which arguments were exchanged in case of disagreement. But we can watch the results of the fieldwork and the level of CMA-agreement on this webpage with a nice explanation on this webpage.
The CMA and its important meeting in 2015
The CMA is a binational committee with a long history, discussing and deciding on border-matters and bordermarker-issues on the French-Spanish borderline. There are 4 Spanish members and 3 French members. Its agreements can involve changes of the borderline, apparently without a final binational treaty needed to implement the change.
In 2015 the results of the INSPIRE-fieldwork was discussed in Toulouse and the digitally established borderline was approved. As said, you can check that on the map on this webpage: if the borderline is blue, it is approved. Are there any disagreements? Well, they only mention a since long disagreement at the far western side of the Pyrenees concerning the river Bidassoa.
Still, there are at least two cases in which the borderline was changed, one of them is the border on the Bidaubus hillside. Unfortunately, the proceedings of this meeting being not public (though the proceedings of 2014 and 2012 are available on this page), one wants to know the reasoning.
The Bidaubus hillside
The Bidaubus-hillside is near Bagnères-de-Luchon and SW above the peaceful village of Fos. That’s where the borderline leaves the mountain-ridge and descends to the Garonne. The treaty of 1863 is very explicit about the borderline leaving the ridge from bm407 and going in a straight line via bm408 to the origin of the stream (Ruisseau du Terme) which descends as the borderline to the Garonne. The text itself tells us:
407. Borne au cap de Touète
En ce point, la ligne internationale abandonne la crête et descend par le versant septentrional pour aller directement à l’origine du ruisseau du Terme, appelée aussi Riou-Poudét.
408. Borne sur un rocher, au–dessus de la naissance du ruisseau du Terme, à 312 mètres de la précédente.
La frontière descend par le cours de ce ruisseau jusqu’à son embouchure dans la Garonne.
409. Borne à cette embouchure, sur la rive droite du ruisseau et à la rive gauche de la Garonne.
In my own words: from bm407 the borderline leaves the ridge and heads directly on the northern slope to the origin of a stream, the “Ruisseau du Terme”. Bm408 is placed (NB: thus in between, inevitably on that direct line) 312m from bm407, on a rock above this beginning of the stream. Then the border follows the course of the stream until its confluence with the Garonne where bm409 is placed. On a map:
NB: note the northern stream, important in the Bidaubus-conflict in the 1960-ies. It is called the Ruisseau des Réchets. The Spanish argued in the 1960-ies that this stream – as a prolongation of a tiny stream cq cascade NEE of bm408 – should be considered as the Ruisseau du Terme from the Treaty. That is silly because -in that case – the border-commissioners of 1863 would have placed bm408 at another spot.
The original locations of bm407 and 408 (which were rebuilt in the 1950-ies) are indisputable because the foundations of the original markers were still there in the 1950-ies. Henceforth the borderline as meant and implemented by the 1863-treaty leaves 0% doubt, it can not be interpreted differently. Let’s show it how that upper part looks on the Catalonian ICC-map with its very precise elevation-representation:
And look at this historical map (l’État-Major, somewhere between 1820 and 1866, probably drawn before the Treaty of 1863) which shows that in the 19th century the Ruisseau du Terme was considered as THE borderline (and not the Ruisseau des Réchets)
The Bidaubus conflict 1959-1969
A Spanish forestry company trespassed the borderline in 1959 and that led to a chain of events. The French border commissioner Sermet and his Spanish colleague Alija agreed to change the borderline as a sort of diplomatic solution and the CMA complied. The borderline between bm408 and 409 shifted to the North, ceding terrain to Spain. Four submarkers (408 I-IV) were placed in 1969 to delimitate the new borderline but only nr. I and II are still in situ and III & IV were unfindable (until spring 2018). A cadastral map with the new markers was drawn in 1969 but seemed to be lost. And thus it was not known how the new borderline was envisioned and subsequently how much terrain was ceded to Spain.
The French IGN-maps didn’t change at all and the Spanish map was already wrong before 1969 and remained the same. Not that anyone cared, the locals of Fos kept on using the terrain as ever and nowadays they are ignorant of whatever border change, submarkers or conflict.
The above map shows the different borderlines on various maps. Bm408 is wrongly indicated on this French IGN-map. Bm408 is located (and has always been) at the red line. Legend:
Black = borderline on the French IGN-map, since long
Yellow = borderline on the Spanish ICC-map, since long
Red = the borderline from bm407 via bm408 to the beginning of the Ruisseau du Terme, according to the Treaty of 1863
Light-blue streams: their courses derived from the very detailed Spanish ICC-map and the google-terrain map.
May 2018: submarkers bm408 III and IV found back
Michel Molia managed to recover the map of 1969 from a Spanish archive and the markers III and IV were discovered on 31 may 2018. See that page for more details. They were roughly placed in the same line as 408 I-II but had slid away and were half buried. The following map shows it all.
What does this mean? It made it finally clear how the new borderline was finally meant to be in 1969, ceding about 16 hectares to Spain as shows the next map:
CMA 2015: a peculiar compromise
Back to 2015. The INSPIRE-project to delimitate the border precisely prompted the CMA of 2015 to decide what to do with the borderline between 407 and 409. As said: the Treaty is – in my opinion – unassailable about its right course but how to deal with the dubious new borderline established in the 1960-ies? And – besides – what was its exact course without knowing the position of the lost markers 408 III and IV? I guess they assumed the new borderline to be as in the above map.
One thing is sure: the French delegation had the best cards with the explicit Treaty-text, the undisputed locations of bm407 and 408 and the evidence of the État-Major-map. They had thus THE chance to restore the border to its original and rightful course. But they agreed to the most simple solution, cutting the disputed terrain in half. Still a loss of ± 8 hectares of French territory compared to the pre-1969 situation. The next map summarizes all my data and reasoning. The purple line is the borderline from 2015 onwards. From bm408 it follows a minor ridge between the two streams until their confluence on the lower part of the hillside.
The purple line is however incompatible with the Treaty-text and ignoring the historical evidence of the bordermarker-locations of bm407 & 408 and the borderline on the l’État-Major map of the 19th century.
The role of the CNIG in the CMA-decision
Pierre Vergez is a high-rank civil servant of the CNIG and in charge of the project to digitally establish the French borders with its neighbors. He was so kind to answer in 2018 on several occasions to Michel Molia and me on this subject, however surprisingly unkind by his militant and derogatory – my appreciation – way of answering. Perhaps he was annoyed by ‘amateurs’ like us, putting in doubt the decision of the CMA of 2015 which he labeled as an “intelligent” diplomatic masterpiece about some “useless square meters”.
He mentions opposing views of the Spanish delegation they had to deal with but what is there to oppose when the odds are completely at your hand? Or was he embarrassed by our documented knowledge concerning the 1863-treaty and the Bidaubus-conflict. While all this knowledge is abundantly available on the internet and assembled and discussed on our websites. I don’t think he did his homework well, neither did the French CMA-members.
What stroke me most: in so strongly defending the CMA-decision, he acted as if he was the chairman of the CMA while not even being a member. At his best, he should have been an impartial consultant to the CMA. But I guess that it was he himself who came up with the “intelligent” idea of following the ridge between the two streams. A convenient technocratic solution fitting a technocratic civil servant from far-away Paris but – as said before – incompatible with the borderline that the authoritative Treaty-text of 1863 prescribes and the historical evidence. I can imagine how the Spanish eagerly complied with this compromise.
But despite my personal irritation, probably reciprocal, we shouldn’t blame him. The French members of the CMA are responsible for agreeing with this compromise and in my opinion, they didn’t perform their job well.
Consequences for the undivided common ground of Bidaubus
There is a large terrain of common ground south of the Ruisseau du Terme, common for the communities of Fos (French) and Bausen (Spain). See this page for more details. If the northern stream of the Ruisseau des Réchets is upgraded to a presumed borderline, considering it as the Ruisseau du Terme meant in the 1863-treaty, the common terrain is inevitably expanded to the North. Let’s show it on a map.
That would imply expansion to the Ruisseau des Réchets (yellow dotted line).
In any case expanded to the new borderline (yellow line) between the two streams. What does that mean in a practical sense? For example, hunters from Bausen will have the full right to enlarge their scope to the North. Same story for collecting mushrooms or cutting wood.
France is about to lose 8 hectares of its territory for no reason, in fact it has already. Is it too late? I don’t know how omnipotent the CMA is in its decisions or in what way local authorities and communities can initiate a reconsideration of this decision.
And who cares? Well, I do! Never thought that I – as a Dutchman – would end up as a defender of French territory….
Bm602 can’t be reached by foot. This very last bordercross is hidden in a cave at the Mediterranean coast between Portbou and Cerbère. In 2011 we rented a boat with a boatsman to get there and Serge Poncet peddled with a canoe from Cerbère while the mountaineer Lionel Daudet descended along the steep rockwall to the waterlevel. The cave is in fact a tunnel as the following picture shows.
There has been only one man (Cayetano) who reached the cave by swimming as far as I know. Until now….because Corinne Gourgeonnet and her little son Arthur undertook the same adventure on August 2th 2018. From Portbou they followed the trail along the coast as far as they could and then started swimming.
And that’s not something to consider lightly: it implies swimming 700m to the cave and 700m back. To remind you: Arthur is only 9 years old but – as his mother wrote me – a good swimmer.
And the young Arthur may behold the future of our bordermarker-interest. Corinne is since a few years an impassioned searcher of bordermarkers and Arthur joins her regularly and who knows ….
Arthur is his habitat to be perhaps. Picture taken this spring in the Basque country between bm022 and 023.
On June 2th 2018, I – with my companion Jan-Willem Doomen – met Oier Gil and his girlfriend Judith Sanchez at bm196 near Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. We had a very interesting conversation about our mutual border experiences.
Oier (second from left) is an artist and originates from Irun along the Bidasoa-river which is the border with France in the Basque country. He – being so close to the border in various senses – has been intrigued by the concept of the border and its real-life implications. It has resulted in remarkable art-projects -> see his website and/or his videos.
Let’s focus on two projects, both supported by the Bilbaoarte Foundation:
Sauf Desserte Locale, a video in which a sort of bordermarker is driven around (fast motion) in a carrier tricycle through the towns of Irun and Hendaye at each side of the border-river. I liked the marker-design: they should hire an artist whenever a new bordermarker has to be made.
Another project was a midnight’s recording on the Île des Faisans, an island shared between France and Spain with a shift of ownership twice a year: at midnight at January 31st and July 31st. That fascinates Oier. If you are on the island at those precious moments, then you are not crossing the border but the border ….. crosses you!
This picture (of Oier): the island at midnight at January 31st 2018. The video with Oier’s own ‘Rite de passage’ can be seen on https://vimeo.com/247877249
Access to the island is forbidden but Oier told us that at low tide (especially when full moon) the access from the Spanish side is fairly easy on foot (but still illegal). A bit like when we passed the island on april 1st 2009:
with the riverbed being sandy, not muddy.
Marco Noris – an artist from Barcelona – impressed me very much last year with his project of walking along the esfr-border from Andorra to the Mediterranean and making small paintings and drawings of almost every bordermarker. See this post and this webpage for more information on this project and his first exhibition in La Jonquera. I was a bit disappointed by this first exhibition, not giving the exposure and backgrounds he deserved. But in Barcelona there has been a second exhibition at cultural center La Capella with all that I missed -> all paintings and the backgrounds and ‘the making of’ of his project. It has already finished but In a video
(with English subtitles) he himself tells about his project and what it meant personally for him in an artistic and spiritual way. Very interesting and inspiring.
And he has published a book: A la frontera / En frontera / On the Border
But how to get a copy if you have missed the exhibition in Barcelona? That’s a problem. Marco wrote to me that the distributor had stopped and there may be a new one. He himself might install a Paypal-facility on his website to do the job himself. For this moment, you might inquire at the art center La Capella where the exhibition was. Their email address is email@example.com.
But there is more to come: “about all border stones from 1 to 426: I want to do the same for this part of the Border, I will write a complete project and I will search for sponsors“. Splendid!
Today I was proud – together with Jan-Willem Doomen – to be witness of the discovery of these lost intermediate markers. Michel Molia has been intrigued by the fate of these missing markers (see this page) and visited this remote mountain slope many times.
Four intermediate markers were placed in 1969 after a shift of the borderline. Markers 408 I and II are still there but 408 III and IV were nowhere to find. It was even unknown where they were placed since the official map was unfindable until recently. Michel Molia did a lot of research in the archives and managed to find the map. It was Philippe Barsacq who converted the original land surveyor-data into modern gps-coordinates.
Today Michel returned with his son Xabi and grandson Thomas for the final search. When Jan-Willem and I arrived at the spot, they had already found 408 IV. In fact it was Xabi who found it first (the man in the middle).