Symbolic connection
The donkey of the Pyrénées

by Michael Brady  



It is difficult not to notice the donkey ranking high among the animals of the Pyrénées-Orientales.

donkey_stickerRacks of post cards show donkeys against scenic backdrops, or the Catalan flag. Donkeys in silhouette feature on the backs of cars, often against the red and yellow Catalan stripes, in an oval like a national identity emblem. T shirts, towels, sweat shirts, plates and mugs,  sliding glass doors to prevent you bumping into the glass….. The donkey emblem is everywhere.

What lies behind this display of affection? Isn’t the donkey the most stubborn animal ever domesticated? Well, no. The donkey isn’t stubborn; it just acts in its own self-interest. Among those who understood that well were the Romans, who introduced donkeys into France.

Special breeds were developed, including the shaggy Pitou Donkey, the oldest approved breed in France, and the Gascon and Catalan breeds of the Pyrenees. By 1913, there were more than half a million donkeys in the country, one for every 76 people.

Distinguishable by their height of 1,45m – 1,60m, a dirty black or brown colour, with a white circle around the eyes, white nose and belly, they are known to be stubborn, solid and agile, therefore perfect for the mountains.

With the increasing mechanisation of transport, their numbers dwindled, to less than 20,000 at the end of the 20th century. Yet, donkeys are well suited to the hot, dry summers of the Mediterranean climate, which is why they persist in rural areas of Spain and Mediterranean France, including the Pyrénées-Orientales.

There are no donkey counts, but according to the stud book kept by the Association Nationale des éleveurs d’Anes et de Mules des Pyrénées, there are 50 to 100 sires in the Pyrénées-Orientales. That’s enough to maintain the population now used as pack animals, to pull carts in terrain unsuitable for vehicles and for giving rides to children in holiday centres.

Utility aside,  the symbolic significance of the donkey is simply that it is not a bull, a symbol of Spanish pride. Affection for the donkey springs from both what it is and what it is not.


  1. I’ve been subscribing to P.O. Life on and off since returning to England in 2011 after several years in Collioure. I needed to continue a link with the region but unsuscribed more than once because the content was so dull. In fact, only the other day I heard the same from some Scottish friends who still live part-time in the region. Having had a quick glance at this new formula, I found the layout instantly more appealing and cohesive and the content more interesting.
    I have to say that the ads which pop up to the right of the screen are most annoying but do realise that you need to make money from advertising.
    The magazine feels more accessible now and I might just be tempted to keep on subscribing, at least for the next few issues, hoping that the standard of this current one will be repeated.
    More intelligent, in-depth and relevant articles, please!

    1. Hello Margaret. Thank you for your not-so-constructive comments. We havent changed the content at all but glad you think we have. 🙂

Leave a Comment