History of Olivenza

The first written document to contain the name of Olivenza dates back to the first half of the 13th century. During that era, Olivenza was a small village that had emerged as a Templar population. In effect, Alfonso IX took Badajoz from the Moors with the help of the Templars, and he awarded them the towns of Burguillos and Alconchel. This first Templar nucleus, with a Mozarabic name of "oliva" and a Templar suffix of "entia" first appeared in documentation as Oliventia or Olivencia. Neither the castle nor the church remains from this Templar age, although other important traces remain in toponymy and in common laws, such as the "Fuero del Baylío" (a law that affects the economic side of marriage).

The Town Council of Badajoz and the Bishopric got into a dispute with the Templar Order, accusing it of having populated Olivenza on their lands. The king sided with the Town Council and the Bishopric and awarded them Olivenza.

At the end of the 13th century in 1297, due to the Alcañices Treaty, the village passed to Portuguese hands along with Campo Maior, Ouguela, San Felix de los Gallegos, Riba Coa and other Castilian lands. In exchange, Castile received Aroche and Aracena. So Olivenza's Portuguese history began. King Denis granted the village a 'foral' in 1928 and ordered the construction of its first walls in 1306. This led to it receiving town status, which it maintained throughout the duration of its Portuguese history. The foundation stone that commemorates this date is housed in the Ethnographic Museum.

Afonso IV ordered the construction of the castle and then the moat was built under João II.

Manuel I, the successor to João II, granted the town its new 'foral' and increased the titles of "Noble" and "Leal" to "Notable". It was during this period that the majority of the town's most important monuments appeared: Our Lady of Help Bridge (1509), which connected Olivenza with Portugal, and Santa Maria Magdalena Church (1512), which is a stunning example of Manueline architecture and which was constructed under the orders of Brother Henrique de Coimbra, the confessor of the king and Bishop of Ceuta. He fixed the Bishopric residence in the town and his remains are located in the chapel. The Town Hall door (which is Manueline in style) and the Santa Casa de Misericordia with its beautiful Holy Spirit chapel are other monuments from the reign of King Manuel I. The latter monument has been renovated with Baroque altarpieces while elaborate tiles cover its walls, right up to its domes.

As King of Spain and Portugal, Philip II began the reconstruction of Saint Mary of the Castle Church on the land it had previously occupied in the 13th century. André de Arenas constructed a late Renaissance-style temple. Works lasted from 1584 to 1627. Later, golden, Baroque altarpieces and its large Tree of Jesse were added.

During the 17th century, for the Restoration Wars, the fourth wall of Olivenza was constructed in a star fort form. Today, you can still see a beautiful marble gateway with dressed stones: the Puerta del Calvario. This wall defended Olivenza on the three sides it was attacked by Spanish troops.

In 1709 during the War of the Spanish Succession, the Marquis de May (who was General of the Spanish army), blew up the central arches of Our Lady of Help Bridge, which remains unused today.

In 1801 with the Treaty of Badajoz, the War of the Oranges (which was a result of Napoleonic campaigns) came to an end. Godoy commanded Portugal to return Olivenza to the Spanish crown, with the Guadiana River remaining as the border. And so began the Spanish history of Olivenza once more. Carlos IV maintained the town's status in 1802, therefore keeping it independent of the city of Badajoz.

On the 22nd of January 1811, French troops took Olivenz under the command of General Soult. They were then banished in April by English and Portuguese troops. In 1815, Portugal managed to include article 105 in the Treaty of Vienna stating that the victorious countries of Napoleon request that Spain return Olivenza to the Portuguese "as soon as possible" and recognise the just demands of the Portuguese.

In 1834, the town rose to the head of the judicial district during the regency of Maria Christina.

During the same century, Queen Isabel II granted city status to the town in 1858. In 1868, she presented a religious habit to the patron saint, Señor de los Pasos.

Olivenza's progress continued right up to the current day with important developments. During the 20th century, Abastos Market, the Ave María Schools and Piedra Aguda Reservoir were constructed. Olivenza looks towards the future, while accepting its past. Olivenza stays true to its official motto: "a city open to two cultures".