Olivenza, the Spanish town claimed from Portugal

It has barely 12,000 inhabitants and is located about ten kilometers from the eastern bank of the Guadiana River, which serves as natural border between Spain and Portugal, but Olivenza, Spanish town for the last 200 years, has a past in common with the Portuguese.

And it is that this town belonged for more than five centuries to the Portuguese crown and still today it is claimed by a part of its population.

Olivenza town, in the province with Portugal.  (Getty Creative).

Olivenza town, in the province with Portugal. (. Creative).

To know the origin of this story you have to go back a lot in time, specifically until the year 1230, when the King of León, Alfonso IX, after conquering Badajoz, rewarded the Templars with various enclaves and thus the commission of Olivenza was created, erecting a temple to Santa María and building a castle that today continues to be the great symbol of the town.

However, given its strategic value, right on the border with Portugal, the Templars were evicted shortly thereafter and in 1297, by means of the Treaty of Alcañices, the territory became part of the Portuguese crown after being loaned by the Castilian king Fernando IV.

During the following decades, the village became a town, the Templar fortifications were rebuilt and the Portuguese endowed Olivenza with several important defensive constructions, such as the keep of the fortress or a spectacular bridge over the Guadiana (Puente de Ajuda) in 1509 that linked the town with the rest of Portugal, saving the river.

A few years later there was the union between the crowns of Spain and Portugal after the problem in the descendants of the latter and Felipe II became king of both territories, as well as of their outer colonies. This was the case for 60 years (1580-1640), however, Portugal finally obtained its independence and thus ended the Iberian Union. In this age, however, Olivenza briefly passed into Spanish hands.

In 1657 it was conquered by the Duke of San Germán, although it was returned only eleven years later after both nations signed the Lisbon Treaty, in which, for example, Ceuta became controlled by Spain in exchange for allowing Portuguese independence.

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The next leap in time is just a few decades later. In 1709 Spain was immersed in an important warlike conflict, the War of Succession after the death of Charles II without issue, and the Ajuda Bridge was blown up blown up by the Castilian troops to prevent the Portuguese intervention in the confrontation.

The Ajuda Bridge, destroyed over the Guadiana river.  (Getty Creative).The Ajuda Bridge, destroyed over the Guadiana river.  (Getty Creative).

The Ajuda Bridge, destroyed over the Guadiana river. (. Creative).

This fact had very important consequences, since the territory was completely isolated from the rest of Portugal and the only way to access it was through Spanish territory, becoming Olivenza in an exclave.

Logically, his situation made him extremely vulnerable and the logistical difficulties to defend this place were enormous. In 1801, during the War of the Oranges, which faced France and Spain with Portugal for their support of England, the Spanish troops surrounded the town that ended surrendering without resistance.

From Spain since then

The Treaty of Badajoz of June 6 certified that Spain formally incorporated it into Spanish sovereignty after almost 500 years virtually uninterrupted in Portuguese hands.

Napoleon’s defeat could change the fate of Olivenza. In 1815 in the Congress of ViennaThe powers that had defeated the French general encouraged the town to be returned to the Portuguese. However, the Portuguese occupation of the current territory of Uruguay, which was in Spanish power, made restitution impossible and has continued to this day.

Since then the question of Olivenza has been very present in Portugal. Today Spanish assimilation is total, although the town continues to maintain its Portuguese roots.

In addition, the border between both countries remains unbounded in this municipal area, which gives an idea of ​​its uniqueness, but the truth is that Portugal has not done much to recover the territory and only some Portuguese irredentist groups continue to claim it.

Entrance to Spain near the Badajoz town of Olivenza where you can read Entrance to Spain near the Badajoz town of Olivenza where you can read

Entrance to Spain near the Badajoz town of Olivenza where you can read “Olivença é nossa, é Portugal” (.)

Occasionally the debate is briefly reopened. For example, in 2003 a CIA report pointed out the “potential conflict” that could occur between the two countries over Olivenza. However, the Portuguese Foreign Minister himself was blunt and stated that “The issue is frozen and should not be reopened.”

In 2008 the Declaration of Olivenza according to which the first Iberian Euroregion was established, bringing together several Spanish and Portuguese border municipalities with the aim of presenting joint projects in the European Union.

So the debate on Olivenza seems closed, especially in Spain, and today the town is an example perfect coexistence and dialogue of cultures and it is undoubtedly the most Portuguese town on Spanish soil.

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