History of Olivença

The origin of Olivença is linked to the Christian reconquest of the border region near Elvas by the Knights Templar from the Kingdom of Portugal, around the year 1230. In this territory, the Order established the commandery of Oliventia, erecting a temple to Santa Maria and building a castle. By the end of the century, through the Treaty of Alcanizes signed in 1297 between King D. Dinis and Fernando IV of Castile, Olivença would be formally incorporated into Portugal forever, along with Campo Maior, Ouguela, and the territories of Riba-Côa, in exchange for Aroche and Aracena.

Immediately, D. Dinis elevated the old settlement to the status of a town, granting it a charter in 1298, ordered the reconstruction of the Templar fortification, and encouraged its settlement. In the same year, D. Dinis began the reconstruction of the original Templar defenses, expanding the town's square-shaped wall, which was now protected by fourteen towers. The work continued until 1335, during the reign of D. Afonso IV, who completed it by building the citadel within, at the northern apex.


His successors successively strengthened Olivença's strategic position, granting privileges and benefits to the residents and carrying out important defensive works.

In 1488, D. João II erected the impressive keep tower, which, at 35 meters in height, made it the tallest tower in the kingdom. The top of the tower was accessed by seventeen ramps, allowing the placement of artillery pieces.

Later, in 1509, D. Manuel, aiming to secure communication between Portuguese troops on both banks, began the construction of a magnificent fortified bridge over the Guadiana – the Ponte da Ajuda –, with 19 arches and a 450-meter-long deck. Also from the reign of D. Manuel, who granted a new charter in 1510, date other remarkable constructions such as the Church of Madalena (considered by many as the epitome of Manueline architecture, after the Jerónimos Monastery), the Holy House of Mercy, and the portal of the Consistory Assemblies.

The importance that this town held for the Portuguese Crown further increased when it became the episcopal seat of the Bishopric of Ceuta.


Following the splendor of the Portuguese 16th century, there was a Spanish-Portuguese dynastic union between 1580 and 1640. The ownership of Olivença was never questioned during this period. On December 4, 1640, when news of the Restoration in Lisbon arrived, the town enthusiastically acclaimed D. João IV and became fully involved in the subsequent war (1640/1668). During this period, the construction of its bulwarked fortifications began, a project that would span the following century. In 1657, Olivença was occupied by the Duke of San Germán, and the entire population left the town, seeking refuge in Elvas, only returning to their homes when peace was signed in 1668 and the Spanish troops left the town and the municipality.

The 18th century began with a new war – the War of the Spanish Succession –, during which the fortified Ponte da Ajuda was destroyed in 1709. Olivença's position thus became particularly vulnerable.


On January 20, 1801, Spain, cynically and deceitfully conspired with Napoleonic France, declared war on Portugal without any valid pretext or reason, and on May 20, invaded Portuguese territory, occupying a large part of the Alto-Alentejo in the vile and treacherous "War of the Oranges." Led by «Generalissimo» Manuel Godoy, the Queen’s favorite, the Spanish troops besiege and capture Olivença.

Portugal, forced to meet the demands of Napoleon and Carlos IV, yielded to Spain as a «conquest» the «Town of Olivença, its territory, and people up to the Guadiana», signing the Treaty of Badajoz on June 6, an unjust conclusion to an armed robbery. Olivença, a deeply Portuguese land, which had participated in the formation and consolidation of the kingdom, the flourishing of national culture, language, the glories and miseries of the Age of Discoveries, the tragedy of Alcácer-Quibir, the Restoration, was thus “ceded”.

With the French and Spanish armies threatening to increase their actions against the Portuguese territory they had already partially occupied, the principle that legal transactions are only valid when the free will of the parties is present was violated. Portugal thus signed the Treaty of Badajoz, not in the exercise of its full freedom but coerced to do so under the threat of force.


However, the Treaty of Badajoz also stipulated that the violation of any of its articles by any of the contracting parties would lead to its annulment. This indeed happened when the Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed on October 27, 1807, followed by the Franco-Spanish invasion of Portugal. The Prince Regent, upon his arrival in Brazil, thus declared the Badajoz treaty null and void on May 1, 1808.

After the Napoleonic Wars ended, the Congress of Vienna met, with the participation of Portugal and Spain, concluding on June 9, 1815, with the signing of the Final Act by the plenipotentiaries, including Metternich, Talleyrand, and D. Pedro de Sousa Holstein, the future Duke of Palmela.

The Congress formally removed any legal force from previous treaties that contradicted the "New European Charter." This included the Treaty of Badajoz. It also solemnly recognized the illegitimacy of Spain's retention of Olivença, acknowledging Portugal's rights. In the Final Act – the juridical support of this new European order –, its Article 105 stated:

«The Powers, recognizing the justice of the claims of his Royal Highness the Prince Regent of Portugal and Brazil, upon the town of Olivença, and the other territories ceded to Spain by the Treaty of Badajoz of 1801, and viewing the restitution of the same as a measure necessary to insure that perfect and constant harmony between the two kingdoms of the Peninsula, the preservation of which in all parts of Europe, has been the constant object of their arrangements, formally engage to use their utmost endeavours, by amicable means, to procure the retrocession of the said territories, in favour of Portugal. And the Powers declare, as far as depends upon them, that this arrangement shall take place as soon as possible».

Spain signed the treaty on May 7, 1817, thus recognizing Portugal's rights. However, after all these years, Spain has not fulfilled its commitment, never returning Olivença to Portugal.

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