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Olivenza (Municipality, Extremadura, Spain)

Last modified: 2020-10-25 by ivan sache
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Flag of Olivenza - Image by Ivan Sache, 16 March 2020

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Presentation of Olivenza

The municipality of Olivenza (11,963 inhabitants in 2019; 43,014 ha) is located on the border with Portugal, 30 km south-west of Badajoz. The municipality is composed of the town of Badajoz and of the villages of San Benito de la Contienda (579 inh.), San Francisco de Olivenza (462 inh.), San Jorge de Alor (435 inh.), San Rafael de Olivenza (253 inh.), Villareal (81 inh.) and Santo Domingo (16 inh.).

Olivenza was established in the aftermath of the reconquest of Badajoz by King of León Alfonso IX in 1230. The contribution of the Knight Templars to the campaign was rewarded by the grant of Burguillos and Alconchel; the Templars established the Commandery of Oliventia, erecting a church dedicated to St. Mary and a castle. Alfonso X the Wise transferred in 1278 the place to the Council and Diocese of Badajoz. In 1297, Ferdinand IV, King of Castile, ceded Olivenza to Dennis, King of Portugal, as part of the Treaty of Alcañices.
Dennis granted the status of villa to Olivenza, revamped the old Templar fortress in 1406 and pushed the Portuguese colonization of the area. His successors increased the strategic position of the town, offering provileges to the inhabitants and strengthening the town's defense: Alfonso IV built in 1335 the keep of the citadel, the highest on the border (35 m). John II added moats and towers defended by artillery in 1488.
Manuel I erected the Ajuda fortified brige (19 arches, 450 m in length, 5.5 m in width, with a two-storey defensive tower in the middle) spanning over river Guadiana. The Portuguese crown transferred in 1513 to Olivenza the see of the Diocese of Ceuta, established in 1506. Bishop Henrique de Coimbra (d. 1532), who was part of Cabral's expedition to Brazil and subsequently appointed Confessor of the king and Ambassador to England and Spain, initiated the building of the St. Mary Magdalene church, a monumental replica of the Jesus convent in Setúbal.

Olivenza's Gilded Age ended in the 17th century; during the Portuguese Restoration War (1640-1668), the town was seized by the Duke de San Germán after four unsuccesfull attempts, to be reincorporated to Portugal by the Peace of Lisbon. The town's walls were severely damaged during the War of the Spanish Sucession; so was also the Ajuda bridge, whose central arches were dynamited in 1709.
In the first decades of the 18th century, the militarization of Olivenza was even increased, with the building of infantry and cavalry barracks, of a powder house, of a military hospital and of fortified gates.

In the second half of the 18th century, however, Portugal dramatically changed its strategic plans against Spain, moving from attack to defense. Deemed of no longer strategic importance and too expensive to maintian, the Olivenza fortifications were progressively abandoned, as reported by several foreign travellers.
When the War of the Oranges broke out between Portugal and Spain in 1801, the Governor of Olivenza, Julio César Augusto Chermont, forbid to waste any cartridge and the life of a single Portuguese soldier to defend the town besieged by Manuel Godoy. Olivenza surrendered on 10 May 1801 without fighting.
Article 3 of the Treaty of Badajoz that ended the conflict states: "His Catholic Majesty shall keep as his conquest, to be united for ever to his domains, the place of Olivenza, it territory and villages up to the Guadiana; accordingly, the river will form the border between the two kingdoms". The political border established in 1267 by Alfonso the Wise was re-established, matching the natural border.

Since then, some Portuguese circles have maintained an irredentist claim on Olivenza. Article 105 of the agenda of the Congress of Vienna prescribed that the winning powers were to search conciliation to reincorpotate Olivenza to Portugal. The negotiations organized suring the Paris Conference (1817-1819) failed becaue of the Portuguese occupation of the Oriental Band of Río de la Plata (Uruguay). Since a border prescribed by a treaty can be hanged only by a treaty of the same nature, the Treaty of Badajoz motivates the Spanish sovereignty over Olivenza.
The claim was originally pushed by the Duke of Palmela. Since its death in 1849, Portugal never claimed, either officially or unofficially, the return of Olivenza. Article 2 of the Friendship and Cooperation Treaty signed by the two countries in 1977 "reaffirms the inviolability of the common borders and the integrity of the respective territories". The Portuguese chancellery maintainted a passive, latent cliam within the Mixed Borders' Commission, the claim being more technical than political.
Local irredentist movements, such as the Sociedade Pro-Olivença (1938), the Grupo dos Amigos de Olivença (1944), and the Comité Olivença Portuguesa (1988) could not push the Portuguses diplomacy to actively campaign for Portuguese sovereignty on Olivenza.
[Municipal website]

Ivan Sache, 16 March 2020

Flag of Olivenza

The flag (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo) and arms of Olivenza, adopted on 28 April 1991 by the Municipal Council and validated on 1 June 2000 by the Assessing Council of Honors and Distinctions of the Government of Extremadura, are prescribed by an Order adopted on 3 October 2000 by the Government of Extremadura and published on 24 October 2000 in the official gazette of Extremadura, No. 123, pp. 10,412-10,413 (text).
The symbols are described as follows:

Flag: The flag of Olivenza shall be rectangular, in dimensions 1.50 m in length on 0.95 m in width [...] The flag shall be divided by a green and golden yellow gyronny, charged with the coat of arms of Olivenza. Surrounding the coat of arms in base, a white scroll shall be inscribed in black letters "La Muy Noble, Notable y Sempre Leal Ciudad de Olivenza".
Coat of arms: Gules a tower issuing from a wall all or superimposed by an olive tree vert surmounted by a Royal Spanish crown. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown closed. [The shield is indeed surmounted by a mural crown].


Original flag proposal - Image by António Martins, 13 January 1998

The Royal Academy of History partially validated the proposed symbols, which are supported by a memoir rsubmitted by the Portuguese Institute of Heraldry. The proposed coat of arms is duly based on several examples of coat of arms used in Olivenza since the 16th century. The mural crown, however, cannot be accepted. First, there is no justification of its use; second, only the Spanish Royal crown can be used in municipal heraldry, emphasizing the current administrative situation and not the history of the place.
The proposed banner used a common Portuguese pattern, deemed very appropriate here. It would be better to drop the scroll that appears in the drawing but not in the description.
[Boletín de la Real Academia de Historia 188:3, 379. 1991]

Ivan Sache & António Martins, 16 March 2020