Archive for February 19th, 2016

Olite Castle – Navarra

The sleek and harmonious silhouette of the castle-palace stands out against the skyline of Olite, a small town in the center of Navarre just 42 kilometers south of Pamplona which was the seat of the Royal Court of the kingdom in the middle Ages.

The skyline is a combination of elegant palatial towers crowned by slate roofs of the small town Olite with a population of just over 3.000 in the transition zone of Navarre between the mountainous north and the plains of the south. A walk through the narrow streets of Olite will take you past noble stone houses with coats or arms on their facades and grandiose wooden eaves, medieval galleries and splendid churches all surrounded by a Roman town wall.

Although there are Roman remains from the 1st century, it is thought that Olite was founded by the Goth King Suintila around 621. The Navarrese monarch García Ramírez gave the city its first charter and Theobald II granted it an annual fair in 1276, the year when the Royal Court was first held in Olite.

Among the civil buildings it is worth mentioning the Palace of Olite, which was completely rebuilt in 1937, and the old palace, converted into a Parador Nacional hotel. In the surrounding area are the lagoon of Pitillas, with a bird observatory, and, on the other side of the river Aragón, the Monastery of Oliva, with a striking Cistercian church and Gothic cloister.

Outside the old city walls, the monasteries of San Francisco and Santa Engracia, the first rebuilt and the second reformed in the 18th century, complete the artistic heritage of the town.

The castle-palace of Olite was the residence of the kings and queens of the kingdom of Navarre until its union with Castile in the 16th century. During the 13th-15th centuries it underwent several transformations, although the most important developments took place under King Charles III the Noble.

Nowadays it is the best example of civil Gothic architecture in Navarre and one of the most notable in Europe. In reality, there were two palaces built next to each other. Of the “old” palace (11th-13th centuries), which is now a Parador, only the walls and the towers remain, while the “new” palace (14th-15th centuries) is a magnificent example of French Gothic architecture.

A large courtyard leads to the interior. Among its towers, the “Ochavada” is the most capricious; as you walk along its narrow viewpoint you will have the feeling of being in a fairy tale castle. In the most shaded area is a king of giant stone ‘egg’. This is the Pozo del Hielo (ice well), where the winter snows were kept to preserve the castle’s food supplies. The palace was ravaged by fire in 1813 and its present appearance is due to a restoration that was started in 1937. Since 1925 the castle-palace is a declared National Monument.

The old part of Olite is much more than just its beautiful palace. A stroll through the town reveals noble stone houses with imposing coats of arms on the facades, Roman walls, streets straddled by Gothic arches and impressive churches like the Santa María church. The Town Hall was built in 1950 in the form of a noble mansion and stands in Carlos III square, which is reached via the arch of the Torre del Chapitel.

The square also has two 14th-century underground medieval galleries, bars and terrace cafes. In the Rúa Mayor stands the church of San Pedro, begun in the Romanesque style and extended during the Baroque period. Equally impressive are the surrounding streets, which are full of Renaissance and Baroque palaces such as the one of the Marquis of Rada.

Olite has two medieval churches: Santa María, Gothic from the 13th century and which has a beautiful facade and a magnificent reredos, situated partly inside the palace, where it was once the chapel; and San Pedro, the oldest in Olite, with a Romanesque facade and cloister. The church of Santa María has an outstanding doorway, profusely decorated. It was built during the 12th century and substantially remodeled in the early 18th century. Only the facade remains of the original structure. Still conserved on the interior is its Renaissance altar piece, the work of Pedro Aponte, with a beautiful Gothic crucifixion. The sculptures around the doorway date from the 15th century.

Every August the town of Olite will take you back to an era of tournaments, kings and princesses, wizards and jugglers, falconers and archers for a Mediaeval Fair. Therefore it is a good time to imagine what the town was like during the Middle Ages.

Olite fills up with merchants, artisans, puppeteers, acrobats, troubadours, monks and archers who offer their wares and shows to visitors while kings and princesses parade around the town amid tournaments between knights. There are also medieval meals served in earthenware crockery by innkeepers dressed in medieval costumes. A number of other cultural events are organized in Olite during the summer thanks to the Culture program. A highlight is the classical Theater Festival that includes plays in the streets and on open-air stages.

Its Mediterranean climate has also made Olite a wine capital. Visit its bodegas (wineries) and try their wines. A visit to Olite would not be complete without trying the wines from the numerous bodegas and cooperative in the town and the surrounding area. The visitor can experience the well-deserved reputation of Olite’s wines – young rosés or aged reds – that come under the Designation of Origin Navarra. They can also be tasted in the Fiesta de la Vendimia (first two weeks in September) and additionally visitors can extend their knowledge of wine by visiting the Wine and Vine Museum of Navarra located in Plaza Teobaldos in Olite.

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