The skyline of a combination of elegant palatial towers
crowned by slate roofs is the view as you approach Olite, a small town with a population of just over 3,000 in the transition zone of Navarre between the mountainous north and the plains of the south, 40 kilometres south of Pamplona.
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.
The town was a royal seat during the Middle Ages and the favourite residence of King Carlos III 'el Noble'
(1337-1425), whose idea of a lavish palace included the presence of exotic animals such as giraffes, lions or buffalo and authentic hanging gardens on its walls.
The Royal Palace
is an excellent example of that ancient splendour; it occupies no less than one-third of the medieval old town. 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, which you can visit accompanied by a guide.
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.
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 façades, Roman walls, streets straddled by Gothic arches and impressive churches such as Santa Maria
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 and bars and terrace cafés.
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.
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.
A good time to imagine what the town was like during the Middle Ages is during the Medieval Fairs
that are held every year in August. Olite fills up with merchants, artisans, puppeteers, acrobats, troubadours, monks, archers, falconers and jugglers 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 organised in Olite during the summer thanks to the Cultur
programme, a highlight being the Classical Theatre Festival
that includes plays in the street and on open-air stages.
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 -rosés, young 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 you can extend your knowledge of wine by visiting the Vine and Wine Exhibition Centre
located in Plaza Teobaldos.