To visit Navarre and to not see Olite is unforgivable. You have been warned. You must go and take a walk through this town whose name is still unclear whether it comes from Latin or not, or if it has something to do with vines and olive trees. As usual, the Romans passed through here, and after them the Visigoths with their kings and their unusual names: Swinthila was the name of the one who decided that this was an excellent place to build a few fortifications which would stop the desire of the Vascones to come over to mess up Navarre lands.
But of course, we already know that the Visigoths had the bad luck of receiving the arrival of the Muslim armies. So it was their turn, here too, to fly to the mountains and start planning an act of revenge that would not come until the times of the great-great-grandchildren of their great-great-grandchildren.
It’s from around that period that the Basque name Erriberri, that is, Olite, must have arisen and which means New Earth. And that was, exactly, what the Christians found after reconquering this area so disputed for many years.
These narrow streets that still retain their medieval trace began to take shape in Olite, and the city started to gain importance and privileges that, little by little, led it to achieve very high status. So much so that, in the fifteenth century, Carlos III the Noble ordered to reform and expand an old building to create what would eventually become the Palace or Castle of the Kings of Navarre.
That wonder erected by Carlos turned out to be one of the most impressive European palaces of the time, with infinite rooms, galleries, and gardens in a kind of disorder that gave it a particular charm. That’s the way they say it was because, in reality, what we see here today is a reconstruction of the early twentieth century. A majestic reconstruction, of course, but you might be wondering why the original one did not survive.
Well, you see, the first thing was the abandonment of the monarchs, when instead of being kings of just Navarre, they began to be of Spain, of the Indies and almost even of the Moon. There was plenty of palaces to choose from. To this, we must add the arrival of the nineteenth century and with it, the Napoleonic Wars, it was then decided to set fire to the castle so the invaders couldn’t use it for their evil ways. So, centuries of neglect plus a tactical fire equals a palace in need to be rebuilt.
Today in Olite, besides the reconstruction of this splendid building, we have churches to suit everyone’s tastes, among them the Gothic church of Santa Maria and the Romanesque of San Pedro, which was enlarged in Baroque times. There is also a good handful of beautiful manor houses that, of course, are nothing like the Royal Palace … nothing can compete against that.