The Royal Palace of Olite is proof of the splendour of the Court that Olite
hosted during the Middle Ages. This historic town is located in the Central Zone of Navarre, 42 kilometres south of Pamplona. Declared a National Monument
in 1925, it covers one-third of the old part of the town and is considered one of the most interesting Gothic complexes in Europe
It was built over the remains of an ancient Roman fortress and underwent many transformations during the 13th-14th centuries. This part is known as the Palacio Viejo (Old Palace) and now houses the "Príncipe de Viana" Parador Nacional
. Of the original building only the outer walls and the towers are conserved. Its façade is characterised by its large Gothic windows, the Renaissance main entrance and the watchtower.
Its greatest splendour, however, was in the early 15th century thanks to King Carlos III 'el Noble'
, who brought a number of Iberian and European master builders to work on the castle-palace. The Palacio Nuevo was built in the French Gothic style of civil architecture. The King, who was born in Nantes, came from a great dynasty of French nobles, whose influence spurred on his imagination and good taste in the Palace at Olite, which became his favourite residence.
The palace was partially destroyed when it was set on fire in 1813 by General Espoz and Mina to stop the French troops holing up in the castle during their retreat. Its current form is the result of a meticulous restoration carried out in 1937
, which set out to give the palace its original appearance back. It is characterised by large stone walls along a perimeter of recesses and projections, and circular towers with slate roofs on each corner.
A large courtyard provides access to the interior, which can be visited with a guide. Next to this courtyard, an old grapefruit tree garden, are two others called the 'Pajarera' (aviary) and the 'Morera' (white mulberry tree). The centuries-old white mulberry tree in the latter has been declared a Natural Monument
Behind these is the heart of the Palacio Nuevo, on whose 'noble' floor the King's chambers are conserved, with wide bell-shaped windows, and also those of the Queen. From the first chamber you access the Galería del Rey (King's Gallery), while the Queen's chamber communicates with a small patio called the 'Naranjo' (orange tree) or 'Jardín de la Reina' (Queen's garden).
Over this central part of the Palace that houses the chambers rises the silhouette of the castle's crenelated towers. The tallest and most spectacular is the 'Torre del Homenaje' (Tribute Tower)
, while the most whimsical is the one called 'Tres Coronas' (Three Crowns). The monarchs used to follow the tournaments from the 'Cuatro Vientos' (Four Winds) tower. There are no tournaments to be seen now, but the view is still beautiful.
In the shadiest area of the palace you will find the pozo del hielo (ice well), whose cover recalls a great egg shell. Snow was kept in it to conserve food, which is why it received the nickname of 'la nevera'
During your visit try and visualise the luxury that existed here. There were exotic gardens, some suspended 20 metres up, and a small zoo with lions in the (now disappeared) Jardines o Huertos del Rey (King's Gardens) to the east of the present Palace. Its walls were richly decorated with tiles, plasterwork and carved wood ceilings. After the fire, only the decoration of the room known as the 'Cámara de los Yesos' (Plaster Chamber)
It was the scene of games such as pelota and rackets and, on special occasions, jousts and tournaments, like those organised during the wedding of Agnes of Cleves, Princess of Burgundy, and the Prince of Viana, son of Carlos III, whose title is now held by the Princess of Asturias. And as well as the Palace...
From the square that acts as a kind of anteroom to the castle you go up a spiral staircase to the mediaeval galleries where there is an exhibition on the life of the Court of King Carlos III 'el Noble'
You can round off your visit to the palace by entering the Gothic church of Santa María
and the Romanesque San Pedro
, which has a cloister and a graceful Gothic tower with a spire on top, rivalling the towers that mark out the profile of the Palace. You can also visit the most complete and best preserved Roman walls in Navarre if you walk out to the city walls. Stroll through the streets at leisure, but to finish your stay have a good meal of the area's specialities, accompanied by the reputed wines of Olite, which are produced under the 'Navarra' Designation of Origin. Do not miss the Wine Museum
of Navarre, which is located in Olite.
If you want to step back in time to the Middle Ages, there is nothing better than the Mediaeval Fair
held in Olite over three days in August. On summer evenings, part of the programme of the Classical Theatre Festival of Olite
takes place outdoors just behind the Palace.