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The Olivenza region, which includes the town of the same name and the surrounding municipalities, has been the subject of long disputes between Spain and Portugal in the past. Since the 13th century, the territory has belonged to the Portuguese. After the defeat in the War of the Orange, when Spanish forces occupied the Olivenza area in 1801, it fell under Spanish control.
The town of Olivenza is located in the Autonomous Community of Extramadura and has a population of just over ten thousand inhabitants. This quiet town lies close to the capital Badajoz and seems to be untouched by tourists. As in other regions, the population density is low. Olivenza also belongs to the Pueblos Blancos, the so-called white towns, which are whitewashed villages. This white colour protects against the sun and reflects heat. These villages can be seen all over Spain, especially in Andalusia. Cereals, olives and grapes are typical of this region, where there is little rainfall.
The inhabitants of Olivenza speak both Spanish and Portuguese or at least understand Portuguese. Portuguese classes are taught in the local cultural centre. The older generation also uses the dialect of oliventino, which carries both Spanish and Portuguese words. But the young people don’t speak Portuguese so much anymore, their connection is mainly with Spain.
The Portuguese past is reflected in architecture, traditions, holidays, Portuguese cuisine and the Portuguese musical style of fado. Here, for example, St John’s Night or Holy Week is celebrated as in Spain, but in Portuguese style. Another festival that dates back to the time when Olivenza was still part of Portugal is Santa Lucía, which is celebrated in spring.
Figure 1 – Portuguese architecture, photo by the author.
The inhabitants are more like the Portuguese, the people are quieter and not as noisy as in Spain. Bullfighting, a very popular Spanish tradition, is not encouraged here and killing a bull is forbidden, as in Portugal. However, the afternoon siesta is observed here as in Spain, and at the stroke of three o’clock the town is empty.
The local cultural association, Além Guadiana, tries to preserve the unique socio-cultural identity of the Olivenza area while promoting coexistence with Spain. Their aim is to promote the Portuguese language, music, traditions and develop friendship with Portugal. Also, the government of Extremadura promotes Portuguese heritage, for example celebrating Portugal Day in June.
Residents of Olivenza can obtain dual citizenship, both Spanish and Portuguese. This privilege is used more by young people, who see it as an advantage when seeking employment in Portugal and Portuguese-speaking countries. Those citizens who were born in Olivenza or are descendants of those born in Olivenza can apply for Portuguese citizenship.
The Além Guadiana Association is also interested in having everything in Portuguese (radio, television, newspapers). This is gradually changing, with some reports being half in Portuguese or the local museum having titles in both Spanish and Portuguese. The ethnographic museum shows the life of the inhabitants before the area became Spanish. The town of Olivenza has two names for the streets and the Portuguese one is more familiar and used by the locals.
Figure 2 – Bilingual street name, photo by the author.
The inhabitants of Olivenza consider themselves both Spanish and Portuguese. The situation is conflict-free and they are perfectly comfortable with having both a Spanish and Portuguese identity and culture. They feel so special. It is said that the women of Olivenza are the daughters of Spain and the granddaughters of Portugal. There is a lot of Portuguese influence here, but before I leave the town, I can hear the guitar playing softly, a typical sound just for Spain.
 Armed conflict between Spain and Portugal. The troops of the Kingdom of Spain, which was an ally of France, attacked Portugal with the support of the French. Spain was victorious in the war and gained Almeida in addition to the city of Olivenza.