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Disputed status of Olivenza

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Title: Disputed status of Olivenza  
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Subject: War of the Oranges, Portuguese pavement, List of wars involving Spain, Greater Portugal
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Disputed status of Olivenza

The Disputed status of Olivenza refers to a dispute between Portugal and Spain over the territory on the border of those two states known as Olivenza (Olivença in Portuguese).

The area has been under Spanish control since the War of Oranges in 1801, but it is not recognized by Portugal. The dispute for Olivenza was old. It is located on the frontier between the two Iberian countries in Upper Alentejo (Alto Alentejo), on the left bank of the Rio Guadiana, neighbor to Elvas and 24 km to the south of Badajoz. An area of much litigation and conflict since the thirteenth century, the bridge that linked the two sides of the frontier was destroyed during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1709. The declaration of war between the two countries in 1801 led to the Spanish occupation of Olivenza, confirmed by the Treaty of Badajoz in the same year. The Franco-Spanish project of occupying and dividing Portugal resulted in the Portuguese royal family going to the Portuguese territory of Brazil, while the agreements made with the English resulted in Spanish control being maintained. Despite the recognition in the Treaty of Vienna of Portuguese rights to the territory of Olivenza (in article 105), it remained as part of Spain after the Bourbon restoration.

In Portuguese official maps the border is unmarked in that region (left bank of Guadiana river south of Badajoz), and until the 20th-century Portuguese was the local language. Although the annexation is still unrecognized (a matter brought every now and then in diplomatic circles) the question is far from being a major problem between both countries.


Olivenza had been under continuous Portuguese sovereignty since 1297 when it was occupied by the Spanish in 1801 and formally ceded by Portugal later that year by the Treaty of Badajoz. Spain claims the de jure sovereignty over Olivenza on the grounds that the Treaty of Badajoz still stands and has never been revoked. Thus, the border between the two countries in the region of Olivenza should be as demarcated by that treaty. Portugal claims the de jure sovereignty over Olivenza on the grounds that the Treaty of Badajoz was revoked by its own terms (the breach of any of its articles would lead to its cancellation) when Spain invaded Portugal in the Peninsular War of 1807.

Portugal further bases its case on Article 105 of the Treaty of Vienna of 1815, which Spain signed in 1817, that states that the winning countries are to "endeavour with the mightiest conciliatory effort to return Olivenza to Portuguese authority". Thus, the border between the two countries in the region of Olivenza should be as demarcated by the Treaty of Alcañices of 1297. Spain interprets Article 105 as not being mandatory on demanding Spain to return Olivenza to Portugal, thus not revoking the Treaty of Badajoz. Portugal has never made a formal claim to the territory after the Treaty of Vienna, but has equally never directly acknowledged the Spanish sovereignty over Olivenza.


Spanish public opinion is not generally aware of the Portuguese claim on Olivenza (in contrast to the Spanish claim on Gibraltar or the Moroccan claims on Ceuta, Melilla and the Plazas de soberanía). On the other hand, awareness in Portugal has been increasing under the efforts of pressure groups to have the question raised and debated in public.

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