La Oliva is both the name of the northern-most municipality and a small town within it. As the centre of administration and seat of the local council (Ayuntamiento), La Oliva is the equivalent of an English “County Town”. The La Oliva Municipality also includes the towns of Corralejo, El Cotillo and Isla de Lobos along with many smaller villages and is the second largest municipality on the island after Pajara (in the south).
The name La Oliva comes from the wild olive trees that grew in the area at the time of the village’s foundation. This, along with the image of a goat and the Casa de los Coroneles, can be seen on the municipality’s coat of arms.
The most-visited attraction in the town of La Oliva is the Casa de los Coroneles, which underwent a large restoration project and was re-opened by the King and Queen of Spain in 2006. This is one of the oldest significant buildings on the island and was for centuries the home of the Military Governor (Colonel). The house was built in the second of half of the 17th Century, although major extensions and renovations were made in the 18th Century; look out for the decorative balconies and door carvings. Every Friday morning a small local handicraft market is held outside the Casa de Coroneles, a two-for-one bonus, if you visit on that morning.
The town began as a few simple buildings, constructed for use during the sowing season. The area, after initial groundworks, became a large producer of cereals and grains, contributing to Fuerteventura’s former reputation as the “bread basket of the Canaries”.
With the island’s governing ‘Colonel’ installed in La Oliva, the area grew as a military and administrative power centre, contributing to the decline of Betancuria and eventually taking over as capital in 1836. The title of capital was not held for long and passed to Puerto de Cabras, now Puerto del Rosario, in 1860. Volcanic eruptions on neighbouring Lanzarote during the 1730s also brought many families to La Oliva, further increasing its population.
Unfortunately, mismanagement of water, over-cultivation and over-grazing by goats, created the desert-like environment that you see today. Evidence of the area’s abundant past can be seen throughout the municipalities with many molinos and molinas (mills), lime kilns and cillas (grain stores) scattered around the countryside. The La Oliva Cilla is now a Grain Museum, that showcases the area’s agricultural history.
The main Church in La Oliva, Nuestra Señora de Candelaria, was built shortly after the founding of the local parish in 1708 and is one of the largest churches on the island. The churches contrasting black basalt bell tower stands out against the church’s white-washed walls; the tower was also used in times gone by as a place of refuge for the locals during pirate raids. The annual Fiesta de Nuestra Señora de Candelaria takes place at the beginning of February.
Near the church is the Casa de la Capellanía, also known as the hermitage of Puerto Escondido or Puerto Rico, and was restored in 1996. Interestingly the stone door frame is carved in a similar Aztec-style to facade of the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Regla, which can be found in the centre of Pajara.
The locals Art Centre, Centro de Arte Canario – Casa Mane, exhibits and showcases contemporary Canarian art with a number of permanent exhibits including the works of Alberto Manrique. The museum is housed in a restored 19th Century villa, with extensive gardens used to exhibit a plethora of sculptures and also has a small cafe and gift shop and really is well-worth a visit.
La Oliva offers some superb walking routes, including the ‘La Oliva Heritage Walk’ along with another 9 that make up the, Huellas de leyenda (In the footsteps of legend) municipal walks. You can obtain copies of a walking route guide from the tourist office or follow the link here for the e-guide in English.