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La Carolina

La Carolina, Palacio del Intendente Olavide © Michelle Chaplow
La Carolina, Palacio del Intendente Olavide (click to enlarge image)

La Carolina

La Carolina is a small town of 16.000 inhabitants is located in the north of Jaen province adjacent to the A-4 Seville to Madrid motorway. It is the last town of any size to stop if heading  out of Andalucia through the Despeñaperros gorge into Castilla La Mancha. 


La Carolina is the capital of the 12 Nuevos Poblaciones (new towns) founded in this remote area of the Sierra Morena in 1767 by King Carlos III. The object of the plan, drawn up by his minister Pablo de Olavide, administrator of Andalucia, was to populate the area around Despeñaperros gorge, now a natural park. Known as "the gateway to Andalucia"; this pass was a notorious point on the Cadiz-to-Madrid royal highway for bandoleros (bandits). 

Six thousand Catholic settlers arrived from Belgium, Germany, Austria and Switzerland to take advantage of the generous offers of land and livestock being made to colonizers (five chickens, five goats, five sheep, two cows, and a sow per family). With a few years, about half of them had died from illness or gone home: the rest gradually lost their national identities over the years, and took on the language and customs of their host country. You can still find people in this area with Germanic surnames such as Eisman, Minch, Smidt and Kobler.

The town's relatively recent history, as well as its northern European target population, explains its unusually regular, colonial-style grid layout, with wide avenues, as opposed to the windy, higgledy-piggledy streets typical of the Moorish towns more common in Andalucia. 


The town is best entered from the east. Note the large monument to the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (see below); after Plaza Delicias head right towards the Plaza de la Iglesia, where you can park. If you're interested in local history, visit the Centro Interpretacion de las Minas to discover more about surrounding area.

Things to see

Plaza Delicias
This roundabout and modern 'square' is the original entrance to the town. Also known as Plaza de la Aduana, it is where customs duties were paid on merchandise passing through the down on the Cadiz to Madrid highway. Two towers, dating from 1775, mark the entrance to the town from the Madrid road, and the commercial quarter of the town. The street leading diagonally to the right off Plaza Delicias goes to the 'political' area of the town, whereas the one diagonally to the left leads to the 'agricultural' area of the town.

Plaza de la Iglesia
The historic centre of the town, this plaza was built between 1767 and 1769 and was the main square before the council moved out in 1872. The square has fountains and a sculpture of St John of the Cross (the patron of the city) by Martin Merino dating from 1961, formerly located in Plaza Delicias.

Iglesia de La Carolina or Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción
Church of the Inmaculate Conception was built around the chapel of the 1578 Carmelite convent La Peñuela, where San Juan de la Cruz stayed. Inside there is a painting of the Martirio de Santo Domingo (martyrdom of Santo Domingo) attributed to the school of Ribera. In the 18th century, the central nave of the chapel was extended and two lateral naves were added at the presbytery level. In the façade you can see how the Carmelite style coexists with neoclassical and baroque styles. In 1900 the bell tower was added in a slightly lighter-coloured stone.

Palacio del Independiente
This palace was the house of Pablo Olávide, the Andalucian governor who founded La Carolina, implementing the colonization plan for the area, and who was also an important figure in urban planning of other cities, including Seville. It was built at the end of the 18th century on the site of La Peñuela Carmelite convent - like the church next door (see above), the palace has a neoclassical style; its facade is crowned with an overtly large Charles III coat of arms.

In 1835 the special population (colonization) law was repealed and the palace has since seen many uses: offices, a school, chapter houses, Civil Guard HQ, infantry attachment quarters, telegraph office, lodging for poor families, and a theatre in the early 20th century. The town council was here until 1872; in 1945 the palace returned to municipal ownership, but was subsequently ceded to the Ministry of Agriculture to be used as a wheat silo until 1972. Now it houses the town museum (see below).

La Carolina Museum

The museum's full name is CENTRO DE INTERPRETACION DE LA HISTORIA DE LA MINERIA EN LAS NUEVAS POBLACIONES DE JAEN.   This excellent modern museum explains the history of the mining industry in the areas surrounding La Carolina and the other settlers' towns. It charts the history from ancient times to the mining boom of the 19th century, and will be enjoyed by anyone interested in mining and industry, especially British visitors, since, as in Rio Tinto (Huelva), British engineers were involved in setting up the mines. This museum was originally called the 'Museo Arqueologico de La Carolina' and was reopened in December 2011 as a modern interpretation centre. More >

Plaza de la Ayuntamiento
Main central square with town hall.

Plaza de Toros
This is an original six-sided square with balconies where roads would be sealed off so the square could be turned into a bull ring.

Torre de la Municion
Located in Calle Odeanos, the tower was built in 1825 by the mining company of D Luis Figueroa and D Bernardo Casamayor for the production of lead ammunition. Manufacturing was carried out by lead smelting in a furnace at the top of the tower, with molten lead being dropped down through a hole so it took the form of pellet. At the base of the tower, the pellets were cooled in tanks of water and passed through a draw to give the final shape. This ammunition tower operated until 1882. On the tower you can see a plaque dated 1902 to honour Señores Figueroa and Casamayor for their help in the Cuban War. The tower was restored in 2012.

Cañlle Jardines
One of the first streets of La Carolina laid out by Pablo de Olavide in 1767, this linked Plaza del Ayuntamiento (then Plaza Mesones) with the church. The design is attributed to the military engineer Desnaux. The first houses in colonial style were semi-detached with front gardens - a radical idea at this time, which gave the street its name. The houses were initially occupied by civil servants and later by mining company managers. The long pedestrianised street makes a pleasant stroll.

Torres de la Fundacion
At the entrance to the Paseo Molino de Viento in the Plaza de España, these two well-worn, unassuming towers date back to 1768. They were moved here from Plaza del Ayuntamiento in 1873 and are divided into three panels. The top of the right tower is dedicated to Carlos III with his royal crest. In the left tower there was an image of Pablo de Olavide offering the new town to the King. This is now located inside the parish church and was replaced by an image of Príncipe de Asturias, the future Carlos IV.  The central panels commemorate aspects of work and of the colonisation. In the lower panels there were texts dedicated to Carlos III and Pablo de Olavide, but these are no longer visible.

Antigua Cárcel
Old prison is also in neoclassical style. This is where the popular liberal 'Riego' (Rafael del Riego y Nuñez) who was taken prisoner in a country estate near the village of Arquillos, was held here in September 1823 before being taken to Madrid and executed for treason. 

Monument to Battle of La Navas de Tolosa
Look out for the modern monument to the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, situated to the left of the A-4 (going north) at km 266. This shows the Kings Alfonso of Castilla, Pedro of Aragon, Sancho of Navarra, as well as several Archbishops who also took part in the battle. The figure in front of them, pointing ahead, is the shepherd who showed them the path through the mountains.





Local handicrafts include wooden furniture, marble and stonemasonry, and plaster work. Local gastronomy centres around perdiz (partridge) dishes such as partridge pate.



In the vicinity, particularly in the countryside to the west and south of the town, you can see many original buildings and towers left over from the mining industry. Most are on private land, but some can be easily visited by car or by foot. Either plan a route from Googlemaps or ask for more information at the interpretation centre in Plaza Iglesia.


Partridge is a key element in the cuisine of La Carolina. Try the beans with partridge, partridge or partridge pâté. Naturally olive oil features here and dishes made with mountain game.


Feria de La Carolina
Feria is celebrated around 11 to 15 May - like most spring fairs, its origin was as a livestock fair.

Fiestas de San Fernando
The last week of May sees the Fiestas de San Fernando.

Fiestas de la Fundación
Between 3 and 7 July are the festival to mark the founding of La Carolina.

Fiesta de San Juan de la Cruz
The Fiesta de San Juan de la Cruz, the patron saint of the town, is on 24 November. three days of religious and recreational activities and a live pig raffle.  

Villages Nearby

Nearby villages are Las Navas de Tolosa and Santa Elena



La Carolina is located 70 kilometers from Jaén. You can reach it by road taking the A-44 and then the A-4 north towards Madrid. At exit km 268 on A-4 turn off for La Carolina (center).