This beautiful town and its natural surroundings are a haven of peace and quiet for lovers of inland rural tourism
Onil is the north-west part of Hoya de Castalla, in the L’Alcoià region, a rugged area with two different kinds of landscape: mountains and plain. To the north of the town is the Sierra de Onil, part of the Sierra de Mariola mountain range.
To the south is La Marjal, a plain where flowers and fruit were once grown but which is now irrigated land, after drying up in the 18th century. Here is where the River Verde, a tributary of the Monnegre, begins its journey.
The countryside is easily accessible from the town. Only a few kilometres away is the Ermita de Santa Ana, a chapel set in exceptional surroundings with a large area for leisure and recreation. A walk along one of its paths reveals a series of country houses, such as La Torre or La Casa Madrid, standing in a beautiful landscape.
To the west is a small nature area known as Coto Escolar, with basic picnic and recreation facilities under the shade of huge pine trees.
The mountains of Sierra de Onil, Sierra de Catí and El Maigmó are the area’s other rural attractions, along with the ravines of Cagarnero, Torriá, La Cova and Els Sirers.
The weather is generally mild, with summer temperatures reaching up to 35ºC and dropping to below -0ºC in the winter.
The origins of the town of Onil date back to the pre-Islamic era. The earliest surviving records date from the 13th century, when Jaime I of Aragón allowed the Muslim prince Zeit Abu Zeit to hold on to his ownership of Castalla, including the farms of Onil and Favanella.
Pedro the Ceremonious created the title of Baron of Castalla and Onil and in 1362 he granted it to Ramón de Vilanova, whose descendants ran the estate for several centuries until it passed into the hands of the Marqués de Dos Aguas in the 18th century.
During the War of Succession, Onil aligned itself with the Bourbon side and so, when the conflict ended, Felipe V granted the town a series of privileges and exemptions.
A legacy of the nobles who ruled over the town is the magnificent Marqués de Dos Aguas fortified palace built in the 17th century in the Gothic-Renaissance style. The building is currently home to the Town Council and other municipal departments.
In the 18th century Onil joined the industrial movement. It became one of the main textile centres of the Kingdom of Valencia, an activity that ceased when the town went back to being a farming community in the early 19th century. Agriculture was the primary source of income for the inhabitants up until the early 20th century, when handmade dolls began to be produced. The doll-making industry went from strength to strength and is still active today.
Doll factories and museum
Onil is part of the so-called Toy Valley, although local industry has concentrated mainly on dolls, which have been made here in the town since the early 20th century.
Famous dolls such as Mariquita Pérez and the Famosa brand dolls are made here. Some of the doll manufacturing facilities, including the Playmobil factory, are open to the public.
Hand-produced dolls used to be made from china, but over time this has been replaced by synthetic materials, although in some cases traditional methods have survived.
You could say that the town is one big dream factory, as most of the dolls delivered by the Three Kings on the magical night of 5 January (Epiphany) come from the factories in Onil.
What else to see in Onil
The town of Onil has a great many historic monuments as well as works of art that have enormous artistic and sentimental value for all the town’s inhabitants.
The Marqués de Dos Aguas fortified palace, the parish church of Santiago and the San Buenaventura convent are a few examples.
Visitors should also make time to see the Chapel of Nostre Senyor Robat, the Santiago altarpiece and the most emotional of all for local people, the recently restored Virgen de la Salud chapel.
According to most experts, building work on the Marqués de Dos Aguas fortified palace (in Plaza Mayor 1) started around 1539, the date that appears carved in Roman numerals on the north-west tower. The palace was completed in 1614.
Although the palace is known as Marqués de Dos Aguas, in fact it was commissioned by Ramón de Vilanova, Baron of La Foia de Castalla and Lord of Onil and Fabanella.
The palace has a moat leading to an inner cloister, where there was a prison for people convicted under feudal jurisdiction. The inner rooms are have vaulted ceilings and the windows have convenient plinths.
The convent of San Buenaventura stands near the south entrance to Onil. Building work started on 18 February 1684 and was completed on 4 October 1687. It was immediately consecrated by friars from the order of Alcantarine Franciscans.
Although from the architectural point of view the convent is not of any great value, the paintings and frescoes inside are very interesting. No records survive of the author, although the composition, the human iconography and other technical details link it to the style of the Comunión de San Pedro Apóstol chapel in Agost.
Onil parish church, in the west part of the palace, was completed in 1778.
It has a single nave and stone pillars with capitals and semi-circular arches. The barrel vaulting is completed with groined semi-circular arches and on the side walls, between the diagonal groins, there are frescoes depicting theological and human virtues.
One of the main features is the high altar, previously carved wood set in Churrigueresque Baroque. It was covered in gold polychrome and was overlooked by the carved figure of Santiago Apóstol (St. James the Apostle), but several figures and parts of the original altar disappeared during the Spanish Civil War. Nowadays, the artistically priceless Santiago altarpiece hangs above the high altar.
The altarpiece was made in honour of Santiago Apóstol, who is shown in the centre panel. The upper section shows the Virgen de Gracia, further above her is the Eternal Father, and on the left from top to bottom, the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Adoration. Santa Bárbara, Isaac and San Blas are depicted on the predella, or platform.
On the right, and also from top to bottom, you can see the Resurrection, Mary Magdalene and the death of the Virgin. The predella on this part shows Santa Águeda, Zacarías and Apolonia.
Finally, the lower predella shows, from left to right, San Sebastián, San Jerónimo, San Pedro, San Pablo, San Agustín and San Roque.
The chapel can be found in the east section of the parish church. As soon as you enter, you can see the work has been perfectly executed in the purest Churrigueresque style.