The Olive Tree in the Mediterranean, 12 Months with the Olive Tree

12 months with the Olive Tree

The Routes of the Olive Tree

The content of this page is republished from the excellent publication “12 Months with the Olive Tree” of the Cultural Organization “The Routes of the Olive Tree” – Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Messinia, Greece.

This publication is not available in bookstores and I was very lucky to find one from a friend. As soon as I read it I contacted the people who published it and I asked their permission to copy part of it for the “Explore Crete” site. It was the only way to offer part of this excellent book to the public.

Yannis Samatas

12 months with the Olive Tree

For thousands of years, the tree par excellence of the Mediterranean region, the olive tree, has coexisted with the peoples of the Mediterranean , connected to their daily lives and customs, it has gone beyond the boundaries of the landscape, leaving its traces in all the civilizations which have developed on its shores.

The olive tree, a gift of nature is not only the key to understanding the evolution of many areas, but also a challenge to travel following the routes of its rich history around the Mediterranean : The Mediterranean of the olive tree.

The Cultural Tour “The Routes of the Olive Tree” is a stroll along these primordial roads full of olive trees. It is an attempt to promote olive products and their everlasting value for man through cultural events inspired by the olive tree’s past and future, with the contribution of all the olive producing countries of the Mediterranean.

Georges Karabatos
President of the Messinia Chamber of Commerce & Industry

The physiognomy of a people or society is shaped, among other things, through dialogue with their natural surroundings.

If one has to define this familiarity with nature, for the Greeks and other Mediterranean people, a fruit bearing tree which influenced not only social and economic reality but also the field of worship, beliefs and customs, without doubt is the olive tree.

olive trees in the Mediterranean

The olive tree”Tree full of paternal fairy tales,
one feels it as blessing and security”

(I. M. Panayotopoulos)

If a have wine, bread and olive oil at home each and every night
I sleep like a king with my wife.

(Rhyming couplet, Crete)

The olive tree being indigenous first appeared in the eastern Mediterranean where some of the most ancient civilizations developed.Recent archaeological research in the Cyclades, the heart of the Aegean, brought to light fossilized olive leaves, which according to modern methods of chronology are 50-60 thousand years old.

fossil of oive leave

With a few drops of oil from Saint Nicholas’ oil lamp, the sailors calm the sea…

A few drops of oil in water are enough to ward off the “evil eye”.

The most ancient testimonies of the olive and its oil were discovered in ancient Pylos. Ancient urns on which the harvesting of the olive and olive oil warehouses are depicted, tablets of Linear B writing on which the ideograms of the olive and olive oil are scribed, are discoveries that prove that Messinia is one of the oldest homelands of the olive.

The cultivation of the olive tree has continued to spread for many centuries and constitutes one of the main activities of inhabitants. Reliable testimony states that there was major olive oil production during the Byzantine period in numerous areas of Greece such as the Peloponnese, while its production and commercialization strengthened the economy in many areas of Greece from the 18th century onwards.

olive tree

Olive oil is considered an excellent aphrodisiac, especially when it originates from the wild varieties of olives.

In Greece the characterization of bribery as “oiling” is due to the fact that in traditional economy it was for centuries a stable means of exchange with which mainly the agricultural population used in their exchanges.

An unsurpassable source of life, the olive tree is present in the text of ancient and contemporary Greek writers and poets.Enchanted by its radiance and its wonderful primordial tales, which only the olive tree can tell so well, it has been celebrated like no other tree because it has been cherished so.

Without the olive tree the Mediterranean landscape would be destitute and the Greek artists and poets would have lost a unique source of inspiration.

child on olive tree

“Mid day July…if there were no olive groves…
I would dream one up”

( Odysseas Elytis )

“He who eats oil and bread or drinks olive oil
he is never touched by death’s arrows”

(Ryming Couplet Crete)

The use of the olive tree and its products in ancient ceremony defined it as the Tree of Good from very early on, giving it a prominent position.Precious and loved tree of the Greeks and other Mediterranean people, associated with renaissance and light, it is still considered to he a divine gift even today.

A symbol of peace, protection and fertility, its oil like wheat and wine is used in many of the Christian Orthodox rituals until today.

vigil candles with olive oil in church

“Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as a shining star. Kindled from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow forth though no fire touched it. Light upon light, Allah guides to His light whom He will. And Allah speaks to mankind in allegories, for Allah is knower of all things.!”( the Koran )

– Do you love trees Georgie? She asked me. Which one do you love the most?- I love the olive tree the most. I responded.
– Me too! When I die, plant an olive tree in the center of my grave to suck me up with its roots. Every year from the fruit it bears, light my oil- lamp.
– Live a long life. I know what monument I’ll build for you when the time comes.
– What? She exchaimed. Don’t forget the olive tree! I am not afraid to die, it’s as if I know that a small light will be lit from my bones.

( Pantelis Prevelakis )

The olive tree, which thrives almost exclusively in the Mediterranean basin and its method of cultivation are basic elements for the preservation and stability of the ecosystem.It has existed and provided fruit for centuries, is cultivatable on every terrain and is utilized completely: fruit, foliage, wood and by-products.

The olive tree aids the prevention of erosion in areas of acute desolation and constitutes a primary factor for the development of areas with serious problems of employment and cohesion.

olive grove

The olive tree: Symbol of serenity, fertility peace. The olive branches were made into wreaths to crown the winners at the Olympic Games and the precious juice from its fruit, the olive oil, was the prize of the winners at the famous Panathenian Games held in honor of the Goddess Athena.

In ancient Athens, the prize for the winner in the track event was 70 amphorae which contained 2.5 tonnes of olive oil.The winner of the chariot race received 5 tonnes of extra virgin olive oil.

In Greece today there are roughly 150.000.000 olive trees, 2.800 olive oil facto­ries and 500.000 families are involved with olive tree cultivation and olive oil production. In some mainly remote areas it constitutes the only source of income of the inhabitants.

painting of people picking olives

The widespread existence of the olive tree in Greece and the Mediterranean not to mention its daily use and presence in religious rituals has for thousands of years influenced both the customs and traditions of the people who lived and live in its shade, creating with the passing of the time its own special civilization, the Civilization of the Olive Tree.

The Cultural Tour “Routes of the Olive Tree” takes place every year by road and it lasts for about 40 days.It goes through 22 Mediterranean countries and totals 16000 km of travel. It is a challenging trip for the materialisation of which, determination, boldness and endless love for the olive are needed.

The olive tree says to its master:
“Care for me and I will nourish you.
Water me and I will make you rich”

(Proverb from the Mediterranean)

olive oil production in Greece

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