"Olea prima omnium arborum est" (Olives are first and foremost trees) wrote Giunio Moderato Columella in "DE RUSTICA" (1st Century A.D.). The origins of this typical Mediterranean plant stretch back into the mists of time.
The olive tree originally came from Asia Minor and spread all over the Mediterranean basin some 6,000 yeas ago. Among the many legends surrounding oil there is a Greek myth that attributes the creation of the olive tree to a disagreement between Poseidon and Athena regarding which of the two would build a temple on Acropolis. Zeus, was called upon to pass judgment and ruled that the honour would go to the one who could create something really useful for mankind. Poseidon invented the horse but Athena won by creating the olive tree. The people of Attica, in turn, gratified the goddess by taking the olive as the sacred symbol of the divinity and of the city of Athens which was dedicated to her. According to Pliny, the Greeks brought the olive to Italy at the time of Tarquinius Priscus and the Etruscans grew it as early as the 6th century A.D. The Romans used great amounts of oil daily and gave great impetus to its production and trade. With the fall of the Roman empire and the barbaric invasions, olive growing became less important but it was resumed some centuries later by some monastic orders including Benedictines and Cistercians. It was the Medici family who encouraged cultivating olives in Tuscany and in Florence in particular by granting municipalities the use of hilly, untilled or wooded land and the obligation to rent them out very cheaply to whoever would grow olives or vines. This was how the countryside typical of the hills around Florence was born.
Olive trees and olive oil are closely linked to peasant civilisation and the nourishment of the Mediterranean peoples. This plant has had countless contacts with the sacral and the divine over the centuries. The product is six-thousand years "old" and yet still youthful because its nutritional properties remain unaltered and unbeatable. It is suffice to consider its thousands of health benefits and also the myriad of ways it can be used in preparing food, two very important factors for people of all ages. Together with cereals and wine, oil has been the basis of nourishment of people for thousands of years and today it is still made using the same process used is Mesolithic times. Production tools have changed and evolved but not production principles.