In his work ‘De Rustica’, written in the I century A.D., Giunio Moderato Columella, one of the greatest agricultural experts of all time, wrote ‘Olea prima omnium arborum est’ (Olives are the first and foremost of trees). Indeed, the origins of this typical Mediterranean plant can be traced back to time immemorial.
The olive tree originally came from Asia Minor and spread all over the Mediterranean basin some 6,000 years ago. Among the many legends surrounding oil, there is a noteworthy 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 the Acropolis. Zeus was called upon to pass judgment and ruled that the honor would go to the god 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 making the olive the sacred symbol of the goddess, dedicating the city of Athens to her. According to Pliny, the Greeks brought the olive to Italy during 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 Barbarian invasions, olive-growing became less important but it was resumed some centuries later by several monastic orders including the Benedictines and the Cistercians.
MEDICIS AND OLIVES
It was the Medici family who encouraged the cultivation of olives in Tuscany and in Florence in particular by granting municipalities the use of hilly, untilled or wooded land. They were obligated to cheaply rent said land to whoever would grow olives or vines. This was how the Florentine countryside came to look as it does today.
Olive trees and olive oil have always been closely linked to peasant civilizations and both have continuously provided much nourishment to the Mediterranean peoples. This plant has enjoyed countless contacts with the sacred and the divine over the centuries. The product is six-thousand years ‘old’ and yet, it is still ‘youthful’ because its nutritional properties remain unaltered and unbeatable. Suffice it to say, that olive oil provides thousands of benefits—both health-wise and nutritionally. Together with cereal and wine, oil has been the basis human nutrition for thousands of years and today, it is still made by the same process used in Mesolithic times. In fact, the first industrial revolution and those that followed have improved production tools but not production principles.