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History of the Olive Tree

Olive Trees are living monuments of the History of mankind. A mythical tree and a symbol of immortality that merges with the history, tradition and culture of the Mediterranean people.

The primitive form of the olive tree date back to the Tertiary Age - before the birth of mankind. Several authors locate its origins in Asia Minor - perhaps Syria or Palestine - where traces of olive oil production and fragments of pots dating from the early Bronze Age have been found.

However, throughout the Mediterranean, fossilized olive leaves dating from the Paleolithic and Neolithic have been found.

The Egyptians attributed to Isis, wife of Osiris, the supreme God of their mythology, the merit of teaching how to cultivate the olive tree 6.000 B.C. Around 3.000 B.C., the olive tree was already cultivated throughout the "Fertile Crescent", whose diffusion through Mediterranean Europe was due to the Greek civilization.


The Greeks and Romans were olive oil producers and filled with enthusiasm and also very much prodigal in discovering different uses for it, from culinary to health as medicine, ointment or balm, perfume, as well as fuel for lighting, lubricant oil for tools and even to make fabrics waterproof.

It is reported in Greek mythology that before the dispute over the Arctic, goddess Athena had offered the gods an olive tree that would bear fruit for hundreds of years, and from its fruits one could withdraw a liquid to feed, treat wounds, cleanse the body or brighten the night. The city was conquered and renamed Athens.

 

Later, olive grove culture spread out for all Mediterranean and, with the Portuguese and Spanish maritime expeditions, olive tree crossed the ocean to America. It spread throughout the world: Argentina, Australia, Chile, United States of America, to Japan, Mexico, China and Republic of South Africa, among others. For instance, in Portugal olive oil appeared as a commercial exchange in 1266 at the Community of Silves. The only geographical limit for its proliferation was the cold weather, since olive trees hardly resist temperatures below 12 degrees Celsius. On the other hand, it withstands considerable droughts and strong winds.


Throughout history, the olive tree has always been present in the daily life of societies due to its characteristics of resistance to all types of soils, inclement weather and calamities. It has been associated with religious practices, myths and traditions, with artistic and cultural manifestations or even with medicine and gastronomy.

 

The olive tree is a symbol of wisdom, peace, abundance and triumph.


Several countries and regions have been identifying Olive trees as a relevant part of their heritage, history and culture. One may find evidence of millenarian trees throughout the world. It is currently possible to find unique specimens in Lebanon, Italy or in Crete. In Portugal, two examples of olive trees can be pointed out: the so called "Portugal" Olive Tree in Santa Iria de Azóia (municipality of Loures) which is about 2,850 years old and has a diameter of 10 meters, and another example approximately 2,000 years old in the municipality of Tavira (Algarve region).