Legend has it that the olive tree was born on the tomb of Adam, buried on Mount Tabor. Its seed reportedly came directly from paradise. The olive tree is surely one of the most important crops of the Mediterranean basin. It has always been a symbol of sacredness and spirituality in all religions, as well as peace, strength and resilience. Research has shown that “Olea” trees were present on the Mediterranean coast already twelve million years ago, before the appearance of man on earth.
The origins of the domesticated species, however, go back to Western Asia. Old scripts refer to it in that area more than six thousand years ago. Both in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, there were wild olive trees or oleasters. Thanks to Syrian populations, these wild plants were domesticated. From the islands the olive trees made it to mainland Greece – especially Attica – and to the plains near Athens, becoming in Greek mythology, the sacred plant of the goddess Athena.
In Italy as well, the olive tree, in its wild form, has existed for a long time. There is growing evidence of the olive tree already being present in the country between VIII-VII B.C. Currently, the most accepted hypothesis suggests that olive cultivation in Italy was brought by the Greeks. The actual production of olive oil, however, dates back to the Etruscans, who used to call the olive, “eleiva”. During the Renaissance, specific statutes and edicts declare the olive tree “cash crop”. By 1400, Italy became the largest producer of olive oil in the world, especially outside Florence.
In 1500, olive oil is exported to the New World with shipments to the Americas. Thanks to Franciscan missionaries, it reaches California two centuries later. Under Spanish rule, Italy knew a decrease in oil production, as the Spanish were interested in protecting their own domestic product.
Oil production in Italy picked up again in 1700. At this time, Italians start classifying olive trees and their fruits by geographical origin. In this period, Italy is considered the best oil producer in the world and its fame reaches all Europe and Russia. In 1944, King Umberto issued a decree, still in force today, by which it is prohibited to cut down olive trees throughout the Italian national territory.