As I promised on our Facebook page Tours on Crete when posting an article about olive oil and how many fake and low quality oil is offered in our supermarkets, today I’d like to speak about Cretan olive oil and it’s history.
Oldest Olive tree
The olive tree has been declared by the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities as a natural monument because of its shape and the exceptional aesthetics of its relied truck, reminiscent of exceptional woodwork.
The tree is located at Ano Vouves and belongs to Panagiotis Karapatakis. Its variety is called mastoid and is grafted on a rootstock of a wild olive tree. From this tree, the winner of the men’s’ marathon in the Olympic Games Athens 2004 was crowned.
The trunk at a height of 0.9m from the ground has a diameter of 3.70m and a circumference of 8.10m, while its base has a diameter of 4.53m and a circumference of 12.55m. Locals say that the olive is the oldest in the world, but this is not true as the olive tree at Azorias is older.
Made from the natural juice of the olive, olive oil is truly a precious “elixir” of life, and helps the people of the Island of Crete maintain health and long life, as well as enjoying delicious food!
It’s a great mystery to anyone who has picked an olive from the tree to work out how someone could have thought that this small fruit would be transformed into a delicious meze on its own or into a nutritious tasty, and health giving oil. Even when looking fat and ripe – straight from the tree, it tastes awful!
But someone did work this out! And from its use in ancient times and the results of study after study, the oil that is pressed from the olive has proven to be a precious gift of nature. The ancient land of Crete is home to 30 million olive trees and the Cretans make full use of the abundant fruit and have been cultivating the olive tree since 3500 BC during the early Minoan period. The Minoan palace of Knossos has an olive press room.
Civilization and Olive Oil
The olive is a favourite subject in Minoan art. Olive trees, olive branches and olive blooms are depicted in many wall paintings and relief works, found at the palace of Knossos (1600-1400 BC) and displayed in the Heraclion Museum today.
with olive foliage
|Storage-jar (pithos) from
Of the most well known, is the wall painting depicting an olive tree between wild goats, the relief with the bull and the olive tree at the balcony of the northern entrance of Knossos palace, the wall-painting with “The dance in the Sacred Grove” and other scenes with olive foliage, blooming branch, branches and relief olives.
Olive branches and leaves are often depicted on the vases of the Minoan period. Characteristic examples are to be found in the storage-jar discovered at the small island Psira off the coastline of north-eastern Crete which is decorated with bull’s heads and olive shoots on either side (1600-1500 B.C) as in the cup with the olive branch in bloom from Knossos (1600-1500 B.C), both now displayed in the Heraklion Museum.
|Rushing bull and olive-tree|
The olive was a favourite subject even in the craft of gold-plating in the Minoan period. Characteristic of this is the superb piece of jewellery made up of a bunch of golden olive leaves found in the pre-palatial cemetery on the small island just outside today’s settlement of Mochlos to the north of the village of Lastros in Sitia.
|Olive – trees on the fresco “Dance at the Sacred grove”Knossos|
At the Olympic games that started in 776 B.C, ancient Greeks were crowning the winners with a wreath (“kotinos”) made of branches cutted always off the same wild olive-tree, known as “kallistefanos” (which means “for beautiful wreaths”).
|Wild goats and olive-tree|
Also at the Panathenea games (600 B.C), the winner’s prize was a decorated amphora, full of olive-oil which was produced of the “Mories” (Sacred) olive-trees belonging to Godess Athena.
Today the Cretans still eat far more olive oil than any other people in the world. And as a famous study proved, are the healthiest and longest living people.
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