Thousands of years of history        
[available also in italian]

The history of the olive is ancient, its origins lost in time immemorial. It is a history entwined with that of humanity
itself. It was the dawn of civilisation, 4000 years before Christ, when the olive tree, originating in Armenia, arrived
in Palestine; in the Egypt of the Pharaohs it grew everywhere, as it did in Crete. Thanks to the Phoenicians, who
were the great traders in olive oil in ancient times, the precious liquid arrived in Greece where it attained its
maximum splendour. Not only the basis of cooking, it was also used for sacred initiation rites, as a fuel for
lamps, and as an unguent to massage the skin before the athlete entered the wrestling ground. The fortunes of
olive oil also continued in the Roman period. Conquered peoples had to pay tribute in oil to Rome, which
organised the southern regions into oil-producing provinces. The collapse of the Empire however marked the
end of the cultivation of olives. The ancient tree only survived around monasteries and in fortified fiefdoms which
sprang up particularly in Tuscany. The Italy of the mediaeval Communes needed oil once again. In the 12th
century olive groves began to spread again, and Tuscany became an important centre for growing the trees. It
issued severe laws governing the cultivation of the olive and trade in olive oil. Venice and Genoa began to trade
ever greater quantities of oil arriving from all countries in the Mediterranean basin. Towards the beginning of the
14th century, Puglia became one enormous olive grove, and olives were planted in various other regions of Italy.
The wars of the 15th century marked a crisis in production, but this crisis was only temporary, and olive oil soon
returned, to assume its position as the most highly prized product on the lavishly spread tables of the
Renaissance. After a lull around the seventeenth century due to the heavy taxes imposed on olive oil production
during the Spanish domination, production picked up again in the 18th century following the development of a
free market and tax exemption on olive groves. In the 19th century, the olive groves spread still further afield,
thanks to money bonuses guaranteed by the Papal State. For many centuries, the production of olives and of
olive oil remained a family affair. The situation changed at the beginning of the 20th century. The development
of industrial refinement of vegetable oil meant that overall production and world-wide exports of oil increased
substantially. At the end of the 1970s, nutritional research carried out by some American scientists began to lead
people to appreciate the advantages of a Mediterranean Diet also in countries which traditionally used other oils
or cooking fats. This enormous increase in consumption has over recent years stimulated the cultivation of olive
trees also in countries in which the growing of olives was hitherto unknown. It is estimated that more than 800
million cultivated olive trees exist in the world today and, even if almost 700 million of these are in the
Mediterranean basiin, there are olives growing in South America, Australasia and China.

huile d'olive  culture bio arbres etiquettes histoire culture production santé