The Olive tree in the Mediterranean countries
On the way from north to south, the Mediterranean starts at the first olive tree and ends at the first palm grove…. Everyday habits of the Mediterranean people reflect their connection with the olive tree and its products.
In Turkey, olive trees cover more than 877.000 hectares. The country has around 320.000 family businesses processing olive products, the 14% of which are members of 3 large cooperatives. The main olive tree varieties in Turkey are Memeli, Donat and Ismir Sofralik. The small black olives are eaten at breakfast accompanied by bread, cheese, tomatoes and tea
Olive tree is the most important fruit tree in Morocco. It grows practically all over the country, but mainly in the regions of Fes and Marakesh. In the markets of Morocco one can see many types of table olives used in the famous “Tagines”, dishes with lamb and spices.
Egyptians were among the first people who used olive tree and its products in everyday life and rituals. According to texts from the times of Ramses III (1184-1153 b.C.), fine olive oil was used for the lanterns in the temples of the Sun God Ra. Olive oil was also used at burning rituals.
Cyprus has been rich in olive trees and olive oil since ancient times. Stravon called the island “evelaios” (of good oil) and the oil from Cyprus was widely known as easily digestible.
In later years, covered or open-air olive oil mills existed in almost every village, interestingly enough, near schools.
Algeria has 19.5 million olive trees in olive groves divided into two categories: traditional ones for olive oil production and modern ones for table olives.
Lately, the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture has been encouraging the creation of olive groves in areas near the desert, as a means to control its expansion.
Over 5,4 milions of olive trees grow in Jordania. Just like everywhere in the Mediterranean, table olives are essential in everyday diet; this is why the olives produced in the country are exclusively for internal consumption.
Portugal both produces and consumes olive oil, which is the base of its cuisine. The country has 22.000.000 olive trees covering a total area of 500.000 hectares.
In Syria some of the oldest written evidence about olive growing has been discovered. Plates dating back to 3rd millennium b.C. mention large-scale olive production in the region.
Nowadays olive groves in the country cover an area of 405.000 hectares. From the 350.000 tons of olives collected at an annual basis, 280.000 tons are destined to olive oil production and the remaining 70.000 tons to tables olives for internal consumption.
In Tunisia, the millenary olive groves of Djerba date back to Roman empire. Nowadays over 55 million olive trees are cultivated in the country, covering an area of approximately 1.400.000 hectares.
Italy is the second largest producer in the world of olive oil but not of table olives. Modern Italians seem to have forgotten the words of the Roman writer Virgil who, in year 19 b.C., suggested eating olives and described them as «fleshy, tasty and friends peace».
In Spain, the best table olive variety is the Manzanilla, a strong and tall tree with dense foliage which produces symmetrical fruit shaped like apples (“manzana” in Spanish), giving the variety its name.
Olive tree and olive oil have played an important role in civilisation and economy of ancient Israel, as shown in the Old Testament. The olive tree was a symbol of beauty, courage and fertility, while in the story of Jotham the trees chose the olive tree as their ruler.
Some of the oldest olive oil mills have been discovered in Palestine, where olive oil has always been used in everyday life. At lunches people have used to consume a type of bread made of flour and olive oil, often mixed with honey.
In Lebanon have been discovered some of the oldest olive oil mills. According to the book of Esdras (457 b.C.), olive oil trade was very common and often olive oil was exchanged with cedar wood.
In Arabic poetry and literature there are many references to the olive tree. Indicatively, it is mentioned that in the old times one could travel from Libya until Morocco under the shade of olive trees.
France, even though it has small olive oil production, values the olive tree civilisation. In the city Nyons there is an olive tree museum and many olive tree festivals are organized in cities and villages of northern France, where olive tree grows.