The olive tree shows tremendous longevity and resilience: even through the harshest summers and winters it continues to grow strong and bear fruit. For this reason, olive oil was believed to bestow strength and youth to those who consumed it.
In fact, early Middle Eastern civilizations relied on olive oil to cure everything, and to this day many continue to drink it daily to keep the body healthy.
In the past, olive oil was widely used for religious rites and rituals, such as baptisms and at shrines, as well as to anoint the heads of kings, nobles and even victors.
In ancient Greece, winners of the Olympic Games and brave victors of battle were honoured with wreaths made of olive tree branches.
The Spartans buried their dead on a bed of olive twigs to protect their souls, while those who attended the funerals wore crowns of olive branches to guard themselves against evil.
Legend has it the sea god Poseidon and goddess of wisdom Athena were competing to find the most valuable gift to humankind. Poseidon offered man the horse, while Athena provided the olive tree – under which all ancient Greek gods are said to have been born. Because of its many uses (heat, food, medicine and perfume), the olive tree was chosen as the most valuable gift. In return for Athena’s important contribution the most powerful city in Greece was named Athens in her honour.
In 86 B.C. the Roman dictator Lucio Cornelio Silla had all olive trees cut down and adapted for use as implements of war. Their destruction was interpreted as an omen of death, prompting the poet and politician Solone to plant more olive trees and place them under Zeus’ protection. Since then, olive trees have been indestructible.
According to the Old Testament, the dove that was sent out by Noah after the flood came back to the Ark carrying an olive branch, which indicated that the waters had begun to subside. It is believed that the notion of an olive branch as a symbol of peace and goodwill originated from this story.
Close to the walls of the old city of Jerusalem stands a massive olive tree over 2,000 years old, with magnificent twisting roots, a solid trunk and lush, green foliage. It is believed that King David used to rest in its shade and play his lute, and since then, whoever spends time under the tree’s silver-leafed branches is said to be able to hear the strings of King David’s lute playing the sweetest music.