Land of olive trees

The olive tree is one of the best known and most emblematic expressions of the extraordinarily varied Andalusian landscape. The agriculture history belongs to the trunk of the old tree that spreads from Smyrna and Attica to Seville. The first reference to the olive tree in Greek mythology was when Pallas Athena, Zeus’ favourite daughter, was arguing with Poseidon, the God of the Sea, about the name that should be given to the city that was founded by Cecrops, the first king of Attica, and they had to establish the most useful thing for a man. The Goddess Pallas drove her spear into the ground making an olive tree appear that could give light and food, cure sicknesses and alleviate the suffering of men. An olive tree as a symbol of peace, light and life, as opposed to Poseidon, who offered a horse, a symbol of strength, power and war.

There are countless references to the olive tree and its cultivation in Spain, as different cultures that came to settle there, from the Phoenicians to the Arabs, all left behind a great legacy for those that came after them. The Phoenicians, although this is not certain, improved cultivation and oil extraction techniques; the Romans increased the number of olive plantations, selling and exporting the best oil from Baetica not only to Rome itself, but also to places such as Geneva, Utrecht, London and even to Heidelberg; while the Arabs placed great emphasis on cultivation, with detailed studies of the most suitable soil, of planting and longevity.

When autumn comes, it’s time to start the annual, ancestral ritual of the harvest. A ritual involving a great deal of work and effort practiced from Turkey to Portugal: in Greece, the north coast of Africa, Italy, France and Spain. During the harvest all Andalusia is one immense echo of the beating of poles against the wood of the olive trees. It’s a rhythmic movement that cuts the air and is repeated year after year, as it has been since ancient times. Man and nature work closely together at olive-picking time.

Andalusia and its landscape are inseparable from Mediterranean culture. It’s a landscape of singular beauty that never fails to impress those who look at it with -and through – wide open eyes. The German theatre director Jürgen Flimm once answered a journalist’s question : “What is your dream of happiness?”, with “Sky, olive groves, sun, air….”



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