The city of Athens was named after the goddess Athena, who offered the olive tree to the Greeks as a gift.
Zeus had promised to concede the entire region of Attica to the god or goddess whose invention would prove to be the most useful for the population.
Therefore, Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Poseidon, god of the sea, competed to claim the area. Poseidon struck his trident on the sacred rock of Acropolis and, immediately, a wave of saltwater shot forth.
When it was Athena’s turn to hit the sacred rock with her staff, an olive tree heavy with fruit sprouted. The tree was obviously extremely valuable as it provided both protection against the light and heat, as well as food, medicine, and delicious aromas.
The Gift of the Goddess was chosen by the people as the more peaceful invention, symbolizing peace, prudence, and wisdom.
The olive tree that grows on the Acropolis today is said to originate from the roots of that first sacred tree.
The olive tree; the gift of the goddess Athena on the Acropolis.
The olive tree was first cultivated in Greece and, more specifically, in Crete. During the Minoan era, the systematic cultivation of olives and the use and consumption of olive oil played an extremely significant part in the financial development of the island.
The pioneering move to cultivate the olive tree was nurtured by the temperate climate, geomorphology, and the intensification of primary agricultural production in Crete. Archaeological findings from the Minoan palaces of Crete testify to the multiple roles of olive oil within the Cretan culture of the Minoan period, which reached its peak between the years 2000 and 1450 BC.
The Minoans maintained a trading network with other civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean, where the systematic exploitation of olives was also prevalent. Excavations in Crete unearthed huge jars used for storing oil, which verified that the power held by Minoan kings was largely associated with the extraction of olive oil, both in Egypt and in other areas of the Mediterranean. This was especially relevant in 1450 BC, when the utilization and production of olive oil became increasingly systemized.
Many archaeological findings, such as paintings, tools, installations, and inscriptions, testify to the dominant presence of the olive fruit and the preoccupation of the Minoans with the production, storage, and trade of its oil in all major centers of the Minoan civilization.
Outside the palace of Knossos, the most important Minoan center, an olive mill was discovered along with several urns used for the storage of olive oil, estimated to have a capacity of approximately 250 tons.
In the palace of King Minos in Malia, gigantic warehouses that could fit approximately 10,000 hectoliters of oil were discovered. The palace was also generally used as a storage space for regional products. The olive oil stored within its walls would be channeled to major trading centers and, perhaps, even abroad.
In the village of Archanes, olive kernels were found inside vases, while, in Zakros, entire olives with their flesh intact dating back to 1450 BC were discovered.
The French archaeologist and historian Paul Faure aptly describes the cultivation of olive trees and the production of olive oil in his book “Everyday life in Minoan Crete”.
During the Late Minoan era, olive cultivation became even more extensive as it did not only solve nutritional problems, but also benefited the Greeks in various other ways, which led to the tree acquiring sacred, providential status in the minds of the people. The main oil producing areas experienced a massive economic boom: Crete, Peloponnese, Lesvos, Ionian Islands, Attica. The Minoans therefore owe their development and progress to their considerable olive oil production, which allowed Crete to ensure its economic sovereignty in the Aegean Sea and the Greek mainland.
Evidence to the utilization of the olive fruit and the transportation and trading of olive oil are provided in the Linear B tablets from the archives of the palace of Knossos, Pylos, and Mycenae, which verify the financial importance of the olive tree during the 13th and 14th century BC.
The Ancient Greeks attributed their physical rigor, strength, and mental well-being to their frequent consumption of olive oil. What is more, according to Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, olive oil is considered extremely beneficial and has over 60 therapeutic uses.
He is known to have called olive oil a “Great Healer”.
In Homeric times, olive oil was widely used as a cosmetic product for body and hair care, a raw material for lighting and heating purposes, as well as an essential ingredient in most recipes.
During the era of the great legislator Solon, the olive tree was legally enshrined and was considered a sacred tree and a symbol of life, wisdom, and welfare. Cutting the trees was also subsequently banned.
Homer would later describe olive oil as “liquid gold”.
Plato, one of the most important Greek philosophers, thought of olive oil as “Pain Relief”.
In his “Constitution of the Athenians”, Aristotle described the abundance of olive trees in Athens.
Pliny, an author and physician, mentioned the first olive mill in his work and recommended placing aromatic herbs in olive oil.
The olive tree was cultivated in many areas of Greece such as Milos, Samos, Euboea, as well as various other regions.
Its cultivation was widespread during the 5th century, also known as the Golden Age of Pericles, when, according to Herodotus, Athens was a major center of olive cultivation.
Greece at 3rd place in world olive oil production
More than 750 million olive trees are currently being cultivated in the world, the 95% of which are found in Mediterranean countries.
Greece holds third place after Spain and Italy in global olive oil production.
60% of the cultivated soil in Greece is occupied by olive groves rendering it the country with the largest number of olive varieties, with Koroneiki being the most awarded and well-known of them all.
Greece counts more than 130 million olive trees, with average production in recent years approximating 300,000 tons of olive oil.
Greece at 1st place in olive oil quality
In terms of olive oil quality, Greece ranks first worldwide, seeing as a staggering 75-80% of its annual production is extra virgin olive oil, compared to the corresponding 40-45% in Italy and 25-30% in Spain.
Crete, where our olive oil is produced, boasts a production of which the 95% is of the highest quality extra virgin olive oil.
The total production of olive oil in Crete, which averages 100,000 tons per year, has improved qualitatively in spectacular fashion in recent decades, with the highest quality extra virgin olive oil occupying the majority of production.
Sources: Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities, www.prosodol.gr, www.infooil.gr, ICAP Group