The History of the Olive Tree


The olive tree is the first of all trees.
Roman agricultural writer and theorist Columella (4 – c. 70 AD)

Olive Tree: The Richest Gift of Heaven

The olive (Olea europaea L.) is a well-known evergreen tree, native to the Mediterranean coast, of which the fruit and oil are used for food and cooking.

The olive tree grows slowly but has a very long life. The average lifespan of an olive tree is 300-400 years, but olive trees are also found at 3000 years old. For this reason, the name of the olive tree is the “immortal tree” in mythology and botany.

Olive, which has been a source of many legends in its historical development, has taken its place in the inscriptions and holy books of ancient civilizations. Olive branch has been accepted as a symbol of peace for centuries since a white dove returned to Noah’s ark with an olive branch as a sign of vitality after the Flood.

The known history of olives, the world’s healthiest and natural vegetable oil source, goes back to the period around six thousand years ago. A recent scientific study on the DNA of cultivated and wild olive varieties of Mediterranean basin testifies that the cultivation of wild olive tree first occurred approximately 6000-8000 years ago at the borders of Syria and Turkey.

Later on olive tree had spread to whole of Mediterranean basin through trade routes of Mediterranean economies. Though olive tree has been cultivated around 4000 BC, the production of edible olive oil goes back to early Bronze Age, 3150 to 1200 BC. Throughout various Mediterranean civilizations, olive tree occupied an important position in agricultural economy and trade. Tablets those are found in Northern Syria dating middle of 3000 BC mention large scale of olive oil production, whereas Hittite texts and Egyptian records testify olive cultivation in Anatolia, around Cilician region.

Anatolia, Motherland of the Olive and Olive Oil

South-east Anatolia is known to be the cradle and gene center of the olive, a claim that is corroborated by subspecies of olive found in a line stretching from Hatay to Kahramanmaras and Mardin. From south-east Anatolia, this noble tree spread to west Anatolia, then fanning out to Greece, Italy, and Spain via the Aegean Islands.

In those areas, there are many archeological sites with olive-related findings, such as milling stones, decantation basins, storage vessels, frescos, and ancient writings. In the Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete, clay tables recording the trade of olive oil can be traced to 1700 BCE. In Turkey at Urla, near Izmir, there is an ancient olive oil processing facility dating to 600 BCE. Many clay vessels, called amphora, which were used to store and transport olive oil, can be found in ruins throughout the area.

Anatolia, the crossroads of civilisations, has been home to the olive tree for 6000 years. The olive has brought peace, health and beauty to the region. It is the fascinating secret of the longevity of the Mediterranean peoples and bears delicious traditional produce that is shared by different civilisations.

Olive has been a symbol of Mediterranean civilization throughout history and has been long established in Turkey. The lineage of the first olives is found on the border between Turkey and Syria based on written tablets, olive pits, and wood fragments found in ancient tombs.

Production and Uses

The way in which the oil is extracted from olives is another tradition that has not changed in millennia. The extraction method today is the same as six thousand years ago. The olives are merely crushed into a mash to which pressure is applied to extract the oil without any chemical processes. The oil is then separated from the fruit vegetable water. Technological developments in the early nineteenth century saw the advent of hydraulic presses, which are used nowadays alongside centrifugal systems, the most widespread of which is known as the continuous system.

The miraculous fruit of the olive tree is consumed in fruit and oil form, it is used as raw material for soap and natural medicine, and it is also burned as fuel. During countless ages, the miraculous olive has been considered an elixir of beauty and health.

Olive oil, which is the most important product of the olive tree, was called “liquid gold” by mankind, while it was used only as a fuel at first, and later took the most important place in human nutrition. Historically, olive oil was used for many purposes including religious rituals, medicines, fuel in oil lamps, soap-making, and skin care application. Indeed, olive oil not only reduces risks associated with heart attack, but it also regulates cholesterol levels, prevents stomach discomforts, and makes skin more beautiful. Its color, aroma, taste and ease of digestion make it unique. Unlike other herbal oils — such as sunflower, soy, cottonseed, and corn — olive oil is produced naturally, with no additives and no chemical processes.

Table olives (made edible by salting) were eaten, but most of the crops produced went into making oil. Although oil was a common product, it was not necessarily a cheap one and there were different grades of quality. Olive trees produce a full harvest only every other year, sometime from October to December, and the ancient Mediterranean believed that the earlier they were harvested (when still green) and pressed, the finer the oil. However, leaving collection later in the season allows for the olives to continue growing, ripen so that they become black, and so more oil can be pressed from them. The finest quality oil, as today, came from the first pressing and when the mash had the minimum number of stones in it.

The olives were crushed either underfoot (the crusher wearing wooden sandals), with pestle and mortar, using a stone roller, or in presses. The first mechanical production method coming from Klazomenai in Turkey. The oldest olive oil facility, dating back to 600 BC, can be found at the ancient settlement of Klazomenai in west Anatolia, in the Urla district near the city of Izmir.

Olive Trees: van Gogh’s Connection to Nature through Art

Vincent van Gogh, one of the most famous and influential figures in the history of art, painted at least 15 paintings of olive trees in 1889. He found respite and relief in interaction with nature, yet the paintings are considered to be among his finest works.

He wrote to his brother Theo that he was “struggling to catch (the olive trees). They are old silver, sometimes with more blue in them, sometimes greenish, bronzed, fading white above a soil which is yellow, pink, violet tinted orange… very difficult.” He found that the “rustle of the olive grove has something very secret in it, and immensely old. It is too beautiful for us to dare to paint it or to be able to imagine it.”

In the olive trees — in the expressive power of their ancient and gnarled forms — van Gogh found a manifestation of the spiritual force he believed resided in all of nature.

His brushstrokes make the soil and even the sky seem alive with the same rustling motion as the leaves, stirred to a shimmer by the Mediterranean wind. These strong individual dashes do not seem painted so much as drawn onto the canvas with a heavily loaded brush. The energy in their continuous rhythm communicates to us, in an almost physical way, the living force that van Gogh found within the trees themselves, the very spiritual force that he believed had shaped them.

Olives, a Feature of Turkey since 4000 BC

The value and unique characteristics of olives and olive oil have been acknowledged for centuries and are gaining even more prominence today. Cultivation of this noble fruit is concentrated in specific regions of the world, primarily in the countries bordering the shores of the Mediterranean. Turkey is one of those fortunate countries and is ranked as the world’s second biggest producer.

Over the past ten years, Turkey has made major progress in olive cultivation. It has established processing plants with the technology and capacity to produce large volumes of top-quality olive oils and table olives for the world market. It has also made impressive advances in olive oil production.  active in the extraction, refining and packaging of olive oil to world standards have taken up their rightful place in the industry and continue to pursue success. In the years ahead, Turkey intends to push forward with development and increase its share of global trade.

Historical Olive and Olive Oil Landmarks in Turkey

  1. Erythrai, near Cesme (Ildır) This ancient city was one of the leading olive oil export centres in the 6th century BC.
  2. Urla An olive oil press dating from the 6th century BC was discovered at this site as well as olive stores from between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.
  3. Izmir The place where Homer read his epics to friends and dined with them under the shade of olive trees in 1199 BC.
  4. Miletus Thales of Miletus forecast the next year’s olive yields according to his meteorological studies.
  5. Kaş UluburunRemains of olives were found on board the Uluburun Bronze Age shipwreck.
  6. Mut A 1300-year-old olive tree still lives here.
  7. Hatay This place is the motherland of the olive and home to Turkey’s second oldest olive tree, the trunk of which measures 110 cm in diameter.
  8. Ağrı Doves carrying olive branches in their beak to Noah’s Ark have been the symbol of peace since time immemorial.

With more than 60 years of family passion and expertise, Artem Oliva, is dedicated to following, protecting and maintain this centuries-old tradition of the cultivation of olives in the homeland of the olive trees.

Discover our products!

Get in touch with us for your inquiries!