What a surprise! There is an olive museum and it is in Italy. The museum is in the mountainous, western Ligurian region which is close to France’s most southeastern border and the dinky, principality of Monaco.
It is the “Museo dell’Olivo” in Oneglia Imperia. It is open to visitors every day, except Sundays, beginning from 9:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and in the afternoon from 3:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Please notice the large gap in the middle of the day. This is the time set aside for the olive, olive oil, bread, cheese, meat, and wine laden lunch followed by a nap break. I love it.
Olive oil is one of the oldest and most important products of the Mediterranean cultures. According to the Museum researchers the history of the cultivated olive tree begins during 4000 BC, and olive cultivation and olive oil production could be performed only within a stable society, with an advanced and complex political and economic organization.
Olive cultivation and prodution had to begin in societies with a sophisticated knowledge of botany and agricultural practices, like pruning, grafting, and propagation. Because of the sophistication of knowledge and the political stability required, the spread of cultivated olive trees has had changing fortunes throughout millennia, and as I will discuss in another article, the same applied to the early American colony and early United States. I allude to some of this in my article Thomas Jefferson Was Olive Crazy Too.
The actual origin of the olive tree is lost in time. The native Mediterranean wild olive, which is a thorny bush whose fruit has a large pit and not much flesh. may not be the actual progenitor of the modern food and oil varieties of olive. The variety “Olea Africana” might actually be part of the hybridized olive plants we know and grow today, but it isn’t the only part.
Use of the olive tree for fuel, skin care, and food started in the Mesopotamian and Syrian regions and over the course of thousands of years moved west across the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The olive grew in importance and increased cultivation UNTIL the Middle Ages brought cultivation to a screeching halt. Olive oil was treated like money and religious orders owned most of the cultivated olive trees, and oil was found only at the tables of rich people, and of course, the men of the Church. Because of it’s rarity, olive oil entered into use in sacred ceremonies, a practice which is still seen today.
Today the olive tree has spread to all habitable continents. In addition to Europe, there are olive groves in South Africa, China, Viet Nam, southern Australia, southern and western North America, and western and central South America. The total world olive oil production has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the last century.
One important thing I learned from my “trip” to the Museo dell’Olivo is that stability and careful cultivation is important to global cultivation of olives and olive oil and therefore to humans.
May the sun shine through your branches.