The olive tree is one of the oldest known cultivated trees in the world. The trees were already growing long before the written language was invented. Where the olive tree originates from is not entirely clear. It is certain that its roots go far back in time.

Today, more than 30 million olive trees grow on the Greek island of Crete, many of which are certainly hundreds of years old. But the Cretans certainly cultivate the olive trees at least since 3500 BC, during the Minoan period. Evidence of this has been found in the Minoan palace of Knossos, where there was even a room with an olive press.

Crete Olive Oil

It is thought that the population of Crete, probably under the influence of nearby Egypt, began growing olive trees more than 4000 years ago and producing olive oil. It is possible that the olive oil was the source of the wealth of the Minoan kingdom; thanks to the export it was an important source of income for the population. The Egyptians in particular imported olive oil from Crete and oil quickly became an important trade and welfare commodity. The Minoan olive oil was even of the same quality as the olive oil is today.

After the Minoan Crete fell into decline, the Phoenicians became between 1500 and 400 BC the main seafarers and merchants of the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians brought around 1200 BC the olive tree also to Italy. It is the Phoenicians and certainly also the Greeks who care that the olive trees root in all countries around the Mediterranean.

The olive tree in mythology

The city of Athens is named after the goddess Pallas Athena who brought the olive to the Greeks as a gift. Zeus had promised to give the city to the god or goddess who had made the most useful invention. Athena’s gift of the olive, useful for light, heat, food, medicine and perfume was chosen as a more peaceful invention than the horse from Poseidon. The horse was seen as a fast and powerful war instrument. Athens planted the original olive tree on a rocky hill known today as the Acropolis. The olive tree that grows there today would come from the roots of the original tree. The grateful inhabitants called the city after their benefactress.

Crete olive oil history