Concrete and Water Are Damaging Montenegro's Oldest Olive Tree

In their efforts to turn the 2,247-year-old Stara Maslina into a tourist attraction, local authorities have inadvertently damaged the iconic olive tree.
Stara Maslina
By Nedjeljko Jusup
Jun. 10, 2024 18:41 UTC

Near​Ulcinj and Bar on the coast of Montenegro, more than 50 olive trees are at least 500 years old.

The old­est is Stara Maslina in Mirovica. According to sci­en­tists from the University of Istanbul’s forestry depart­ment, the tree is an esti­mated 2,247 years old, mak­ing it one of the three old­est trees in the Mediterranean basin.

We are afraid that the tree might not sur­vive.- Ćazim Alković, pres­i­dent, Bar Olive Growers Association

We have noth­ing more sig­nif­i­cant, noth­ing more valu­able and noth­ing older than it,” Gojko Kastratović said dur­ing a lec­ture about Montenegro’s cul­tural her­itage.

Ćazim Alković, pres­i­dent of the Bar Olive Growers Association, agrees, and he could not hide his con­cern when he learned that the branches on the old­est part of the tree were start­ing to wither. We are afraid that the tree might not sur­vive,” he said.


Ćazim Alković, president, Bar Olive Growers Association

Worrying changes were first noticed by the employ­ees of the local cul­tural cen­ter, which main­tains the park in which the tree is located. Visitors can pay an entrance fee and take a guided tour to visit the tree and learn more about it.

The local author­i­ties in Bar real­ized 18 years ago that the Stara Maslina could become a tourist attrac­tion and began devel­op­ing the area to improve” the envi­ron­ment around the olive tree.

This involved pour­ing a con­crete ring around the tree to cre­ate a pave­ment for vis­i­tors. However, the con­crete was poured, so water col­lected and remained around the tree’s roots. In the mean­time, more build­ings and fam­ily houses were con­structed around the olive tree.

See Also:L’Olivo di Sant’Emiliano – A 1,800-Year-Old Symbol of Umbria’s Olive Tradition

Ratko Bataković, an agron­o­mist from Nikšić, a town in the con­ti­nen­tal area of​Montenegro, was the first to warn about the prob­lem and its pos­si­ble con­se­quences. In an arti­cle pub­lished in the daily news­pa­per Republika, he explained the per­ni­cious­ness of the con­crete sur­round­ing Stara Maslina.

Some cit­i­zens protested, includ­ing the well-known archae­ol­o­gist Omer Peročević and activist Anto Baković.

However, local media did not speak out against the deci­sion then, nor did the Bar Association of Olive Growers until four years ago, when the cur­rent pres­i­dent, Ćazim Alković, came to the fore.

Since then, the Bar Olive Growers Association has under­taken numer­ous activ­i­ties. He signed a con­tract with the cul­tural cen­ter to help main­tain Stara Maslina. During three years, the asso­ci­a­tion applied all nec­es­sary agrotech­ni­cal mea­sures.

In accor­dance with the rec­om­men­da­tions of the fac­ulty of biotech­nol­ogy, we car­ried out top dress­ing through soil and leaves, pro­tec­tion against pests and dis­eases, san­i­tary prun­ing and every­thing else,” Alković said.

In addi­tion, the cul­tural cen­ter orga­nized the pub­lic har­vest of Stara Maslina two years in a row, which became a fes­ti­val in the city that also marked the begin­ning of the olive har­vest.

Many res­i­dents and guests, includ­ing the agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, the Bar munic­i­pal assem­bly pres­i­dent and the Bar munic­i­pal­ity pres­i­dent, par­tic­i­pated in the pub­lic har­vest.


Stara Maslina harvest

Altogether, the com­pany pro­duced olive oil from care­fully picked fruits only from Stara Maslina, which the munic­i­pal­ity of Bar gifted to selected guests, includ­ing King Charles III and his wife, Camila, in 2016 when he was still the Prince of Wales.

When the Bar munic­i­pal assem­bly put the study on the pro­tec­tion of Stara Maslina up for pub­lic dis­cus­sion four years ago, only the Bar Olive Growers Association sub­mit­ted writ­ten com­ments.


Our first remark was that the con­crete threat­ens Stara Maslina and that the water it col­lects can per­ma­nently endan­ger its roots,” Alković said.

Unfortunately, the grow­ers’ warn­ing, some of whom have a 300-year fam­ily tra­di­tion of olive grow­ing, was not taken seri­ously.

Also, at the begin­ning of the sum­mer of 2023, we pointed out the prob­lem of the with­er­ing of Stara Maslina, that is, the prob­lem of exces­sive water in its root sys­tem,” Alković said.

However, few peo­ple took the association’s warn­ing seri­ously. Only Mirko Bujišić, assis­tant direc­tor of the Bar Cultural Center, wanted us to do some­thing, and he was the only one who tried to remove water from the root sys­tem since we did not have per­mis­sion to inter­vene, even though we knew what needed to be done,” Alković said.

In August 2023, Dušan Raičević, the pres­i­dent of the Bar munic­i­pal­ity, formed a com­mis­sion to man­age Stara Maslina, which did not include mem­bers of the Bar Olive Growers Association.

Since then, the asso­ci­a­tion has had no infor­ma­tion about what is being done and how it is being done,” Alković said. Even more wor­ry­ing is that the pres­i­dent formed the com­mis­sion in August, and the inter­ven­tion was expected to start in January next year. Those addi­tional five months in the water must have con­tributed to addi­tional dam­age to the roots.”

He believes that the drainage ditch con­struc­tion and pump instal­la­tion were suc­cess­ful. However, Alković adds that there is still water on the ground, albeit much less than before, but more than would be advis­able.

Like most olive grow­ers, he sug­gested remov­ing excess water from the root sys­tem; although recent inter­ven­tions have yielded results, the prob­lem has not been com­pletely solved.

Our pro­posal is also the gen­eral pub­lic’s: to remove the con­crete ring around the Stara Maslina and the con­crete walls sur­round­ing the tree and to cre­ate the pre­req­ui­sites for the water to drain nat­u­rally,” Alković said.

He cites one of the old­est olive trees in neigh­bor­ing Croatia, Brijuni National Park, as an exam­ple. A sim­ple wooden fence sur­rounds it, and it is an incom­pa­ra­bly more sig­nif­i­cant tourist attrac­tion.

Alković also thinks the con­struc­tion of the tick­et­ing build­ing, which is meant to block the view of the tree from the street, pre­vents sun­light from reach­ing the tree’s base and has allowed weeds, includ­ing ole­an­der, to grow, which can also be harm­ful to the tree.

The Bar Olive Growers Association has an entirely dif­fer­ent approach and believes that the Stara Maslina should be open to view, not hid­den.

The whole com­plex would cer­tainly be much nicer if the con­crete was removed and the grass was allowed to beau­tify the space,” Alković said.

We are sure Stara Maslina would con­tinue to live and could be a big­ger tourist attrac­tion if the con­crete around it were removed,” he added. We should also remove the ole­an­der that sur­rounds it, which we know can be harm­ful.”


Related Articles