Unveiling the Mystery and Magic Surrounding Tuscany’s Olivo della Strega

Believed to be a gathering place of witches and other mythical creatures, radiocarbon dating confirms the tree may not live for much longer.

Olivo della Strega. Photo: Dianora-Tinti
By Francesca Oliva
Jun. 4, 2023 10:33 UTC
Olivo della Strega. Photo: Dianora-Tinti

In the heart of the Grosseto Maremma, just out­side the town walls of Magliano, Tuscany, stands an awe-inspir­ing nat­ural won­der that has cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of locals and vis­i­tors alike.

Behind the 15th-cen­tury Church of Santissima Annunziata lies the incred­i­ble Olivo della Strega, a mon­u­men­tal tes­ta­ment to the mys­ter­ies of the past.

This ancient olive tree, believed to have existed for more than 3,500 years, stands as one of the most ancient doc­u­mented exam­ples glob­ally.

See Also:Safeguarding Italy’s Millenary Trees

The name Olivo della Strega car­ries with it a rich tapes­try of leg­ends that have been handed down for cen­turies.

According to these tales, dur­ing the Middle Ages, the tree was believed to be a gath­er­ing place for witches from the Maremma region.

Accompanied by myth­i­cal crea­tures such as fauns (half-human and half-goat) and cen­taurs (half-human and half-horse), witches would con­vene on the night of St. John’s Eve, June 23rd, amidst pagan rit­u­als linked to the sum­mer sol­stice.

During these mys­te­ri­ous gath­er­ings, the leg­ends say a pow­er­ful witch would dance around the ancient tree, com­pelling it to con­tort itself into its present form. Then, as the rit­ual reached its cli­max, the witch would trans­form into an enor­mous cat with fiery eyes, becom­ing the tree’s guardian through­out the night.

The Olivo della Strega is a remark­able tes­ta­ment to the pas­sage of time, with its weath­ered trunk and branches pre­serv­ing the sto­ries of ancient rit­u­als and super­nat­ural trans­for­ma­tions.

According to ancient oral tra­di­tions, pagan rites were per­formed around the tree, and the invo­ca­tion of priests would elicit oth­er­worldly responses, caus­ing the olive tree to twist into eerie and unset­tling forms.

These mys­ti­cal trans­for­ma­tions led to the asso­ci­a­tion of witch­craft with the tree, earn­ing it the evoca­tive name of the Olivo della Strega.

The leg­ends fur­ther tell of Maremma witches who gath­ered beneath its branches, engag­ing in their Sabbatic rit­u­als and invok­ing the devil. The image of a witch danc­ing around the tree on Friday nights, shap­ing it to her will, has become ingrained in the col­lec­tive mem­ory of the region.

Once again, the rit­ual was said to con­clude with the lead witch trans­form­ing into a cat to serve as the guardian of the tee until day­break.

Amidst the allure of these leg­ends, the Olivo della Strega stands as a cher­ished sym­bol of Magliano in Tuscany’s ancient her­itage.

Although par­tially pet­ri­fied, its weath­ered trunk con­tin­ues to pro­duce olives each year through a small shoot. The car­bon dat­ing analy­sis con­firms its cur­rent decline, esti­mat­ing the age of the new growth to be 290 years old, with approx­i­mately one-third of the orig­i­nal struc­ture remain­ing.

Regrettably, the tree is on a path to extinc­tion, pro­jected to die within the next 90 years. Yet, its con­tin­u­ous pres­ence serves as a tes­ta­ment to the endur­ing fas­ci­na­tion with super­nat­ural tales and the mys­ti­cal forces of nature.

Visitors from far and wide are drawn to this liv­ing mon­u­ment, cap­ti­vated by the sto­ries that have unfolded beneath its ancient boughs for count­less gen­er­a­tions.

The Olivo della Strega holds a spe­cial place in the hearts of the locals, a sym­bol of the myth­i­cal her­itage of Magliano in Tuscany.

As it con­tin­ues to stand tall, it invites all who wit­ness it to pon­der the enig­matic past and mar­vel at the mys­ter­ies that sur­round it, pre­serv­ing the magic of bygone eras for gen­er­a­tions to come.

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