Olive Oil Tourism Returns to the Colosseum as Italy Reopens

The reopening of the Colosseum Archeological Park means that visitors can once again connect with Ancient Roman culture through olive oil production.
May. 27, 2021
Paolo DeAndreis

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The Colosseum Archeological Park in Rome has announced the open­ing of its new Barberini Vineyards.

Beginning on May 28, vis­i­tors will be able to walk through the vines just as ancient Romans did 1,000 years before.

Olives, grapes, honey and other projects, includ­ing the work­shops with olive tast­ings and olive oil classes, are all meant to bear wit­ness to the Ancient Roman cul­ture.- Gabriella Strano, land­scape archi­tect

The restora­tion of the wine-grow­ing tra­di­tion on the Palatine Hill, right by the Colosseum, adds to the lat­est expan­sion of the olive trees that dot the park and allow local farm­ers to pro­duce Palatine organic extra vir­gin olive oil.

The park is cur­rently home to 189 olive trees, some of which were planted in the 19th cen­tury and oth­ers in more recent times.

See Also: Archaeologists Bring Roman Villa Back to Life in Malta

Together with the vine­yards and the bee-keep­ing activ­i­ties, the olive trees are meant to recover and bear wit­ness to the com­plex rela­tion­ship devel­oped through the ages on Palatine Hill between humans set­tle­ments and veg­e­ta­tion.

When Ancient Rome’s expan­sion reached this area, the marshes around the hill were reclaimed, and on the top of it, the rich­est fam­i­lies began build­ing their vil­las and plant­ing their orchards,” Gabriella Strano, the land­scape archi­tect of the Colosseum Archeological Park, told Olive Oil Times.

What we are doing now is to inves­ti­gate and recover that tra­di­tion and replant the veg­e­ta­tion that they had here,” she added.

The olive tree is Italians’ nat­ural con­nec­tion to Ancient Rome when most of the local econ­omy depended on agri­cul­ture.

Pliny the Elder, in his Naturalis Historia, empha­sized the essen­tial role that agri­cul­ture played for the Ancient Roman peo­ple,” Strano said. For him, the most rel­e­vant mis­sion for the Roman cit­i­zen was to focus on agri­cul­ture, which meant pro­duc­ing olive oil as well as bar­ley, oats, cere­als, wine and honey.”

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In the long his­tory of the rise and fall of Roman soci­ety, through the Dark Ages until mod­ern times, the set­tle­ments on Palatine Hill and the veg­e­ta­tion under­went pro­found changes.

The new vine­yard repli­cates those that can be seen in planime­try and pic­tures we have dat­ing back to 16th and 18th cen­turies,” Strano said. The area was crowded with grapes; one was found by arche­ol­o­gists even on the top of the Domus Aurea, which was dam­aged by the roots of the plants.”

For the vine­yard, we chose to plant the Bellone vari­ety because of Pliny’s writ­ings and because it was the wine drank by the emper­ors who since Octavian Augustus decided to live on the Palatine Hill,” she added.

Along with the olives and honey, local farm­ers will also har­vest and crush the grapes fol­low­ing Ancient Roman grow­ing instruc­tions.

When we reached an agree­ment with the farm­ers asso­ci­a­tion Coldiretti to have them take care of the olive trees, we estab­lished that prun­ing would be done tak­ing into account the land­scape goals, not the over­all pro­duc­tion,” Strano said.

Harvesting is done by hand,” she added, refer­ring to the sim­i­lar rules that gov­ern how the farm­ers trans­form the local olives into oil.

While dozens of olive trees dot the park or define the bound­aries of the arche­o­log­i­cal exca­va­tions sites, some are more specif­i­cally related to the hill’s his­tory. This is the case of three new olive trees planted right by the remains of the Temple of Minerva.

The pine tree that grew there since the 19th cen­tury recently died,” Strano said. It was planted by Giacomo Boni, the super­vi­sor behind the most rel­e­vant reshap­ing and reset­tling works on the hill.”

When it was removed, we decided to plant the trees once cher­ished by Domiziano, the emperor who wor­shipped the god­dess Minerva,” Strano added.

Domiziano, who also lived on the hill as his pre­de­ces­sors did, is cred­ited with fin­ish­ing the Colosseum in 90 CE.

The idea behind Palatine extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion is rel­a­tively recent, accord­ing to Strano. The idea was first pro­posed to solve the prob­lem caused by the olives when they fell off the trees and onto the pedes­trian paths each year.

Advocates of the idea saw it as an oppor­tu­nity to pro­mote 100-per­cent Italian olive oil, to set up edu­ca­tional work­shops and tast­ing classes and add a new kind of his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence for tourists.

Olives, grapes, honey and other projects, includ­ing the work­shops with olive tast­ings and olive oil classes, are all meant to bear wit­ness to the Ancient Roman cul­ture,” Strano said. In an arche­o­log­i­cal site, such as this one, cul­ture con­tin­ues to live.”

Before the Covid-19 pan­demic, the Colosseum Archeological Park greeted more than 22,000 vis­i­tors each day from all over the world.

The insti­tu­tion felt the effects of the lock­downs, but we tried to be resilient and took advan­tage of this time to do the main­te­nance and develop works that had to be delayed before,” Strano said.

Park man­age­ment is now opti­misti­cally antic­i­pat­ing the relax­ation of the emer­gency mea­sures in Italy and the Covid-19 green-pass within the European Union.

We are ready to greet all vis­i­tors now, to let them explore the park in absolute safety and respect of the san­i­tary lim­i­ta­tions,” Strano said.





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