Sixteen secular olive trees popped up in the streets of Milan, just steps away from the Duomo di Milano, the majestic Gothic cathedral that sits right in the city center, by the shopping district.

The trees were brought to the the Piazza Duomo as part of the Green Life event, which is hosted by Rinascente, a chain of high-end department stores, in celebration of Milan’s design week.

(The installation) pays homage to the incredible Italian vegetation and provides an oasis of greenery in the heart of Milan.- Sabine Marcelis, creator

Every year at this time, what is usually regarded as ‘Italy’s fashion capital’ temporarily dresses up as a hot spot for design enthusiasts. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come from all over the world to enjoy the world’s biggest design fair.

Outside of the main furniture exhibition a set of side events, including art, fashion, food, and technology called Fuorisalone (literally translated as “out fair”), are the backdrop for the Green Life project. Launched two years ago by Rinascente, its goal to raise aware of environmental issues and sustainability.

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This year’s design was conceived by Dutch artist Sabine Marcelis: a small boulevard made up of 16 century-old olive trees arranged on white platforms outside of Rinascente’s flagship store in Piazza Duomo.

The olive tree installation, which creates a perfect place to enjoy a peaceful moment of relaxation in the shade of monumental olive trees, “pays homage to the incredible Italian vegetation and provides an oasis of greenery in the heart of Milan,” the organizer said, adding that this set-up aims to “transform stores into verdant oases” and “help make the city more beautiful and livable for all its residents and daily visitors.”

Nevertheless, the use of secular olive trees taken out of context completely divided opinion: on the one hand there are those who appreciate the aesthetic value of the olive tree boulevard, and on the other, there are those who do not like the idea of seeing age-old olive trees in the street.

“Design Week in Milan, 16 olive trees. Beautiful! You can walk and take some rest. It seems like a dream, but it is reality,” event-goer Carmella Mazzaglia commented on Facebook.

“In Milan a ‘natural’ installation on the occasion of the Design Week. Beautiful olive trees,” Daniela Bordi added in another Facebook comment.

However, some say that secular olive trees should be respected and stay where they belong, in the olive groves, especially in this time of environmental emergency, while a common concern is that the plants have been uprooted from Puglia, which already has a problem with Xylella fastidiosa. Moreover, some fear that the roots have been harmed.

“In such a delicate historical moment in which the urgent need to resolve environmental issues is crucial, seeing an installation of secular olive trees in the center of Milan is a blow to the heart, not only for those like me who come from an area [Puglia] where many olive trees are dying […] I associate this installation with snow cannons in the desert. Something fake, tasteless, superficial,” Francesco Raganato wrote in a critical post on Facebook.

Marcelis, the artist, said she understood the concern of people, such as Raganato, and clarified that the trees were not actually removed from Puglia.

“They were already removed from the earth more than six years ago, in Granada, Spain, to make way for a highway,” Marcelis told Olive Oil Times. “Therefore, we found them in their current state. Their original root space was respected. We merely placed a white protection shell around, respecting the roots and not making the space any smaller.”

Rinascente also sought to clear the air of misconceptions. A spokesperson for the department store told Olive Oil Times that the trees were being kept in appropriate conditions and would find more suitable, permanent homes at the end of the event.

“The olive trees were kept in their soil clods out of the ground for the last six years and have ended up thriving thanks to the type of care and treatment they received from the nursery,” the spokesperson said. “After the event, the trees will be planted in permanent and ideal homes.”

At the end of the event, on April 22, the ancient olive trees will be carefully moved to a new home, and their existence will continue in an appropriate environment.

“I am a nature lover,” Marcelis added. “And this project is all about celebrating nature.”

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