`Centuries-Old Groves Restored and Harvested at Trajan's Historic Home - Olive Oil Times

Centuries-Old Groves Restored and Harvested at Trajan's Historic Home

By Paolo DeAndreis
Nov. 30, 2022 14:00 UTC

Freshly pro­duced Trajan’s Olive Oil will be for­mally pre­sented today in Civitavecchia, a coastal city north of Rome.

The extra vir­gin olive oil, named after the Roman Emperor who presided over its most sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary expan­sion, is pro­duced from the olives of hun­dreds of ancient trees which had been neglected for cen­turies.

(This) ini­tia­tive is reviv­ing the long-neglected area of the city into a green and lively one, with envi­ron­men­tal and edu­ca­tional impli­ca­tions.- Stefano De Paolis, project man­ager, Trajan’s Olive Oil

So far, 30 hectares of olive trees have been restored in and around the city, a chal­leng­ing effort due to the uneven slopes and the thick­ness of the veg­e­ta­tion that has freely grown among the olive trees for years. Workers have 50 hectares still to address.

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Restoration in Civitavecchia

When you look at those trees, you can­not rec­og­nize a clear cul­ti­va­tion pat­tern; there is no tra­di­tional olive grove set up here,” Angelo Murri, an agron­o­mist and miller at the OP Latium pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tion, told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Farmers in Lazio Kick Off Harvest at Emperor Hadrian’s Estate

The rea­son is the rocky nature of the land,” he added. We can assume many of those trees were planted where they could grow; oth­ers have prob­a­bly spread nat­u­rally as the cen­turies went by.”

Murri is among sev­eral local experts coop­er­at­ing in the new project launched by Università Agraria, a pub­lic-inter­est land-man­age­ment orga­ni­za­tion.

Our goal is to give new oppor­tu­ni­ties to a younger gen­er­a­tion of farm­ers and food and cook­ing stu­dents while also boost­ing the olive restora­tion project, pro­mot­ing extra vir­gin olive oil cul­ture and the local food spe­cial­ties,” Stefano De Paolis, owner of Tenuta del Gattopuzzo and Trajan’s Olive Oil project man­ager, told Olive Oil Times.

The ref­er­ence to the name of the Roman Emperor comes from the his­toric nature of the olive grove and the ubiq­ui­tous pres­ence of Trajan’s legacy in the region.

Trajan ruled at the end of the first cen­tury CE. He built the port that trans­formed Civitavecchia into a hub of Roman com­merce. The port remains among the most rel­e­vant in the European Union.

Constructed over an ear­lier Etruscan set­tle­ment, the ancient city was named Centum Cellae (“The hun­dred rooms,” in Latin), which is believed to be linked to the remark­able size of the villa that Trajan had built near the port.

Trajan’s name has also been asso­ci­ated with the local Roman baths and the neigh­bor­ing gar­dens. A statue of the Roman ruler still greets vis­i­tors in Civitavecchia head­ing toward the sea.

However, the bonds of a com­plex bureau­cracy regard­ing land man­age­ment and the sta­tus of Civitavecchia as a sea­port hin­dered the restora­tion projects for many years, as pub­lic atten­tion and fund­ing were mainly ded­i­cated to devel­op­ing the sup­ply and logis­tics infra­struc­ture.

In a city like this, dom­i­nated by indus­try, Trajan’s Olive Oil ini­tia­tive aims to sup­port a new approach to local agri­cul­ture, fos­ter­ing olive research and olive oil qual­ity and part­ner­ing with local schools, olive grow­ers and millers,” De Paolis said.

In such an envi­ron­ment, the Università Agraria ini­tia­tive is reviv­ing the long-neglected area of the city into a green and lively one, with envi­ron­men­tal and edu­ca­tional impli­ca­tions,” he added.

In the past decades, small por­tions of Mandrione Park, where some of the olive groves are located, have spo­rad­i­cally been har­vested by locals who are enti­tled to the olives of cer­tain trees.

When we first arrived, we did not expect to find such old trees,” Murri said. They are liv­ing mon­u­ments which in some cases had grown up to 20 meters, with the high­est branches pro­trud­ing upwards, end­lessly reach­ing for the sun while the lower por­tions grew mixed with the sur­round­ing veg­e­ta­tion.”

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This is an extra­or­di­nary her­itage, with very ancient trees whose value goes way beyond the eco­nomic impli­ca­tions of olive pro­duc­tion,” De Paolis added. After a few years of work, we have finally been able to pro­ceed with the first exper­i­men­tal har­vest.”

Due to the cul­ti­va­tion and pro­duc­tion meth­ods, Trajan’s Olive Oil meets the require­ments to be cer­ti­fied as a Rome PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) olive oil.

In front of those broad old trees, Murri and his col­leagues map the restored por­tions of the olive grove, iden­ti­fy­ing the olive vari­eties and their quan­ti­ties.

See Also:Olive Oil Production Revived in The Former Papal States

From our first sur­veys, we can say that there are, on aver­age, approx­i­mately 50 to 60 olive trees per hectare for a total of more than 2,000 trees,” Murri said.

While most of the olive vari­eties are usu­ally grown in the region, such as Canino, Leccino and Moraiolo, about 40 per­cent of the grove com­prises the much rarer Sirole cul­ti­var. All of the vari­eties are included in the Rome PGI.

Murri added that most of the sur­veyed trees are cen­turies old. While a thor­ough analy­sis should be car­ried out to have a pre­cise deter­mi­na­tion, I say that there are many 700 to 800 years old,” with the pos­si­bil­ity of some being more than 1,000 years old.

For var­i­ous rea­sons, har­vest­ing the olives has been a daunt­ing task. They almost exclu­sively grow on the high­est parts of the canopy, inex­tri­ca­bly mixed with abun­dant branches and other veg­e­ta­tion.

We could not pro­ceed with any con­ven­tional method,” Murri said. There were so many leaves and dry branches in the lower por­tions.”

However, Bolsena, a local agribusi­ness, sup­plied the ini­tia­tive with its olive shaker. Then they sep­a­rated the olives from the dry branches to avoid bring­ing tons of wood to the mill,” Murri added.

Even after the first exper­i­men­tal har­vest was con­ducted, the par­ties behind the ini­tia­tive are already look­ing ahead at work to be done before the 2023 har­vest.

That is the real chal­lenge, to restore those ancient trees and bring them back to pro­duc­tion,” Murri said. Pruning must be car­ried out with a very del­i­cate approach to main­tain the extra­or­di­nary nature of the trees, work­ing to lower the green canopy bit by bit.”

The har­vest will always need a shaker,” he added. The good thing is that the trees are healthy and have strong roots that have grown for cen­turies.”

The first 10 days of the exper­i­ment har­vest pro­duced 2,500 kilo­grams of olives. It is so lit­tle when you think of the num­ber and dimen­sion of the trees, but the har­vest­ing has been a highly com­plex oper­a­tion,” De Paolis said.

Still, both the grow­ers and our­selves have acquired some expe­ri­ence now, and the young­sters who worked with us have also ben­e­fited from a beau­ti­ful and nat­ural expe­ri­ence,” he added.

The Rome PGI labels will allow Università Agraria to mar­ket the new extra vir­gin olive oil with a highly rec­og­niz­able logo fea­tur­ing the Colosseum.

It is part of a strat­egy to give Trajan’s extra vir­gin olive oil bot­tles the con­text they need to appeal to cus­tomers,” De Paolis said.

A series of events are also planned from December to involve local culi­nary stu­dents and present the extra vir­gin olive oil to con­sumers, exporters and food experts to give value to the unique con­nec­tion among local food spe­cial­ties, agri­cul­tural oppor­tu­ni­ties, his­tory and global mar­kets,” he con­cluded.


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