Olive Oil Production Returns to Pompeii 2,000 Years After Volcanic Eruption

Ministers and farming organizations tasted local extra virgin olive oil and table olives while promoting a UNESCO nomination for Italian cuisines.
Archeologic ruins of Pompeii, Italy
By Paolo DeAndreis
Aug. 7, 2023 16:03 UTC

Three hun­dred fifty olive trees dot­ting the arche­o­log­i­cal area of Pompeii, in south­ern Italy, are the source of the first olive oil pro­duced in the ancient city since the dis­as­trous vol­canic erup­tion entombed it in 79 C.E.

During a cer­e­mony held on the porch of the Large Palaestra, a sug­ges­tive loca­tion in the heart of the archae­o­log­i­cal site, farm­ing orga­ni­za­tions, olive grow­ers and gov­ern­ment min­is­ters tasted and cel­e­brated the Pumpaiia extra vir­gin olive oil, named after the city.

This extra vir­gin olive oil is the fruit of a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort of our asso­ci­a­tions and the Archeological Park of Pompeii insti­tu­tions,” Nicola Di Noia, the direc­tor gen­eral of the olive oil pro­ducer asso­ci­a­tion, Unaprol, and pres­i­dent of the agri­cul­tural sup­port ser­vices of the farm­ing orga­ni­za­tion, Coldiretti, told Olive Oil Times. Across the city, hun­dreds of olive trees have been restored.”

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The olive trees grow across 66 hectares in the his­toric Roman city, pop­u­lat­ing the court­yards of Pompeii’s ancient houses and some green spaces.

That is one of the chal­lenges. To har­vest the olives and take care of the trees, grow­ers need to spread around such a large sur­face,” Di Noia said.

Upon recov­ery, the olive trees were pruned accord­ing to their loca­tion, with an eye on both pro­duc­tion and land­scape needs.

Besides the olive trees, a num­ber of local plant species used to grow in Pompeii. They have all been recov­ered as part of the restora­tion project,” Di Noia noted.

Pompeii’s olive trees include pop­u­lar Italian cul­ti­vars such as Moraiolo and Leccino, but many come from local cul­ti­vars, which are far less known.

There are olive trees strictly linked to the region, such as Ravece, Ortice or Carpellese,” Di Noia said. The Pompeii Archeological Park has always been active in research­ing ancient species with the goal to recover not only its trees but to revive the unique link [of mod­ern Pompeii] to its his­tory.”

There are Domus, the court­yards of which have been restored, where plants from those ancient times now thrive again,” he added.

The local farm­ers and asso­ci­a­tions are respon­si­ble for prun­ing the trees and attend­ing to their needs through­out the sea­son, har­vest­ing and trans­form­ing the olives.

All of the olive oil pro­duced by those olives becomes Pompeii’s unique extra vir­gin olive oil and is returned to the Archeological Park,” Di Noia said. This ini­tia­tive is not busi­ness-ori­ented. Its mean­ing lies in pro­mot­ing the his­tor­i­cal con­nec­tion with Pompeii’s ori­gins.”

Ancient Pompeiians con­sumed plenty of olive oil, which was only par­tially pro­duced by local grow­ers. Most of the olive oil was imported from regions across the Roman Empire.

They used it for many pur­poses, not only for con­sump­tion but also for cleans­ing or cos­met­ics, typ­i­cal of those ancient days. Think of the use of olive oil as fuel. Olive oil lamps once lit the whole of Pompeii,” Di Noia said.

The recov­ery of the olive trees comes on the heels of sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives to restore the ancient olive her­itage of other arche­o­log­i­cal parks in the coun­try.

Among the exam­ples of recov­ery projects are Palatine’s olive oil pro­duced from the trees in the Colosseum Park in Rome or olive oil pro­duced from thou­sands of trees planted at the villa of the Roman emperor Hadrian, not far from the Italian cap­i­tal.

Those are exam­ples of recov­ery which we hope may also inspire other ini­tia­tives to com­bat the aban­don­ment of olive orchards through­out the coun­try, such as the ini­tia­tive in the Apennines,” Di Noia said.

Table olives were also pre­sented to the Italian min­is­ters on the porch of the Large Palaestra.

Pompeii’s res­i­dents avidly con­sumed table olives,” Di Noia said. There are arche­o­log­i­cal inscrip­tions that detail the use of table olives. Receipts to pro­duce them were found.”

At the time, they pro­duced table olives only by nat­ural meth­ods, of course,” he added. Even if they were not grown in Pompeii, the table olives we pre­sented at the event are the fruit of that same ancient approach. Instead, they are bit­ter nat­ural table olives, full of antiox­i­dants.”

The cel­e­bra­tion in Pompeii comes ad the Italian gov­ern­ment seeks to pro­mote its cui­sine as a can­di­date for selec­tion for UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

The food and wine pro­duc­tion chain is part of the Italian her­itage,” Gennaro Sangiuliano, min­is­ter of Culture, said dur­ing the event. Culture and food tra­di­tion is an oppor­tu­nity for socio-eco­nomic devel­op­ment.”


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