World

Giving New Life to Ancient Olive Trees in Spain

Amador Peset, a young man from the village of Traiguera, started recovering millenary olive trees after losing his job as a carpenter during the financial crisis in Spain. “At first, people saw me as if I were crazy," he said.

Amador Peset
Dec. 23, 2016
By Pablo Esparza
Amador Peset

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The Sénia region, halfway between Barcelona and Valencia, is known as the land of mil­lenary olive trees in Spain.

In this stretch of ter­ri­tory of no more than 50km, just a few dozens of km inland from cen­tral Spain’s Mediterranean coast, there are over 4,900 olive trees believed to be over 1,000 years old.

The Taula del Sénia, a local insti­tu­tion cov­er­ing 27 munic­i­pal­i­ties within the Catalonia, Valencia and Aragon regions, started an offi­cial census of these ancient trees back in 2009. But this is an ongo­ing task, as many of them have long been aban­doned.

“I would say with cer­tainty that this is the ter­ri­tory with the largest con­cen­tra­tion of mil­lenary olive trees. We can find mil­lenary olive trees all around the Mediterranean: in Italy, Greece, in the Southern Mediterranean and in other regions of Spain. But we usu­ally find iso­lated trees, often very mon­u­men­tal and beau­ti­ful. What we find here is some­thing unique,” Teresa Adell, man­ager of the Taula del Sénia, told Olive Oil Times.



 

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Most of the mil­lenary olive trees in this area lie along the old Via Augusta, a Roman way that linked Cadis, in the South of the Iberian Peninsula, with the cap­i­tal of the empire. The rel­a­tive under­de­vel­op­ment of the Sénia ter­ri­tory until recent times has been one of the main rea­sons for their preser­va­tion.

In order to be reg­is­tered as a mil­lenary olive tree, the diam­e­ter of the trunk has to be over 3.5m at a height of 1.3m. A major­ity of the spec­i­mens belong to a local vari­ety of olive trees known as “Farga”

The Polytechnic University of Madrid dated two of these trees with a laser mea­sur­ing tech­nique. According to that study, one of them, known as “la Farga de l’Arión”, was planted in the times of the Roman emperor Constantine I, more than 1,700 years ago.

The other, known as “la Farga del Pou del Mas,” dates back to the first half of the 9th cen­tury, when Islamic Iberia was ruled by the emir Abd ar-Rahman II.

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The census has been a key tool to create aware­ness of the cul­tural and eco­nomic value of these pieces of her­itage that had been ignored, if not neglected, for years.

“Millenary olive trees were for­got­ten until recent years. Farmers in the area had the opin­ion that they were dif­fi­cult to cul­ti­vate and that it took longer to har­vest them. We saw those trees every day, but we did not pay a great deal of atten­tion to them,” Adell said.

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“Our project, Millenary Olive Trees of the Sénia, has changed things a lot. Opinions have dra­mat­i­cally changed. Now these olive trees are loved by locals as their own her­itage,” she added.

Millenary olive trees have often been bought and sold as orna­men­tal plants for gar­dens. Although this traf­fic was for­bid­den in Valencia in 2006, it is still legal in Catalonia.

However, the per­cep­tion of this trade has largely changed in the area.

Pablo Esparza

“Our project started because we were wor­ried to see theses olive trees uprooted to be sold. We saw that as a threat as we felt that our her­itage was being stolen. Now that trade and pil­lag­ing have been very much slowed down. Now it’s a matter of shame as it is not accepted,” Adell said.

In 2016, the trade of mil­lenary olive trees has been the sub­ject the Spanish film “El Olivo” (The olive tree, 2016), by Iciar Bollaín, which depicts the fight of a family to recover a spec­i­men that had been brought to Germany.

But, apart from the acknowl­edg­ment of their cul­tural value among farm­ers in the area, the growth in the prof­itabil­ity of the oil pro­duced from mil­lenary olive trees has also helped in their preser­va­tion.

At the moment, there are eight local pro­duc­ers labeled with the “mil­lenary olive trees’ oil” brand.

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Amador Peset, a young man from the vil­lage of Traiguera, started recov­er­ing mil­lenary olive trees and bring­ing them back to pro­duc­tion four years ago, after losing his job as a car­pen­ter during the finan­cial crisis in Spain.

“At first, people saw me as if I were crazy. It is not normal that a young man starts clean­ing and remov­ing weeds from trees that were aban­doned. But, when they see there is a way out, that it can have a solu­tion and this oil can be sold, they see you in a dif­fer­ent way,” Peset told Olive Oil Times.

The mil­lenary olive trees project has two open-air muse­ums in areas with a spe­cial den­sity of mil­lenary olive trees in the vil­lages of Ulldecona and La Jana, and also involves local restau­rants using Farga oil on their tra­di­tional dishes.