From the orchards of Palestine to Bilad al-Sham, olive trees have been praised for their fortitude. Their wood, dense and stubborn, is as durable and is characterized by most appealing patterns of almost-swirling veins.
DID YOU KNOW?
In Latin, oliva means “olive fruit” or “olive tree.” The word is believed to come from the archaic Proto-Greek elaíwa.
Did you know?
Olive wood is harvested from two species of olive trees. The first is Olea europaea, originating from the Eastern Mediterranean, Syria, parts of Anatolia, the southern end of the Caspian Sea, and Northern Iran, and is known for its versatile wood and tasteful olives. The second, Olea capensis, grows in East Africa and across Subsaharan Africa, and is also named ironwood.
DID YOU KNOW?
A LONG LIFE
Olive trees can live exceptionally long, growing slowly up to 40 meters. However, most olive trees grow up to 10 meters only.
More than 5000 years ago already, olive trees were commercially cultivated in current-day Crete and Syria. Even before that, olives were an integral part of the diet in what is now Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Spain. Some of the flora in Tutankhamun’s collars, used in the mummification process and buried with him, are olive leaves, cornflowers, and poppies. In Ancient Greece, people turned to olive oil for cooking, but also for lighting and ointments.
In Ancient Roman mythology, the olive tree was made to sprout by Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and justice. According to another myth, it was Hercules who brought down the first olive tree from the heavens. Further in Ancient Rome, olive oil was used as an offering to the gods. The olive tree and its lumber are mentioned numerous times in the Hebrew Bible and are often seen as a symbol of wisdom or purity. A widely known symbol of peace is a white dove holding an olive branch or leaf in its beak.
Due to its costly price tag, olive wood is carved into high-end specialty wood items, kitchen utensils, wooden bowls, cutting boards, and decorative art pieces rather than sizable objects today. Olive oil is an indispensable ingredient in uncountable dishes, such as İmam bayıldı. Literally “the imam fainted,” this is a dish from the Ottoman cuisine that contains eggplant, onion, garlic, tomatoes, and a lot of olive oil. One story behind the name explains that the imam fainted when he heard how much—expensive—olive oil went into making his favorite food. Because of its dermatological properties, the world-famous Nabulsi and Aleppo soap are made from virgin olive oil.
THE ISLAMIC TRADITION
Olive wood has been cut into Islamic prayer beads for centuries. Pilgrims going to al-Quds would often bring home olive wood decorative carvings as a souvenir. The olive tree is enrooted within the Palestinian national identity, symbolising Palestinian steadsfastness as it is deeply valued for its ability to send down deep roots in land where water is, and thrive. References to olives and their oil appear multiple times in the Qur’an, and the Hadith calls the olive tree blessed, encouraging us to eat its oil and anoint ourselves with it.