Civil Society Cultural Landscapes Natural Heritage

A cultural landscape of millenary olive trees

Breathe.

Breathe again.

What’s that smell? It’s the scent of millenary olive trees. Behold a cultural landscape carefully cared for by generation after generation of farmers in order for everybody  to continue enjoying their exquisite oils, to our day. An olive oil the color of gold, with a soft scent balanced by the aroma of leaves, leaving an aftertaste of soft fruit.

That’s what these “seas of millenary olive tress” taste like. They have witnessed the passage of kingdoms and civilizations, they have endured frosts and draughts, and, more recently, they have escaped from being pulled out and transplanted to urban gardens thanks to the protection they have been granted by some institutions and by Sénia Territory, an organization that strives for their preservation through their study, the selling of their oil and the promotion of oil tourism in the area.

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A sea of olive trees made up of millenary specimens and dry-stone walls.

BUT… WHERE ARE THEY AND WHY ARE THESE OLIVE TREES MILLENARY?

Territory Sénia, to the east of the Iberian Peninsula, is composed of 27 municipalities between the Valencian Community (15), Catalonia (9) and Aragon (3). This territory covers an area of 2,070 sq km and its population reaches 113,000 inhabitants. It has been an area intensely cultivated with olive trees since ancient times, so much so that the river Sénia itself, a modest sized water course that flows directly into the Mediterranean, was known to the Romans as the Oleum Flumen (the river of oil).

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From left to right.: the sitting president of Territory Sénia Rhamsés Sipollès Puig (Mayor of Morella) along with members of the Hispania Nostra Association, Núria Ventura Brusca (Mayor of Ulldecona) and the architect Javier Hidalgo Mora.

Millenary olive trees are those that have, at the very least, a trunk with a contour that measures 3,5 meters at a height of 1.30 meters from the ground. Their olives are picked manually from the tree itself and transported to one of the eight oil mills of the area, producing what is known as extra virgin olive oil from millenary olive trees.

Nowadays, there is a census of almost 4,800 millenary olive trees, 966 of which lie within the municipality of La Jana, which makes this the area with the largest concentration of millenary olive trees in the world.

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Teresa Merello de Miguel  taking a picture of the oldest olive tree according to studies carried out by researchers at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. With a 20% margin of error, they have established that it is 1,701 years old, that is, that it was planted during the reign of the emperor Constantine I, the Great.

TWO NATURAL MUSEUMS.

There are two natural museums to be visited with the help of information panels that detail the size, characteristics and coordinates of the most relevant trees:

-The Farga del Arión, with 35 specimens distributed  on 1,3 hectares.

La Jana, with 21 millenary olive tress distributed on a little less than 1 hectare of land.

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Signage of the natural museum Farga del Arión at Ulldecona (Tarragona).

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Teresa Adell, the manager of the Mancomunidad del Territorio del Sénia accompanies us and gives us an excellent tour.

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According to the researches, this specimen is around 1,182 years old, hence it was grafted in 833 AD, during the emirate of Abd ar-Rahman II.

To stroll along this land is to be in the company of live sculptures that require to be seen slowly and calmly. They are a gift to artists who have been inspired to carried out creative endeavors such as the movie “El Olivo” (2016) by Icíar Bollaín, which tells the story of Alma, a young woman who sets off to Germany to find and recover the millenary olive tree that her family once sold and is the only thing that will give her grandfather a reason to live on, since he was against the tree leaving their land from the start.

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María and Blanca, a volunteer and the secretary of Hispania Nostra respectively, walk through the natural museum of La Farga del Arión on their way to taste the olive oil extracted from the trees they have just seen.

A RECOGNIZED CULTURAL LANDSCAPE.

Walking across these fields we think thinks that we have never been anywhere in the world with such a large concentration of olive trees, in a place with such energy and taken care of with such care by a farmers so generously involved in preserving these traditions above their economic benefit.  One feels the place to be so natural, but at the same time, so greatly transformed by mankind.  And one thinks that places like these set an example. When, later, one discovers how many times this effort has been awarded, everything makes sense.

This great endeavor is carried out thanks to the laudable coordination between different administrations and regions, recovering traditions with respect towards the land and returning the economic benefit of it all to its inhabitants. Hence, it has been worthy of various awards: Hispania Nostra 2013, EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards in 2014 and, more recently, it has received a special mention in Landscape Award of the Council of Europe.

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Right: Awards / Left: The olive tree has been profoundly linked to human kind for thousands of years and is considered sacred, so, “with permission from mother earth” I will not skip the chance of receiving its force and knowledge…;-)

BESIDES, TO ENJOY THIS EXPERIENCE WITH THE BEST OF COMPANIES, IS AN ADDED PLUS.

Every year the la Asociación Hispania Nostra, which, since 1976 works to defend and promote Spain’s cultural and natural heritage, celebrates a gathering of its member associations. This year the chosen location were these lands. We had time to debate very interesting issues regarding “heritage education” but also to enjoy this landscape, taste olive oils of different kinds and in different states combined with a delicious gastronomy. The conversation during these meals shared with heritage lovers always returned to the same idea: the reasserting that civil society plays an essential role in safeguarding our heritage.

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Attendees of the 35th Meeting of Associations and entities for the defense of heritage in La Jara. October 2016. Picture by Hispania Nostra.

Hurray for the best of Heritage!!! 😉

Until the next post,

Libe

5 Comments

  1. I can smell the olive trees! Thank you, Libe, now I really like to visit Ulldecona :).

    • Really? 😉 I am glad that my words have caused this sense.

      Territory Sénia is an atypical heritage site. It has been a pleasure to share with us.
      It was a very good experience for me… I don’t mind coming back.. with you! 😉

      Thanks, Carola.

  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ez7vUC3Ospk&feature=share

    I just found something similar in Croatia…
    always admired such old trees which stood there unchanged through centuries (or thousands of years)…and they are still there…

  3. and I just wanted to say that that you gave me idea maybe to write about linden tree in Slavic culture…Slavic tribes before Christianity usually lived in oak and linden forests and cutting those trees were find bad luck.
    Even today is custom when you make a roof you put a small branch of linden for protection and good luck 🙂

    • Hi, Katerina!

      In fact, while I was writing the article I came upon information regarding Italy’s millenary olive trees, but I didn’t know of their existence in Croatia. I wish we could do a heritage tour travelling around these countries, from olive tree to olive tree! 😉 Oh, the marvels of the Mediterranean!

      I encourage you to write about the linden tree in Slavic culture, because in Asturias, in Northern Spain, there are also many ancestral stories regarding that species and it would be great to trace their links.

      Thank you for your comment and I am glad to hear that the post has inspired you.
      Kind regards,
      Libe

      *about Italy’s millenary olive trees: http://www.ulivisecolaridipuglia.com/en/millenary-olive-trees/

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