The olive or olive tree (scientific name: Olea) is a genus of fruit trees in the family of Oleaceae found in much of Greece. The olive oil is produced by olive fruits that are called also olives. The olive tree has been the symbol of the goddess Athena.

It is an evergreen tree with leaves opposite, lanceolate, leathery, dark green on the upper surface and silvery on the bottom. The flowers are whitish colour, unilamellar, very small forming inflorescence votryos and appear towards the ends of May, while the fruit ripens and is collected in late autumn and early winter. The trunk of the olive tree is gnarled and covered with tefrofaio cortex.

The olive tree tolerates drought well, which makes its cultivation possible in conditions of extreme drought in which no other fruit tree can be grown.

The olive lighted, nourished, cured, crowned, beautified and identified with high ideals and inspired the for many years vigorous civilization of Eastern Mediterranean. It has been the symbol of knowledge, wisdom, abundance, peace, health, strength and beauty and it was worshiped for thousands of years.

The olive tree grows in temperate climates without temperature extremes (average annual temperature of 16oC) and humidity, so it is widespread in the Mediterranean area (such Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Algeria and elsewhere). It grows in many regions of the world, provided the temperature doesn’t fall too much and for extended periods below zero. Thus, the most suitable areas for cultivation are the seaside. The trees are planted in straight rows or diamond (rhomboid) provisions. Depending on the variety and quality of the soil, the distance between the rows ranges from 7 to 20 meters. The area planted with oil trees is called “olive grove” (elaionas).

Given the important role the olive played over the centuries in everyday life of the Mediterranean peoples and Greece particularly, its branches, fruit and olive oil, the “juice” of the olive tree, are symbolic and hold a place of honor in various activities of the local residents’ life.

Bronze head of fighter at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. The athlete is crowned with a wreath, the only surviving part of which is the stem.

The olive wreath (also known as kotinos) from twigs of the sacred wild olive tree that had germinated out of the rear porch (opisthodromos) of the Temple of Zeus in Olympia  was the price for the victor at the ancient Olympics [6] During the Panathenaia, both the olive tree beside the Erechteion and the wreaths made from olive branches played also an important role. Taking part in the sacred procession through the streets of Athens were the thallophoroi, handsome and straight elderly men who carried olive-branches in their hands. [7] The Athenians who considered themselves civilized used to hold olive-branches, while the emancipated slaves and barbarians were holding oak-branches, as the oak tree represents the primitive culture, the harnshness and brutality [8].

It is interesting the fact that the Olympics were calle stephanitic (crown-games) or sacred contest since the prizes were simple wreaths, unlike the Panathenaic Games that were not considered to be stephanitic because the olive wreath was accompanied with valuable material prizes.

The olive fruit provides fibers and minerals to the human body and it is good source of vitamin E which is natural antioxidant. Moreover, vitamin E is considered that slows the deterioration of cell membranes and fights osteoporosis.

In the Hippocratic Code more than sixty medicinal uses of olive can be found.

The use of olive branches in many kinds of ancient rituals (as purifications or cleansings) identifies the symbolism of the olive as a tree of good. Its indirect connection to the light (the burning oil is the primitive source of light) was treated by human being according to the uniqueness of a tree involved in worship.

In Greek tradition, the olive tree is considered the tree of peace. Eirene herself (goddess who was daughter of Zeus and Thetis) appeared with an olive-branch in her hands. In the wars there was no better way or better symbol for the cease of hostilities. The messengers who were carrying the peace message or calling for a truce had to hold an olive-branch in their hand. It was the undeniable sacred symbol that declared the intentions of those who decided to send it. In the tragedy of Oedipus and his descendents, that is the myth that inspired Sophocles and Euripides, Jocasta carried an olive-branch to Polynieces asking him to reconcile with his brother Eteocles.

The conceptions on the symbolism of the olive-branches and the tree were maintained even in later eras. The phrase “branch of olive” is still used in the Greek language declaring the peace efforts (“offers an olive-branch or came with olive-branch”).

The olive tree is the oldest known cultivated tree in the world as its cultivation is dated more than 6000 years ago.  According to some references, the olive was first cultivated in Africa (Abyssinia-Egypt). Some argue that the olive tree spread from Northern Syria to the Greek islands and mainland, and around 600 BC the olive cultivation spread to Italy, Sicily, Sardinia and other Mediterranean countries. Regardless of the origin and the way the olive was spread, the fact is that its cultivation was extensively spread to the European continent and perhaps its present name “European Olive” (Olea Europea) may have arisen from it. In particular, in the Mediterranean basin, the olive tree is the main cultivation from ancient times to today.

The olive tree tolerates drought well, which makes its cultivation possible in conditions of extreme drought in which no other fruit tree can be grown.

The olive lighted, nourished, cured, crowned, beautified and identified with high ideals and inspired the for many years vigorous civilization of Eastern Mediterranean. It has been the symbol of knowledge, wisdom, abundance, peace, health, strength and beauty and it was worshiped for thousands of years.