Olive oil & wine culture

Hypogeous olive mill

The olive culture has deep roots in the history passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years, in the interrelationship between past, present and future.
Olive tree cultivation and olive oil production has been with humankind since time immemorial, according to evidence that provide the artefacts and archaeological remains of the most ancient civilisations. The olive has been an integral part of life in the eastern Mediterranean from the first stirrings of civilisation.
Throughout the various civilisations, the olive tree and olive oil have occupied pivotal positions in the agricultural economy of Mediterranean countries and in their commerce with neighbouring populations.
The olive tree was a particularly important symbol for the ancient Greeks. Before starting the day's training or competition, athletes would rub their body with olive oil then dust themselves with fine sand. This helped to regulate their body temperature and protect them from the sun. After competing, athletes would scrape off the sweat, oil and sand with a curved tool called a strigil. Then they would be washed using water and a sponge.
Olive oil was connected to their diet and their religion, and was used as a decorative motif on vases, in gold jewellery and elsewhere. It was considered a symbol of peace, wisdom and victory.
The legendary ancient light of the oil lamp was a main light source for centuries, not only for practical reasons, but also as a part of celebrations .
San Basilio the Great was one of the founding fathers of the modern church and the initiator of the Basilian order of monks, one of the most important engines of civilization in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages. A Basilian monk community was founded where the San Basilio farmland is today. Basilian monks were the fathers of modern olive growing and olive-oil-making techniques in Southeastern Sicily more than 1,200 years ago. We can affirm that in San Basilio olive we've carried on that tradition of excellence ever since.
One of the great symbols in scripture is the symbol of the olive and its oil. The olive symbolizes life, renewal, resilience, and peace and the oil symbolizes purity, protection, health and light. Anciently, much of middle-eastern life revolved around this unique tree with its unusual fruit.
People have used olive presses since Greeks first began pressing olives over 5,000 years ago. Roman olive presses survive to the present time, with a notable collection present in Morocco. An olive press works by applying pressure to olive paste to separate the liquid oil and vegetation water from the solid material. The oil and vegetation water are then separated by standard decantation.
This basic method is still widely used today, and it is still a valid way of producing high quality olive oil if adequate precautions are taken.

The Trapetum was used in ancient times for the production of olive oil.
Broadly speaking, the "trapetum" consisted of a basement in the form of a mortar made of stone called "mortarium", by a stone column or milliarium in the middle which allows pivotal movement, and pulping two molars or orbis held by the central column, which are flat on the inside and convex on the sides and for carrying out pivotal movements of rotation and rendering. The whole structure was fixed by iron plates and pins. The stones were separated by a piece of iron known as "relief" that provided support for them and prevented them from stopping at the bottom and breaking the stones of the olives. Thus, through friction, separating the fleshy part of the olive from the stone.
Clear testimony of Salento peasant culture are hypogeous oil mills: human signs and religious spatiality, made of shadows and silence, spaces feel immediately familiar, allowing to relive them intimately in their hearts and minds.
The rock crusher allowed to have a temperature suitable for processing olives. The oil, in fact, becomes solid around 6°C. Therefore, in order that its extraction was facilitated, the temperature should be constant.
Since the nineteenth century, the hypogeous oil mills were progressively decommissioned for several reasons, especially for the Industrial Revolution and for a more refined and suitable manufacturing processes – so, the hypogeous crushers were gradually replaced by modern crushers.

Olive Art

A nourishing collection of art, quotes, poetry and literary gems in reference to oil and the olive recall the central role played by the cultivation of this precious extract that has been a principal part of the life of man through the ages, in the classical and Christian tradition.

anfora-vulci 150

Anfora Vulci – 500 a.C. Raccolta delle olive/ Olive Harvest

pressa-per-olio 150   Affresco di Ercolano 79 d.C. – Oil press

After the flood, the dove brings an olive branch to Noah, a sign that the waters have receded. Probably as a result of this episode in Christian culture, the olive tree has become a symbol of peace between God and mankind.

noe 150

IV-VI secolo – Noah and the dove (Rome)

la-pace 150  "Pax" (1337) - A.Lorenzetti

PAX (peace) is represented by an olive encircling garland for the head.

A nourishing collection of poetry in reference to oil and the olive fill the pages of writers and poets. First among the many poets and writers who have been inspired by the olive tree and it's fruit is the father of The Italian language, Dante, who wrote to Beatrice :

"(...).Thus in the bosom of a cloud of flowers Which from those hands angelical ascended, And downward fell again inside and out, Over her snow-white veil with olive cinct Appeared a lady under a green mantle, Vested in colour of the living flame"

Dante, Divine Comedy, II, XXX, 28-33

The comparison with the olive and the presence of the olive is a recurring theme and key element in many verses dedicated to love: a dedication where the known attributes of this noble plant and its precious extract become the means with which to speak of the virtue and love of a woman. This is also illustrated in the verses written by Torquato Tasso, who, in extravagant and romantic prose wrote of his muse, "Life of my life, you are to me as pale as the olive(...)", from the rime d'amore, 248.

And further, it is the branches of the olive that crown the heads of the noblemen and the powerful; as illustrated here by Niccolò Macchiavelli, who, in Florentine Ornaments, XIV, wrote " (...) and for his march, an olive wreath was placed upon his head, to demonstrate all that he possessed, his health and the freedom upon which his homeland depended."

 PAINTINGS (XV century)

miniature-del-XV-se 150    miniature-del-Xv-sec-2 150  Olive Harvest

In the Annunciation by Simone Martini, centrally placed between Gabriel and the Virgin there is a goldenurn holding four flowering branches of white lilies, which symbolize the purity andvirginity of Mary. The delicate rendering of the flowers springing from the contrasting metallic hardness exemplifies Martini's versatility and skill.

annunciazione-MARTINI 150 "The Annunciation" (1333) – Simone Martini


l'orazione-dell'orto 150
"L'Orazione nell'orto" (1499) – Sandro Botticelli

The garden at Gethsemane, a place whose name literally means "oil press," is located on a slope of the Mount of Olives just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. A garden of ancient olive trees stands there to this day. Jesus frequently went to Gethsemane with His disciples to pray.As the evening began, after Jesus and His disciples had celebrated the Passover, they came to the garden. At some point, Jesus took three of them—Peter, James and John— to a place separated from the rest. Here Jesus asked them to watch with Him and pray so they would not fall into temptation but they fell asleep.

nativita 150     nativita2 150  "Nativity" (1501) - Sandro Botticelli

This depiction of the Nativity is certainly unconventional, and does not simply represent the traditional events of the birth of Jesus. The angels dance in the sky and they carry olive branches, which two of them have presented to the men they embrace in the foreground.
In "Happy Union" by Paolo Veronese the wife is about to be crowned with a myrtle wreath, symbol of fidelity and undying love. Myrtle has been used in Marriage ceremonies since antiquity. The husband and the wife hold an olive branch, symbol of peace and harmony. Also the dog is a symbol of fidelity.


unione-felice 150
"Happy Union" (1570) – Paolo Veronese

Triumph of Venice by Batoni celebrates the rebirth of the fine arts in the Venetian Republic during the rule of Doge (Governor) Lionardo Loredan (1501-21). A female figure representing Venice is enthroned upon a triumphal car pulled by two winged lions, attributes of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. To her left, Doge Loredan gestures toward harvest offerings (olive branch) from the goddess Ceres, who reclines in the lower right corner.


trionfo-di-venezia 150

"The Triumph of Venice" (1737) P. Girolamo Batoni

For centuries the olive branch has been associated with peace but at the beginning of the nineteenth century the Mediterranean landscape is represented in all their details, as a constant presence.

tra-gli-ulivi 150  "Tra gli ulivi a Settignano" (1885) – T. Signorini

Vincenzo Guerazzi represents the effort and the hard work of the olive harvest. In his paintings the soil is light yellow-green, the trunks are well defined. The leaves are real color spots. The pickers are represented while they are bent towards the ground, thus emphasizing the hard work.

la-raccolta-delle-olive 150  "La Raccolta delle olive" - Guerrazzi

In the painting "olive pickers," Guerazzi represents a dark and gloomy atmosphere, with several trees in sad autumn colors , in relation with old olive women. Each woman is dressed in black; the soil is poor and meager. The artist wants to express the hard work of the women consumed from care and tiredness.

raccoglitrici-di-ulivi 150  "Raccoglitrici di ulivi" - Guerrazzi

Danza-tra-gli-ulivi 150  "Danza tra gli ulivi" - Guerrazzi

And finally, the olive, in all its luxuriant identity is represented as a natural element of the landscape, and emblem of a wise and authentic beauty, not only by poets and writers, but also by the artists who sought to capture the fascinating and profound essence of this plant.

olivi-sotto-il-sole 300  "Olivi sotto il sole" (1889) - Van Gogh

 And so, it was not by chance that Renoir, the fine portraitist of light in all it's hues, said " (...) look at this light through the olives: it sparkles like a diamond!" and an even stronger affirmation by Van Gogh who recounted (...) I am working hard to capture this olive tree. It is silvery, then a moment later it is more azure, and altogether it is green with a hint of bronze against yellow, pink, blue purple, and a tawny ochre."

Lyrics & supersticious beliefs

Tuttora tra i rappresentanti delle generazioni passate permangono credenze e interpretazioni che risalgono ad un passato carico di superstizioni; per esempio, quando si rovesciava l'olio sulla tavola era segno di presagi nefasti e si ovviava gettando a terra un pugno di sale, esclamando contemporaneamente più volte rraggia!, crepa!, riferito non si sa bene a quale spirito malefico, oppure si ripeteva con foga: butto sale che scongiura, porta via la jettatura!
Non vi era nessun maleficio da allontanare; l'olio è stato sempre un alimento costoso perché è stato sempre faticosissimo produrlo!
La considerazione è indirizzata a quegli storici i quali sostengono che dai piombatoi posti a difesa delle masserie fortificate si usasse gettare olio bollente per annientare i predatori. Il costo elevato e la preziosità intrinseca dell'olio escludono assolutamente l'eventuale espediente che, invece, era messo in pratica col lancio di pietre arroventate, molto più diffuse e... contundenti.
Tra i metodi adottati dalla màcara per identificare se il bambino avesse avuto il malocchio, vi era quello che si praticava con l'olio. Durante la prima fase l'esperta, in presenza del piccolo, preparava una bacinella piena d'acqua ed una tazzina di olio; qui immergeva il proprio dito che avrebbe fatto sgocciolare per tre volte nell'acqua. Le gocce venivano prese in esame: se si scioglievano e si disperdevano significava che il malocchio non c'era, se invece si raggruppavano al centro, formando un occhio, il meccanismo dell'influsso maligno era stato avviato. Si versava dell'olio in una bacinella per constatare se qualcuno fosse oggetto di fascinazione; se questa non vi era, l'olio scompariva mentre se l'olio si addensava formando un occhio, era la prova che si era indirizzata la fascinazione e si cercava di toglierla recitando una formula particolare ed accompagnandola con una manciata di sale benedetto.

A lampa d'oju, la lampada ad olio, veniva preparata servendosi di un bicchiere da tavola, pieno d'acqua quasi fino all'orlo; il resto del bicchiere conteneva l'olio su cui galleggiava il lumicino. Dall'imbottita del letto si ricavava lo stoppino: un pizzico di bambagia sfregata fra le dita, a forma di piramide, che si imbeveva d'olio e, una volta acceso, diffondeva intorno un debole chiarore tremolante che durava finché c'era olio nella lampada. Il lumicino veniva posto sul comò davanti ad una statuina della Madonna, o di altri santi, che sembrava illuminata dal riflesso di una carezza tombale; oppure veniva acceso vicino alla grotta di Gesù Bambino per tutto il periodo natalizio, pe' devuziòne, per devozione, con grande fede della padrona di casa.

Health benefits of Olive oil

Anti-tumor properties of olive oil

Olive oil is a common component of Mediterranean dietary habits. Epidemiological studies have shown how the incidence of various diseases, including certain cancers, is relatively low in the Mediterranean basin compared to that of other European or North America countries.
Current knowledge indicates that the phenolic fraction of olive oil has antitumor effects. In addition to the ability to be chemopreventive, with its high antioxidant activity, the antitumor effects of olive oil phenols has been studied because of their capacity to inhibit proliferation and promote apoptosis in several tumor cell lines, by diverse mechanisms.

The greatest exponent of monounsaturated fat is olive oil, and it is a prime component of the Mediterranean Diet. Olive oil is a natural juice which preserves the taste, aroma, vitamins and properties of the olive fruit. Olive oil is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as it is - freshly pressed from the fruit.
Olive oil is very well tolerated by the stomach. In fact, olive oil's protective function has a beneficial effect on ulcers and gastritis. Olive oil activates the secretion of bile and pancreatic hormones much more naturally than prescribed drugs. Consequently, it lowers the incidence of gallstone formation.
While all types of olive oil are sources of monounsaturated fat, extra virgin olive oil, from the first pressing of the olives, contains higher levels of antioxidants, particularly vitamin E and phenols, because it is less processed.

Olive Oil against Cholesterol and Hypertension

Olive Oil has been shown to have beneficial effects on virtually every aspect of body function, development and maintenance, including brain development, bone structure, digestion, aging process, the condition of skin and hair, metabolism, and on plaque formation in the blood vessels. There is so much scientific evidence now that establishes the health benefits of olive oil.
It has been demonstrated that a diet that is rich in olive oil, low in saturated fats, moderately rich in carbohydrates and soluble fiber from fruit, vegetables, pulses and grains is the most effective approach for diabetics. It helps lower "bad" low-density lipoproteins while improving blood sugar control and enhances insulin sensitivity. A high consumption of olive oil appears to improve bone mineralization and calcification. It helps calcium absorption and so plays an important role in aiding sufferers and in preventing the onset of Osteoporosis. Besides, some research has shown that olive oil can prevent and possibly even reverse the memory loss that accompanies many diseases.
Olive oil is also known to be gentle on the digestive system, and even may help prevent gallstones and soothe ulcers.The polyphenols found in olive oil are potent antioxidants that protect LDL (the potentially harmful form of cholesterol) from oxidation (damage by free radicals). Only after it has been oxidized does LDL cholesterol contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. Thus, olive oil helps prevent high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases.


  • Recipes&Cooking tips

    I prodotti della dieta mediterraneaThe United Nations Education, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for short normally bestows accreditation on cities, works of art or educational projects but for the first ever time they have actually decided to award a diet and a way of eating that they feel should be appreciated and valued as an important part of evolutionary human learning.
    The Mediterranean diet was awarded a Immaterial Human Heritage title and much was made of the point that it goes back for hundreds of years and every single country touching the Mediterranean can claim a healthy Mediterranean diet.
    The Mediterranean diet constitutes a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions ranging from the landscape to the table, including the crops, harvesting, fishing, conservation, processing, preparation and, particularly, consumption of food. The Mediterranean diet is characterized by a nutritional model that has remained constant over time and space, consisting mainly of olive oil, cereals, fresh or dried fruit and vegetables, a moderate amount of fish, dairy and meat, and many condiments and spices, all accompanied by wine or infusions, always respecting beliefs of each community. However, the Mediterranean diet (from the Greek diaita, or way of life) encompasses more than just food.

NOTE! This site uses cookies and similar technologies.

If you not change browser settings, you agree to it. Learn more

I understand