There is no other tree like the olive tree. No other plant has been the focus of that many myths and has received that much attention since ancient times. In dozens of cultures, the olive branch has been and still is a symbol of peace, faith, strength, integrity or triumph. No other plant has been able to talk to such a universal language. There is no other plant around which rotates such a complex and diverse world. There is not a more global tree. In ancient Greece the olive tree was sacred: those caught damaging one were exiled.

In ancient Rome, tradition had the twins Romulus and Remus being born under an olive tree. In the Old Testament, the olive tree is mentioned over seventy times. In the Gospels, Jesus Christ spends his last hours in meditation among the olive trees of Gethsemane, still a sacred place. For the Koran, the olive tree is the cosmic tree par excellence, a pillar of the world, a link between the human and the divine sphere: the 99 names of Allah are written on its leaves.

Olive oil, for centuries one of the known world’s economic cornerstones, is the basis of the Mediterranean diet, a substance with extraordinary nutritional properties that even today, in some regions of the Mediterranean basin, is the essential ingredient in ancient magic rituals. It is with that oil, used to draw a cross on the forehead, that the Orthodox Church welcomes the newborn babies to the world. And it is with that same oil that Christians, as a last act of mercy, anoint the forehead of those who are about to leave it forever.

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A giant bronze olive tree hanging from the roof of the Mercato del Duomo food store in Milano, Italy. The sculpture is by British artist Adam Lowe, who used secular olive trees as a cast.

A baptism celebrated by father Traian Valdman at the Romanian church in Milano, Italy, a city with a significant Romanian community. In the Orthodox Church, several babies are baptized at the same time, by immersing them in water and, later, through small signs of the cross that the priest traces on their bodies with the olive oil he has previously blessed. The families usually take the chance to have their own bottle of olive oil blessed on the altar, and use it back home even for cooking.