Olive oil is one of the most ancient and valuable products of the Mediterranean civilization. For thousands of years, it has been used for food, medicine, cosmetics, lighting, and religious ceremonies. It is also a symbol of peace, wisdom, and prosperity. But how did this golden liquid come to be produced in Skiathos, a small island in the Aegean Sea? And what makes it so special and distinctive?
The origin and spread of the olive tree
The true origin of the olive tree is not known for sure, but some scientists believe that it is a hybrid between two or more distinct species of the genus Olea, which includes about 30 different types of trees and shrubs. Some speculate that the olive tree originated in Syria or possibly sub-Saharan Africa, and then spread to the Mediterranean basin through human migration and trade. The oldest evidence of olive cultivation dates back to about 6000 BC in Syria and Palestine, where clay tablets with olive oil recipes have been found.
The ancient Greeks were among the first to appreciate the value of the olive tree and its products. They considered it a gift from the goddess Athena, who according to legend planted an olive tree on the Acropolis of Athens as a sign of her victory over Poseidon in a contest for the patronage of the city. The olive tree became a sacred symbol of Athens and its democracy, and its branches were used to crown the winners of the Olympic Games and other contests. The Greeks also used olive oil for cooking, dressing salads, preserving cheese and fish, making soap and perfume, healing wounds and diseases, and fueling lamps.
The Greeks were also responsible for spreading the olive tree to other regions of the Mediterranean, including Italy, Spain, France, North Africa, and the islands of the Aegean Sea. They established colonies and trade routes along the coasts and islands, bringing with them their culture, language, art, and agriculture. They planted olive groves wherever they settled, selecting and propagating the best varieties for each climate and soil. They also developed techniques for harvesting, pressing, storing, and transporting olive oil, using clay jars called amphorae.
The history of olive oil production in Skiathos
Skiathos is one of the northernmost islands of Greece, located in the Sporades archipelago in the Aegean Sea. It has a mild climate with abundant rainfall and sunshine, fertile soil with limestone and sandstone formations, and rich vegetation with pine forests, olive groves, vineyards, orchards, and herbs. Skiathos was colonized by the Athenians in the 5th century BC, who introduced the cultivation of olives along with grapes and cereals. The island became part of the Athenian maritime empire and prospered from trade and commerce.
However, Skiathos also suffered from invasions and raids by various enemies throughout its history, such as Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Turks, Russians, French, British, Germans,
and Italians. These events caused periods of decline and devastation for the island’s population and economy. Many olive groves were abandoned or destroyed during these times of turmoil.
Despite these hardships, Skiathos managed to preserve its identity and traditions, especially in relation to olive oil production. The islanders developed their own varieties of olives,
and others. Some of these are used for table olives (olives that are eaten as a snack or appetizer), while others are used for oil production (olives that are pressed to extract their juice). The islanders also maintained their traditional methods of harvesting, sorting, washing, crushing, pressing, filtering, and storing the olives and the oil, using simple tools and equipment, such as baskets, nets, wooden crates, stone mills, wooden presses, cloth bags, clay pots, glass bottles, and metal cans.
In the post-war years, Skiathos became one of the main producers of olive oil in Greece, with about 20 oil mills operating on the island. The olive oil of Skiathos was renowned for its high quality, rich flavor, and low acidity. It was exported to many countries in Europe and America, as well as to other Greek islands and mainland regions. The olive oil industry was a major source of income and employment for the islanders, who also benefited from the by-products of the oil production, such as olive pomace (the solid residue left after pressing the olives), which was used as animal feed or fertilizer, and olive water (the liquid residue left after filtering the oil), which was used as a natural pesticide or disinfectant.
The current situation and challenges of olive oil production in Skiathos
Unfortunately, the 20th century also marked a turning point for the architectural and cultural landscape of Skiathos. The island underwent a radical transformation from an agricultural society to a tourist destination, especially after the 1970s and 2000s. The development of tourism brought many benefits to the islanders, such as improved infrastructure, services, education, health care, and living standards. However, it also had some negative consequences, such as environmental degradation, social change, cultural loss, and economic dependence.
One of the most evident impacts of tourism on Skiathos was the disappearance of many types of buildings that were once widespread on the island, such as olive mills. Due to the great interest of residents and investors in tourism and its facilities,
such as hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, and entertainment venues,
many olive mills were abandoned or demolished to make room for new constructions. The result was the loss of a significant part of the island’s heritage and identity.
Another impact of tourism on Skiathos was the decline of olive oil production and consumption. Due to the shift from agriculture to tourism as the main economic activity,
many olive growers reduced or stopped their cultivation of olives,
as they could not compete with the lower prices and higher yields of imported olive oil from other regions or countries. Moreover,
many consumers changed their dietary habits and preferences,
as they were influenced by the global trends and fashions of fast food,
and exotic cuisines.
The demand for local olive oil decreased,
and so did its quality and reputation.
The final blow to the olive oil industry of Skiathos came five years ago,
when the last olive mill on the island closed down.
The owners could not afford to maintain or modernize their facilities,
as they faced high costs of production,
and lack of support from the authorities and the market.
the residents of Skiathos have been forced to transport their olives to Glossa,
an area in Skopelos island,
by ship in order to produce their olive oil,
because there is no other olive mill nearby.
This is an expensive and tedious process for the Skiathos olive growers,
and destructive for the quality of their olive oil,
as the olives lose their freshness and aroma during transportation.
The future prospects and opportunities of olive oil production in Skiathos
Despite these challenges,
there is still hope for the revival and restoration of the olive oil production in Skiathos.
There are some initiatives and projects that aim to preserve and promote the island’s olive heritage and culture,
The creation of an olive mill with olive tourism facilities in Skiathos island.
This is a diploma thesis by Anastasia Kanareli and Maria Eirini Konstantinidi Manesi,
who propose a design for a modern and sustainable oil mill that would also offer educational and recreational activities for visitors,
such as guided tours,
The goal is to connect the visitor with the olive grower,
making the oiling process more understandable and experiential for the visitor.
The project also aims to support the local economy and community by creating jobs
and income opportunities for the residents.
The collaboration between Skiathos Palace Hotel
and Antoniou family
who have been producing olive oil in Glossa
Skopelos for three generations now.
The hotel offers its guests an exceptional quality extra virgin olive oil
of precious nutritional characteristics
and distinct fruity taste
produced by Antoniou family
from organic olives grown in Skopelos island.
The hotel also organizes visits to Antoniou family’s olive grove
and oil mill
where guests can learn about