May 04, 2003
The ancient olive grove is on the Greek island of Aegina, only a one-hour ferry-boat-ride from Athens’ bustling, usually chaotic port, Piraeus. Its exact location, I’ve been advised to leave vague, as it’s a protected Wildlife Refuge and can, fortunately, be reached only by foot after about a forty-minute trek along country pathways. Its remote location has saved it from the ravages of modern-day life and it exists today as it has for centuries.
This area is extremely beautiful and serene, dramatic and unspoiled with only sheep bells, bird song and the tinkle of water gurgling over rocks in the streambed to interrupt the silence. Our fear of it becoming too well-known, is in the interest of keeping it, for as long as possible, unspoiled by man and his ability to destroy the country tracks by building a tarmac road and car park, to leave his noise and rubbish behind
Although a Scot, I’ve lived in Greece since 1969, and first saw the grove with other members of The Mediterranean Garden Society on a day excursion in the early spring of 2002. (This wonderful non-profit society, with branches all over the world, has a very interesting website which you may want to check out. The section “News and Views” has two of my articles, one of which is about The Ancient Olive Grove.)
I had with me a brand new digital camera, given to me as a Christmas gift, (perhaps here I should confess that I’d never owned a camera before), and started really ‘looking’ at things. These photographs are therefore my first and I’m inclined to think that the camera is the ‘star’…….. not the photographer!!! The ‘masterpiece’ of the grove is the 1800 years old grandmother. She is one of the oldest olive trees in Europe. (The oldest one, ‘Pedras d’el Rei’, is 2000 yrs. old, according to the Carbon 14 dating method, and is in the Algarve in Portugal.)
Stratis Myrivillis describes the ancient olive tree beautifully in this translation from Greek. “ The trees’ trunks are tormented by an agonized striving. They are twisted, they kneel to pray, they raise their arms, members tyrannized by movement, all elbows and knees. The bent roots suck the golden oil from the heart of the earth for the lamps of the saints and the salad of the poor.”
A close-up of the gnarled trunk of the ‘Grandmother’. The plants in the foreground are Sea Squill (urginea maritima). These bulbs, the size of a baby’s head, are dug up when the first leaves appear and given as New Year gifts. They are then hung over the doorway to offer protection from evil spirits and unwelcome guests and to impart a life force to the house…especially to men! The leaves disappear into the bulb during the hot summer months and a tall candle-like flower appears in the autumn.
This tree, although not so old, exhibits foliage of. two distinctly different colors of green. There’s a white horse grazing in the background to the right of the tree.
The ‘Grandmother’ taking backstage, with a slightly younger relative in the foreground.
The ‘Grandmother’s’ trunk has split over the centuries into three separate trunks with a hollow interior. I’ve been told by friends who live on the island that a gypsy family of five made their home inside this old tree. I’ve been inside it and, though a tight squeeze for five adults, it would certainly be roomy enough for two adults with three young children who would be afforded protection from the punishing hot sun in summer and the cruel winds and bitterly cold winds and rain in winter.
Two trees, standing close together, side by side, like two sisters! The one on the left rather staid and serious (Big sister?) The one on the right more frivolous, a dancer, all movement and curves! And just look at the lush, green foreground with Sea Squill growing everywhere.
More pictures of the ancient grandmother. One is a photograph taken from inside the hollow trunk showing the beautifully aged wood.