An olive tree in front of the Temple of Concordia on the island of Sicily, Italy
© Alfio Finocchiaro/Shutterstoc
A symbol of peace. Olive tree
While not everyone would recognise this as an olive tree, most of us understand the meaning of the phrase, ‘extending an olive branch,’ long known as a gesture of peace and friendship. That sentiment of compassion, harmony and wisdom is at the heart of UNESCO’s World Olive Tree Day, created in 2019 and observed every November 26 (i.e. tomorrow). The intent of the day is to bring attention to the resolution of conflict worldwide and to the preservation of the olive tree itself, like this one standing in front of the Temple of Concordia in Agrigento, Italy. The well-preserved, Greek Doric temple was built on what is now the south shore of Sicily, around 440 BCE. About 90 percent of harvested olives are used to make olive oil, the quintessential ingredient in Mediterranean cooking.
The cultivation of olives is about as old as human civilisation itself, as are some of the trees themselves. Although olive trees do not grow very tall, usually no more than 30 feet, they live a very long time. One of the oldest known trees in the world, in Portugal, is believed to be 3,350 years old. Many live for millennia, their trunks growing thick and gnarled, and their branches bearing fruit century after century. As civilisations rise and fall around them, these hardy trees remain resilient and steadfast.