Itrane (or Gaeta) olives, the ancient delicacy of the Terra di Lavoro

by Federico Quagliuolo

Gaeta olives are the guarantee of a excellent seasoning and, even today, restaurateurs all over the world flaunt the origin of these small emerald green or purplish fruits (and not black, as is often believed!).
It is an agricultural product that enriched the ancient for centuries Kingdom of Naples, when the territories of Gaeta still belonged to the province of Terra di Lavoro, while today it is a primacy shared between Lazio and Campania, where olives are still grown in the parts of Sessa Aurunca, Mondragone and, more generally, in the upper province of Caserta. In Lazio, on the other hand, the entire province of Latina is destined for the cultivation of the product.

They have numerous positive properties, such as the richness of polyphenols, which are natural antioxidants. Scientific studies show that the nutrients contained in olives are good for the liver and intestines, as well as having an exceptional energy content. To date it is estimated that they are produced every year 200 tons per year.

They also boast the qualification of typical Italian DOP product.

I am in fact part fundamental from the Mediterranean diet, which the biologist Ancel Keys studied in Cilento.

Greek and Latin culture

Most likely it was the first Greek settlers to bring the culture of olives to Campania. In all Greek poleis oil was used as seasoning already three thousand years ago and, even today, it is fundamental in traditional recipes around the Mediterranean.
Historians of the past cite the presence of olive groves between Lazio and Campania. An example is the case of one battle between Mario and Silla fought near an olive grove that today would be near Cori, in the province of Latina.
Also Virgil spoke of it in the Aeneid, in a passage in which Aeneas and his companions collected some in the sea floating olives: they tried them and, thanks to the sea salt, their bitter taste had faded.
The first time I'm officially mentioned the olives of Gaeta it is in a document of 954, by Duke Docibile II.

Olive di Gaeta
All photography rights go to "Miraglia Olive"

Let's also call them "Itrane"

The fruits, in reality, they are not really originally from Gaeta. They are also famous as "itrane olives“, Since they come mostly from the town of Itri, which is still today among the major producers.

In fact, since the times of the Duchy of Gaeta, the loads left from the countryside towards port of the Lazio town. Then, from there, they traveled towards the markets of all the Mediterranean states. Precisely for this reason they became famous as "Olives of Gaeta" especially in 1400, when the skill of the Gaeta sailors brought the typical product throughout the Mediterranean.

During the times of the Kingdom of Naples the olive often appears in official documents and in scientific studies. For example, in 1796 the Neapolitan botanist Vincenzo Petagna spoke of the "Olea Cajetane"In one of his treatises on beneficial properties of plants.
A few years later Joachim Murat decided to make a census of agricultural excellences of the Kingdom and, among the registers of 1811, the "Olea Itrane"Among the products.

History has ironic implications: precisely Fra Diavolo, the soldier who led the revolts against the French during the French rule in Naples, was son of olive merchants from Itri.

Le olive Itrane (o di Gaeta), l'antica prelibatezza della Terra di Lavoro

Olives and the unification of Italy

During the'siege of Gaeta, which was the sunset of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, olives could not fail to appear in the chronicles.
Right here, in fact, one of the most ferocious battles between the Bourbon troops and the Garibaldians was fought: King Francesco II, on the advice of Liborio Romano, decided to leave Naples before the arrival of Garibaldi, in order to spare the capital of the Kingdom horrors of war. He then took refuge in Gaeta together with his wife and the army, resisting for 4 months to the uninterrupted bombing commanded by generals Cialdini and Bixio, who surrounded the last town still not occupied by Garibaldi troops. Then, on February 17, 1861, Francis II declared the surrender and took refuge in Rome.

The siege was conducted in the winter months, starting in November 1860, and the Piedmontese soldiers began to burning and cutting the wood of the olive groves to be able to warm up: there were enormous damage to farmers gaetani even in the years after the Unification and many were forced to emigrate.

Nature, however, always takes back its spaces. After the wars of annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the whole Land of Work went back to host olive groves. Even today, we can find in pasta, salads, bruschetta and oil a very tasty product of our land.

-Federico Quagliuolo


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