The Olive tree of the Crusaders: the oldest tree in Campania

by Claudia Colella

Secular trees are silent witnesses of our history. Among all the magnificent historic trees of Campania, the oldest is the so-called Olivo dei Crociati, with aestimated age of 1600 years.

In Campania there are several centuries-old trees that never stop telling us the story of our beautiful region. Between Wood of Capodimonte and theBotanical Garden of Naples, thanks to Bourbon passion for hunting, in some national parks, such as that of Cilento, or simply in the squares, gardens or street corners of some towns: secular trees are widespread in all the wonderful provinces of our region.

Morphological characteristics of the Olive tree of the Crusaders

The Olive Tree of the Crusaders is located in municipality of Cicciano, in the province of Naples, precisely in the hamlet of Sant'Antonio, within a private hazelnut grove. The scientific name of this natural monument is European olea. It extends for a height of 15 meters and is also the average diameter of the enormous crown of 15 meters. The trunk circumference is about 6 meters, but at the base it has a root plant of about 10 meters.

These are truly enormous measures for such trees, which attract the attention of scholars and experts on this tree.

The olive tree of the Crusaders: the oldest tree in Campania
The Olive tree of the Crusaders, with its wide and tangled trunk and its imposing foliage.

The state of conservation of the plant is excellent, has not undergone pruning that has undermined its tonnage. The trunk is very twisted and gnarled, through a chair made of forks of large branches it manages to hold up the imposing foliage.

The characteristic twisted and tangled trunk seems to testify to the signs of time left on the tree giving it a unique charm. It almost seems as if the tree opens its mouth to tell us its stories!

History of the olive tree of the Crusaders

It is known as the Olive of the Crusaders because it is said that the seeds were brought home by the Crusaders returning from Jerusalem. Just outside the old city of Jerusalem there is in fact the Gethsemane, Aramaic word meaning olive press, which is a small olive grove on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus Christ, according to the Gospels, retired after the Last Supper before being betrayed by Judas and arrested. The place is also known as Garden of olive trees.

Fascinated by this story, the monks who cultivated the land in that area planted those seeds and there the tree we see today was born.

But be careful! Though it would be nice to believe this story and the sacred link between nature and historical events, we cannot rely on the name "Olive tree of the crusaders" to reconstruct its origin.

The crusades fought between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, we are talking about at least 600 years after the dating attributed to the tree. It is therefore likely that this name was coined in more recent times by local farmers, who seeing the tree in that place for a long time, used the crusades only as term of comparison for an event very distant in time and not as a real historical moment.

The animals that inhabit the Olive tree of the Crusaders

The monumental plant is frequented by battlements (Turdus merule) and hoopoe (Upupa epops) and at its base is a fox's den (vulpes vulpes).

The presence of these animals testifies to the fundamental role of monumental trees within theurban ecosystem.

The cities that preserve networks of green spaces, especially of historical plant, and places that have survived the concrete, have a greater wealth of bird species. Witnesses of an impressive natural past like this one keep local biodiversity alive.

Sources:

http://www.agricoltura.regione.campania.it/foreste/monum/alberi_monumentali_index.html

The centuries-old trees of Campania, living witnesses of history. Volume created with the contribution of the Campania Region Department of Territory Government and with the collaboration of the Regional Command of the State Forestry Corps.

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