Olive Oil

Olive Oil – that most ancient of liquors

Photo – España Es Cultura

Pic – España Es Cultura

It is currently thought that olive oil was produced domestically around the Mediterranean as early as 2500 BC.

Squeezed and drawn from the green and purplish fruit that hang in pendulous bunches amidst silver-green leaves, this golden green liquor has long been used in cuisine all around the Mediterranean basin. Gnarled trees, some with trunks greater than a metre across, are still farmed today while others, younger, stand in serried ranks spread over hill and dale, clearly evincing the olive’s current commercial importance.

Olive pressing - Morocco

Blindfolded camel olive press Sidi Kacem, Maroc

Spanish – Baetican Olive Oil and the Amphorae
While olive oil is produced by most countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, one country stands out for the sheer volume of its oil production and widespread distribution – Spain – and it has long been so.

As part of the Roman struggle against Carthage, they invaded the Iberian peninsula in 206 BC. Scipio Africanus was victorious at Alcalá del Rio near present day Seville and founded the city Italica and his army crushed the resistance of the native Iberians and soon transformed Andalucia (Baetica) into one of Rome’s richest and best organised colonies. Cadiz became Roman in 200 BC. The Romans remained for 700 years.(Ref: andalucia.com/history/romans)

Baetica was the Roman Empire’s southernmost (and earliest) province in their eventual colonisation of the whole Iberian Peninsula. Its capital was Corduba (Cordoba), situated on the River Baetis (now the Guadalquivir). The region, with both the Guadalquivir and Guadiana Rivers flowing through it, was already agriculturally rich and the Romans took full advantage of this.

The Roman Empire was expanding at a rapid pace; they had a huge war machine to maintain and it was olive oil, figuratively speaking, that ‘oiled the wheels’ of their massive enterprise. It was an indispensable condiment, fuel and cooking oil. Under their reign olive production in the bountiful soils of Baetica increased extensively, providing a continuing legacy: to this day the region of Andalucia accounts for 75% of Spain’s production of olives and olive oil.

The Amphora
The amphora used for storage and transport of olive oil, wine, and the very popular fermented fish condiment, ‘garum’ to Rome’s far-flung outposts was of a distinctive style: tall, cylindrical with angular shoulders, characteristic bifid handles, a beaded rim, pointed bottom and a longish neck narrower than the body. Its design, though, was a continuum of that of the Greeks before them – the terracotta amphora having been a common household item for millennia.

The Romans already had pottery factories in Italy, Gaul, the Eastern Mediterranean and also southern Britain long before they started and geared-up production in Baetica, Spain. The wine or olive oil amphora was considered a disposable, single-use bulk-carrier item, perhaps because of sediment that accumulated in their bottoms. Demand for the amphora’s continued supply and production was assured.

Amphora on display

Pic: Assorted terracotta amphorae

As olive farming and oil production increased to meet demand so, too, did the need for more amphorae for its transport, and from the archaeological finds it is now certain that millions were manufactured along the shores of the river Baetis alone, in areas where suitable clay was to be found. It was a perfect commercial symbiosis.

There is now conclusive archaeological evidence that the Romans sent regular shipments of olive oil from Baetica to distant provinces such as Volubilis (Mauritania, now Morocco), Israel, the British Isles, Alexandria, Germania and Rome via existing combinations of shipping and land routes. This evidence lies in the numerous amphora remains bearing the distinctive Baetican pottery mark or stamp.


Pic: Typical wine & oil amphora – backtobodrum.blogspot.com.au

These vessels with their tapered and pointed bottoms appear to us to make unlikely containers for the storage of liquids, but the Romans (and Greeks before them) found their shape highly practical. They were perfectly designed to be stacked upright, padded with straw packing and tied in place aboard their wooden-hulled sea-going craft. Those same pointed bases could be tucked down behind fore-and-aft planking in the holds of the vessel, the outer amphorae’s curves snuggling against the curve of the hull. Once ashore, the amphora’s pointed bottom could be pushed into the sand for upright storage and, without a pedestal or flat base, be easily tilted or hefted (with one hand underneath) to discharge its contents.

Like many races before and after them, the Romans may have been ruthless colonisers, but we cannot deny their productivity.

Our own experience with ancient methods of olive oil extraction was during November of 2001 near Sidi Kacem in Morocco (see photo at top) and the raw oil from this direct source was the richest, most aromatic and flavoursome we have ever had: a superb olive oil, quite different to commercial product but not hard to find in that wonderful country. However, it was carried away in plastic containers, unlike the days of yore when clay vessels were the norm.

For those who would like to know more about Spain’s olives this site provides good detail of the varieties grown there:  Olive Oil From Spain

Professional Photographer

Profile : Manny Rocca
Photographer & Photojournalist

Manny Rocca Espana

As an American-abroad Manny Rocca has always
had a foot on both sides of the Atlantic.

Born in Seville in 1957 to Spanish parents, Manny spent his formative years in Sevilla (his mother’s home town) when his parents moved back to Spain but in his late teens, with the advantage of dual citizenship, he returned to the USA.

In 1980 he took up a position with The Washington Post, and later The Washington Times. It was under the auspices of these prestigious newspapers that he was able to develop and broaden his photojournalistic and camera skills. Here, too, he learnt all the aspects of the art and production of pre-digital photography. I note on viewing his considerable body of work, however, that he has clearly retained an enduring affection for the rich culture of Spain: in particular, Sevilla and the region of Andalucia.

Manny’s Press Pass gave him access to some of the most prestigious political and social events of the era, allowing him to capture many significant figures in history. At the height of his career he returned to Spain with his wife, also a native of Sevilla, and has continued his passion for photography sometimes taking employment as a contract photographer, but largely freelancing.

Subsequently, and with his career now spanning nearly four decades, much of his work has collected accolades on both sides of the Atlantic with its subject matter being photographed in diverse locations, such as Europe, the USA, North Africa and the Middle East.

Typical of pre-digital photographic artists his work is distinctive, his style unique. If it is not capturing a moment in history, it is capturing human emotion, evoking the human condition in its many forms. Another area of interest for him has been the changes that Spain has undergone since the days of its Dictator, Franco, and the country’s subsequent rush to modernisation.

Much of his contract work while in Spain has been with its Olive and Wine Industry. His distinctive photographs capture the produce, production and humanity that combine to support these major, historic Spanish industries and have won him many awards. His most recent publication is El Reino del Olivo (The Realm of the Olive), a collaboration with the renown Spanish poet Hector L. Baz Reyes. This beautifully evocative example of his work was sponsored by the Caja Rural de Jaén.

Yet another of his cultural (photographic) interests is the contentious, yet colourful and dramatic art of Bullfighting, while the many splendidly colourful religious and local cultural festivals of Spain provide abundant material for his photographic palette. His photos have appeared in many print media, such as: The Daily News-Newspaper, The Nation Newspaper, Las Americas, People Magazine, Insight Magazine, Cambio-16 Magazine, Tiempo Magazine, Hello Magazine, European Magazine, Boston Globe Newspaper, The Washingtonian, Bunte Magazine, Regardie’s Magazine, Gong Verlag, Hispanic Magazine, Dossier Magazine, Where Magazine, Guitar Review, Andalucia Economica, Guitarrista Magazine, JondoWeb, La Razón, Revista Guitarrista, Revista Paradores, El Semanal and more.

While now reaching retirement age, his enthusiasm for the art has not diminished and he has embraced the age of modern digital photography. But while photography was his first love, it never prevented him from taking up other arts. Perhaps following in his mother’s footsteps (a professional Flamenco dancer), he has an unbridled enthusiasm for Flamenco. He became both a highly accomplished guitarist and singer of that form of music and has performed professionally in many European countries and in the USA. This also opened doors for him photographically, enabling him to capture the art of leading flamenco artists on film.

Manny Rocca’s career has certainly been colourful, and a lot of that is reflected in the body of his work.

Author: J Cedric Watkins
June 2016 - Zamoa Productions