Not far from the city of Bar, Montenegro, stands an olive grove that defies time. The star attraction is Stara Maslina, perhaps the oldest olive tree in Europe.
Why do I equivocate and say ‘perhaps’ the oldest? In the Med region of Europe, olive trees are very close to being sacred. When it comes to being sacred, old is good, oldest is best. Towns all around Italy and Greece stake a claim. In the great scheme of things, frankly my dear…etc. Hey, Stara Maslina has over 2000 years of longevity; meaning people were pressing olives from this tree since before the time of Christ.
If this tree was useful that long ago, we can only imagine how old the old section of the city of Bar is. Rocky walled and beautiful in its own craggy way, it straddles a hillside, overlooking the fertile land that stretches a mile or two to the sea. Seems almost neglected. The modern city slides more toward the shoreline, while the old town crumbles on. Can you imagine such an old village in a more modern and affluent section of Europe. Every wall would have been rebuilt. Trendy restaurants would fill the stone buildings, and tourists would be snapping photos, treading the narrow, cobbled streets. But, Montenegro still lingers in the misty past. Perhaps that’s why it takes a local to find the Stara Maslina. The grove is simple and small as olive groves go. It’s estimated (by whom I have no freaking idea) that there are over 150,000 olive trees in southern Montenegro alone.
A stone sign marks the entrance and a circle of simple rocks surrounds the star of the show. Want to buy some olive oil? 5 Euros for a small bottle of ancient history, sold out of a concession stand no bigger than a phone booth. Phone Booth. You remember what those look like, right boys and girls?
For most southern European countries, olive groves and the oil they produce are big business. Spain claims over 56% of the world’s production. Italy and Greece are the other olive heavyweights. Montenegro claims only a razor-thin slice of the olive oil pie, .02%.
But back to the ‘perhaps oldest olive tree.’ Local legends abound. Have you heard why one side of the tree is burned? Men playing cards got drunk and careless. Hard to believe men were drunk and careless. Stretches the imagination.
Then there’s the one about how people used to meet here to resolve disputes. The actual name of the closest village to the tree is Mirovica and since the root of the village’s name (mir) means peace, it’s thought, by those who are not drunk and careless, that the name comes from the peaceful settlements made under this tree.
When you stand near the tree, feeling the cool shade fall across your shoulders, whether you believe the legends, or the religion, it does feel like a special, sacred place that warps the continuum and makes you feel tiny, a speck of dust on the sands of time.