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mardi, 07 juillet 2015



 Lun- Novalja - Pag Island – Dalmatia – Croatia-June 2015                                       


Claude Gilois 

 Photos: Stephan Macchi

French Chef and TV personality living in Dalmatia

It is not wine that will be the subject of your scribe’s article this time, but olives and olive trees, but the olive tree is to nature what wine is to drink, the king of kings, the ultimate perfection which symbolises, peace, eternity, wisdom and strength. It is also an iconic plant in the Catholic Church and is mentioned more than a thousand times in the Bible.


Located near the small fishing village of Lun on Pag Island and spreading over 24 hectares, it is the largest wild olive grove in the Mediterranean basin.   Greece and Israel, two cradles of olive groves, do not possess such a jewel, even though the oldest olive tree is in Crete and is estimated to be between 3000 to 5000 years old.


Facing the Adriatic Sea in Dalmatia, the first trees originated some 3000 years ago according to archaeologists and the oldest tree is approximately 2000 years old.  There are more than 100 trees that are 1000 years old or more on this extraordinary site classified as a botanical garden since 1963 and under protection from fire and theft day and night. 


The age is estimated by an empirical technique well known by archaeologists and other scientists specialised in the evaluation of the age of trees. The circumference of the tree is measured and divided by two as a tree grows in rings, and as the yearly growth is known it is easy to calculate its age.



The oldest olive tree of the grove

This colossus has a 4-metre circumference and grows at a rate of 1 mm per year; its age is therefore 2000 years. The margin for error on the growth rate is estimated to about 10%. 

 In the Catholic faith, it is a dove that brings an olive branch to Noah to indicate that the soil has dried after the downpour. For the olive grove in Pag, it is most certainly seagulls that are responsible for the growth of olive trees.  Seagulls have the ability to digest the olive stone that it restitutes to the soil via its droppings and supplies the seeds for the tree to grow. There is no point in planting an olive fruit in soil; it will never grow into a tree.


As with most wild plants, it is man that domesticated wild olives to improve production and quality, as olives produced by wild trees are very small and sparse. It is necessary to graft domesticated varieties to wild trees, just as it is necessary to graft the vitis Venifera vines onto American rootstock to avoid phylloxera. Several grafts are used for each tree but producers have to wait 25 to 30 years before they start grafting the wild olive tree as the semi wild lambs and goats that populate the grove eat them and reduce them to Bonsai, which would not be out of place in a Japanese garden.







Bonsai Olive tree


The first grafts were done on 2000 trees with only one variety, Obligate, which originated from Greece; today all trees have been grafted.  With the passing of time sub-varieties have grown and there are now about 300 in the grove. This surely should orientate the debate on the use of massale selection rather than clonal selection to produce greater diversity and to increase resistance of vines to its environment.


After the lambs and goats have taken their share, trees can start growing normally, even though they are faced with other adverse conditions such as the poor rocky soil and the Boura, a wind coming from the adjacent mountains (also feared by sailors) which engulfs the grove shaping trees into all sorts of forms if they do not simply break branches that can be more than 100 years old.


Olivier aux formes insanees-6.jpg





If the olive acquires all the characteristic of the variety grafted, the stone remains genetically that of the wild tree. The grafted parts can be differentiated easily from the wild part as they are of a lighter colour.    



If these trees could talk, they would have a lot to say as they grew with the complex history of this area located in a melting pot of different cultures, civilisations and religions. The Roman and Byzantine influences were without a doubt the most important, and supplied the region with its Latin alphabet and Christian religion before it fell under Slavic ruling in the 8th century.  However, Dalmatia was also influenced by the Venetians and the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries the conquest of which terminated in Croatian land.

It was in 1918 that Croatia was reunited with its neighbouring countries under Serb domination before falling under the rule of Tito with the name of Yugoslavia, which resulted in land larger than 5 hectares being nationalised. The olive grove, which belonged to an aristocratic family from Rab Island, a stone’s throw from Pag, became state property, before returning to part state/part private in 1991 when Croatia became independent after a war when violence and destruction had little to envy to previous conflicts that brought Europe to its knees in the 20th century. 


In 1836 the inhabitants of Lun were granted the right to cultivate olives in return for wood obtained from training the trees. Wood, at that time, had more value than the olives and was used in naval and house construction because if its high density and resistance.


All trees surrounded by walls belong to private owners, 84 families comprising 338 people, while the undemarcated land is state property.    The walls protect the trees from the Boura, and to prevent goats and lambs climbing over them protruding stones are placed on top of the walls.   




To console themselves perhaps, lambs and goats scratch their backs on state olive trees (which are trained very high) depositing wool on them.




When a new wild tree grows, it automatically becomes the property of the owner of the nearest tree. 

Occasionally trees reproduce themselves by layering. A root grows out a few cms from the original tree and produces another tree, which grows independently. 

The management of this grove is divided between private and state owned properties and all 338 partners have one voice irrespective of the size of the land owned.  The private owners manage the state owned part of the grove as a co-operative concern.  All the families who lived traditionally from fishing are now making their living from tourism and the olive grove is the jewel of this charming and sleepy fishing port, as yet unspoiled by tourism.




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