«The (true) landscape is broad and harmonious, quiet, colorful, large, varied and beautiful. Mainly, it is an aesthetic phenomenon, closer to the eye than to the reason, more related to the heart, to the soul, to the sensitivity and to its dispositions than to the spirit and the intellect, closer to the feminine than to the male principle. The true landscape is the result of the becoming of something organic and living. To us, it is more familiar than extraneous, but more distant than closer, it manifests more homesickness than presence; it elevates us above the everyday life and it borders on poetry. But even if it reminds us of the unlimited, the infinite, the maternal landscape always offers humans a home, warmth and shelter. It is a treasure of the past, of the history, culture and tradition, peace and freedom, happiness and love, of the rest in the countryside, of solitude and health found in relation to the frenzy of everyday life and the noises of the city; it must be crossed and lived on foot, it will not reveal its secret to the tourist or to the naked intellect. »(Gerhardt Hard)
Simmel considered landscape as a «work of art in statu nascendi», and it exists on the basis of three unavoidable conditions: it cannot be realized without a subject, without nature, and without the contact between them. The relationship, in particular, is expressed through the signs, the constructions created by man on the territory and then through agriculture, the litmus paper of that union’s happiness. But the relationship can also be the one given by the visitor who, with his curious look, characterizes a zone, linking its significant traits with the concept of typicality.
The Plant of Civilization
Between Spoleto and Assisi, where millions of olive trees follow one another for about thirty-five kilometers, that type of relationship finds its highest shape.
In the Fascia Olivata (Olive Tree Belt), stretched at seven hundred meters of altitude, the history of olive cultivation begins long time ago, indeed. The olive tree is, for Fernand Braudel, the «plant of civilization», because it marks the boundaries of the ancient Mediterranean area; the oil was used as a seasoning, for religious rites, but also in the pharmacopoeia and lighting. On the Edict of Rotari (643 BC), for those who had cut an olive tree, it was inflicted a punishment three times severe than the one imposed on anyone who cut any other fruit tree. Finally, according to Castor Durante from Gualdo Tadino (1586), some olives at the end of the meal helped digestion.
But without spending too much time in reading books, just take a trip to Bovara, near Trevi, and admire the legacy of that tradition with your own eyes. The majestic Olive Tree of Saint Emiliano, with its nine meters of circumference and five in height, is a specimen seventeen centuries old. Leaving aside the story of the decapitation of Saint Emiliano, Bishop of Trevi – attached, at least according to a code of the IX Century, to the plant and then beheaded – the studies have shown that the olive tree belongs to a particular genotype, very resistant, that after the first eight hundred years of life saw the inside of his trunk rotting and then outer parts divide, turning counterclockwise.
A Unique Landscape
The olive growers know that these areas of Umbria require a rather strong cultivar, able to cling to the dry soil, which cannot maintain moisture. The Muraiolo variety has therefore been designated as the ideal plant to ward off the hydrogeological risk in the area and, at the same time, to give that typical oil with a spicy and bitter taste, refined by aromatic herbs.
Its cultivation has also altered the territory, remodeling it, forming a continuous upward strip that is detrimental for the forest. It has characterized the area with embankments, lunettes and terracing, making it recognizable to the point of enrolling it in the catalog of Historical Rural Landscapes, along with the Plestini Highlands, the emmer fields of Monteleone di Spoleto, the hills of Montefalco, the cliff of Orvieto , the knoll of Baschi and the plateaus of Castelluccio di Norcia. Goal that follows the subscription to the Cities of Oil National Association – which brings together all the Municipalities, Provinces, Chambers of Commerce and LAGs producing environmental and cultural values, centered on PDOs – and preludes to the recognition of the area as a FAO Foods Landscape (it would be the first in Europe) and then as a UNESCO site.
The greatest danger that the landscape can incur – not to be enrolled into collective memory and not to be recognized as characteristic of a Planet’s particular area – is thus avoided: no one, whether it is born in that place or from afar, can now separate the Fascia Olivata from the cities of Assisi, Spello, Foligno, Trevi, Campello sul Clitunno and Spoleto.
However, the objective is not to transform the territory into a museum, but to link it with its cultural and community heritage, even to preserve it from the changes that might destroy it. Indeed, the years of World War I are not too far, when the olives were cut to fill the lack of coal in the Northern factories; neither the terrible frosts of 1929 or 1956, which led to a significant contraction in production. Neither the Sixties are not far away, when fashion preferred seeds oil instead of the olive one, as well as failing to find labor for every autumnal harvest. Above all considering that the dictates, established by the Trevi Olive Growing Cooperative, born in 1968 to overcome the familiar dimension, are very strict: all the olives must come from the territory of Trevi, they must be hand-collected and delivered to the mill within few hours , and they have to be pressed within twelve hours to maintain the right levels of acidity and oxidation.
There is no way for industrialization and mass production: this Strip keeps adhering to the genuineness of ancient things in the same way as it encircles the hilly slopes, even the harshest. In this way the visitor can enjoy it, perhaps walking along the Olive Trail between Assisi and Spello, or along the one of Francis, whose symbol was the olive itself. It will be able to reconnect the silver foliage to the spicy flavor of the bruschetta with the new oil – the Gold of Spello – that will pour into his mouth, giving him the same awareness and wisdom of those ancient Mediterranean people who preserved civilization by gifting the Earth olive trees.
G. Hard, Die «Landschaft» der Sprache und die «Landschaft» der Geographen. Semantische und forschunglogische Studien, Bonn Ferd-Dümmlers Verlag, 1970, in M. Jakob, Il Paesaggio, Il Mulino, Bologna 2009.⇑
G. Simmel, Philosophie der Lanschaft, in M. Jakob, Il Paesaggio, Il Mulino, Bologna 2009.⇑
 M. Jakob, Il Paesaggio, Il Mulino, Bologna 2009.⇑
 Ulivo e olio nella storia alimentare dell’Umbria, in www.studiumbri.it ⇑
 TreviAmbiente > paesaggi da gustare, 2015⇑
 Umbria: protezione di un’origine, a cura di D.O.P. Umbria, Consorzio di tutela dell’olio extra vergine di oliva, 2014.⇑
 L’Oro di Spello is an annual event that gathers Festa dell’Olivo and Sagra della Bruschetta⇑
The article is promoted by Sviluppumbria, the Regional Society of Economic Development of Umbria
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