The competition for the oldest tree in Europe is nearly as intense as the UEFA Champions league. Many countries claim that one of their trees is the continent’s oldest, from the United Kingdom to Italy and everyone in between. Greece is no different, claiming Elia Vouvon (Ελιά Βουβών) or the Monumental Olive Tree of Vouves located on the island of Crete.
Olive trees can live for a long time but become difficult if not impossible to date after their second millennium. For Elia Vouvon that journey has not been done alone as it is a part of an ancient grove of olive trees. Scientists, using tree rings, have shown that the tree is at least 2,000 years old but believe it could be as old as 4,000 years. And here’s the best part: it’s still producing olives! These olives do not come cheap though.
Olive trees are hearty and able to resist drought, disease and fire, which help to explain why many lead long lives. Ten other ancient olive trees can be found in the nearby grove as well. The olive tree itself has always had a significance in Greek culture as the tree was associated with the god Zeus who it was said had a sacred olive tree growing near his temple. Olives have been a source of food on Crete for centuries with the first olive press being developed around 1600 BC.
Elia Vouvon was declared a national monument in 1997 and it can be found near the village of Ano Vouves. The tree has a diameter of 4.67 meters (15.3 feet) and it is visited by nearly 20,000 people each year along with the nearby Olive Tree Museum of Vouves. Branches of the tree were used to weave the victor’s wreaths for the Summer Olympics games in Athens, Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro (not everyone was enamored with this and Michael Phelps even removed his during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner in Athens to much controversy). An olive branch, which has also come from this tree, is used as a symbol of peace during the opening ceremonies and is carried by the Greek delegation when they enter the ceremony. Watch for it tomorrow during the Opening Ceremonies in Pyeongchang!