What Makes The Acropolis' Olive Tree So Sacred?

View of the olive tree |© Thibaut Démare/Flickr
View of the olive tree |© Thibaut Démare/Flickr
Photo of Ethel Dilouambaka
25 December 2016

If you’ve been to Greece, you know how important and omnipresent the olive tree is. And if you have visited the Acropolis, then you know about the olive tree planted in the heart of the ancient Athens landmark. To learn more about this sacred tree, read on.

Considered sacred by ancient and modern societies for thousands of years, the olive tree is virtually everywhere in Greece. A sign of peace, the olive branch, when turned into a wreath, was used as a trophy for victorious athletes. The fruit and the oil produced from it have been consumed since ancient times and are a part of everyday life in the Mediterranean country. And at the Acropolis, you will find the most cherished olive tree planted next to the western wing of the Erechteion.

The olive tree by the Erectheion, Acropolis | ©Erik Drost/Flickr

Legend has it that when it came to determining which god would be the patron deity of Athens, both Athena and Poseidon responded as wanting the position. The contest took place in the Acropolis, where both gods were asked to present their gifts to the city. Poseidon went first and raised his trident, smashing it on a rock of the Acropolis, thus, producing salt water. Athena went second and offered an olive tree, a gift the citizens of Athens deemed useful and beautiful; therefore, she became the patron of the city, which was named after her.

While the tree on-site now may not be the original one, it is part of the foundation myth of Athens, which explains why it is so sacred in the eyes of both Athenians and Greeks.

Athena’s Olive tree – Greece – Acropolis: The Parthenon | © Tim / Flickr

In ancient times, when the Persians burned down the entire city of Athens, including the Acropolis, in 480 BC, historians claim that the olive tree had already sprouted a new branch, symbolizing the quick recovery of Athenians, even in the face of adversity. Rumor has it that some seeds from this tree were even planted across the wider region of Attica so that the olive trees surrounding the city of Athens would have a bit of the original sacred tree inside of them as well.

More recently, in 1952, members of the American School of Archaeology replanted the tree with a branch that had been saved from destruction by the German army during World War II.

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