Greek Olive Museum at Sparta

There are numerous museums in Greece; yet the newly founded Greek Olive Museum is different because it deals with history, civilization and technology at the same time. The incorporation of all these elements into a museum was the idea of the Cultural Foundation of the Pireos Group and one it aims to take further by creating more museums along similar lines. The Greek Olive Museum, the first of its kind, recently opened at Sparta and contains information about the production of olive oil in Greece at different times in history. Apart from its educative role, the museum has also given a major boost to the local community, something that it is hoped will be repeated in other regions. The preservation and display of traditional Greek technology as well as industrial archaeology is something relatively new in Greece. As recently as 1990, the Silk Production Museum at the former Kourtidis manor house in Soufli made a very promising start. It was followed by the Museum of Water-Driven Objects in Dimitsana, founded in 1997, which has been recognized by Europa Nostra. The Greek Olive Museum is housed in the renovated building where the Electrical Company used to be situated and which the municipality of Sparta was glad to make available as a museum. It contains only simple exhibits, yet manages to successfully highlight the particularities of the region, a relatively new concept in Greece. Abroad there is already a tradition of creatively exploiting regional identities through an educative perspective. Visitors are informed of the building’s history before entering. Once inside, the predominance of metal and wood is particularly striking, as is the bright light which comes in freely through the windows. The starting point in the museum tour is a geological map of olive oil production on the Mediterranean coast. There are also olive oil production maps that date to ancient times, the Byzantine era and Venetian rule, and up until the present. Rare fossilized olive leaves from 50,000 BC, found in volcanic rocks on Santorini, are especially striking, as are the first written references to oil production. Few of the exhibits are the original artifacts – most of them are imitations – but there is plenty of information about the role of oil in the economy. Visitors can find out about the importance of olive oil to nutrition, lighting, beauty and health and about the significance of olive wood in Greek mythology. One of the most striking exhibits is the copy of a black-figure Athenian vase (530-520 BC) from the Athenian Panathenaic Games which held the oil from the sacred olive trees that was offered to the winners. On the ground floor, one can see machinery, copies and models of various production techniques: There are models of Ottoman and post-Byzantine oil presses, family oil presses, those which required animals to function, as well as industrial presses, among others. The tour ends in front of the museum shop, with a map depicting all the olive museums in the Mediterranean. The Cultural Foundation of the Pireos Group (formerly the Cultural Foundation of ETVA, the Hellenic Industrial Development Bank, which was sold off) wants to construct a series of museums to showcase Greece’s technological development. «This museum signifies a new era for the foundation» said Sofia Staikou, the foundation’s president. According to the foundation’s planned projects, a marble craftsmanship museum will be built on the island of Tinos, a museum of traditional professions at Stymfalia, a museum of the environment at Vyzitsa, as well as a printing museum on an Ionian islands. A museum of Greek musical instruments has already been set up in Thessaloniki.