On the olive trail in Malta
Carol Drinkwater finds a new enthusiasm for Malta's olives and grapes an dcalls it "a revolution born of the earth and out of ancient history". She says Malta's Mediterranean heart is beginning to beat again. From The Daily Mail:
What, you might wonder on first glimpsing Malta's forbidding lunar landscape, has made this tiny island one of the most sought-after - and fought-over - pieces of real estate on the planet? Why, over the centuries, have Phoenicians, Romans, Saracens, Normans, Turks, French, British and Germans done battle over a seemingly insignificant lump of sun-bleached limestone rock? The answer, as any schoolboy would once have told you, is all down to geography...and politics.
Malta lies at the very heart of the Mediterranean and for more than 2,000 years has been coveted by every king, queen, emperor, sultan, doge and Fuhrer with designs on controlling its sea lanes for military or trading purposes. The consequent invasions, settlements and colonisations have made the island one of the richest examples of people and culture cross-fertilisation in the Med. But it was not a history lesson in this conventional sense that led me here, nor the scuba diving, sailing, hiking, or nightclubbing which today make Malta - along with the neighbouring islands of Gozo and Comino that complete the Maltese archipelago - such a draw to tourists.
No, I was on a different quest altogether. In recent years, since I turned my hand to growing olives on my farm in the South of France, I have become fascinated by the history of the olive tree and its place in Mediterranean culture. I wanted to visit Malta to seek out the ancient roots of that island's groves and try to fit together a few of the jigsaw pieces that make up its Mediterranean identity.
Looking at the landscape today, it's hard to believe that olive trees once covered Malta. Indeed, many village and town names on both Malta and Gozo translate as 'Well of Olives', 'Hill of the Presses' or simply 'Olives' but most of the trees no longer exist. They were uprooted and this deforestation cost the islands dear. Once green and bosky, they were reduced to scarred, barren slopes...