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main index © Jeff Matthews Sardinia index entry Sept. 2009
photo credit: florablog.it
The tree is called, simply, S’Ozzastru in the local language, and means, just as simply, the olive tree (l’olivastro, in Italian), yet there is something archetypal, universal, about the term, as when they refer in folklore to The Ancient One or The Wise One. S’Ozzastru has been standing and growing near the village of Santu Baltolu di Carana in Gallura in northern Sardinia near Lake Liscia since—well, since before there were saints and before there was even a Lake Liscia (the result of a dammed river). S’Ozzastru is between 3000 and 4000 years old according to local lore and even local botanists, which puts it high on the list of so-called “monument trees” in Italy and Europe. The tree is 12 meters in circumference and 8 meters tall; it stands close to other ancient olive trees, but, by general consensus, is the patriarch of the grove—there before the Romans and Greeks and probably a young tree when the first primitive masons started to build their stone dwellings that we now call “ancient.”
Trees, of course, have an enormous cultural importance around the world: they are magic, mystical, life-giving (and –taking), and even represent in the well-known world-tree mythologies a bridge between earth and the worlds below and heavens above. That S’Ozzastru is an olive tree (Olea europaea) is also important since there is nothing as iconic of Mediterranean cultures as the olive tree. It is a symbol of prosperity and power, and is mentioned abundantly in the Bible and in Greek mythology; we offer the olive branch of peace, and the groves of Academe, where Plato walked, were olive groves.
Gnarled old Ozzastru is not particularly stately, not the kind of towering tree that inspires comparison to cathedrals and such. You don’t hear organ music in the branches. But you do hear something softer, older and perhaps wiser—murmurs, whispers and maybe a few grumbles, as well. Indeed, S’Ozzastru has had to put up with insults of the ages, both natural and man-made. Now that he is protected by law, he should be around for a while longer.
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