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Commumity Agricultural Museum

The Lofou Olive Mill and olive oil production in Cyprus 

Cyprus was rich in olive oil since ancient times. Olive oil was one of the main agricultural products of Cyprus, with a great significance and contribution to the nutrition of the population and the economy of the island. According to Strabo (63 BC - 25 AD), “evelaios” (= good oil) and “Cypriot olive oil" were sought after as "koufotiton" (light, easy to digest). Olive oil was used for centuries as basic raw material in the soap factory, both in Cyprus and in other Mediterranean regions. The olive oil of Cyprus was considered of high quality, but the quantity produced was limited due to the fact that the harvest of olives was achieved by "vaklisma" (=beating/striking olives with a stick), which caused considerable damage to trees. In the mid-19th century, the production of olive oil was increased substantially, so much that in years of good production, it was able to meet the domestic needs three times. The main areas of olive oil production were Kyrenia, Kythrea, Larnaca and Limassol. The areas referred to as main olive oil production sites in the old days are still the same nowadays, a fact supported by travellers and other sources. 

Olive mills were called both the facilities to grind olives and the building housing them. These smallinstallations are distinguished into outdoor and indoor. Most olive mills in Cyprus are built in the precincts of churches or in the courtyards of monasteries. Apart from the fact that during the Ottoman era churchpremises provided safety and protection, the standard presence of olive mills next to churches and monasteries can only be interpreted by the fact that the Church was the largest landowner in the island,key holder of arable land and olive groves. 

The olive oil mill in Lofou is the property of the Church and it was built in the early 20th century. The whole installation is roofed and this is why it did not decay with the passing of time. The building is rectangular, made of stone, consisting of two rooms; in one of them are to be found the instruments usedfor the production of oil, while the other was used as a warehouse. 

The basic premises of the olive oil mill in Lofou are a stone mill, with the necessary space around it so as an animal or a man to fill the grindstone; a press with screw; and the necessary utensils and storagecontainers. On one of the walls there is a "niskia" (=oldtraditional fire place) for setting a fire necessary to boil water. 

The mill consists of a circular stone base with a carved shallow stone bowl on top, the "skoutellin of the mill" (= axle of the mill). Inside the base, the round millstone moves. In the center of the base there is ahole, fitting a long stick, the "pole mill" or "mouklos" (= lever),set in motion by a man or animal, usually adonkey, moving in a circle around the base. The "pole mill" would also pass through a vertical woodenpole, rotating around the axle together with the grindstone and held at the center of the bottom of the bowland by a roof beam. A turn of the pole would give the grindstone a rotary motion thus causing it to flow in the basin in a circular manner, and as a result, crushing the olives. 

The second installation was the press or "mangano", an iron structure where the olivesweresqueezedhaving previously been milled and placed in large woven baskets.The press consisted of two poles, the "distyla", thrust vertically into an iron base. In this ironwork the baskets were squeezed by the rotation of a central lever, and the olive oil resulted in a pit in the ground. 

As already mentioned, the olive mill was owned by the church. Therefore, for the grinding of their olivesand the delivery of their olive oil, customers were paying the Church some fee, usually either money oroil. Usually for every 20 liters of oil, one would go to the owner, that is, approximately 5%. The customerwas even obliged to offer the staff of the mill breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast was no more thanbread dipped into oil, with a few olives; lunch and dinner consisted of cooked food, usually pulses orpotatoes, eaten in the mill by setting a makeshift table. Finally, customers were granted a few “zivana”(=remainsof peelsandpipsofgrapes) to be used for the fireplace, for cooking, for heating the cauldron or forwashing clothes. 

The olive mill of Lofou was constructed in Limassol, as shown by the indication on the press, stating in capital letters "LEMISSOS." Research has shownthat the olive mill of Lofou was constructed in the relevant workshop and foundry of I. Kyriakides and Co. 

Preparation to produce oil 

We are able to follow the various methods of oil production in Cyprus over time thanks to archaeological remains. Till the modern times, that is until the middle of the 20th century, traditional olive oil mills were still in use and almost every village possessed its own. 

The harvest of olives started in October, depending of course on their process of maturity or the weather. Farmers would gather the olives by beating the branches with "vakles" (thin long sticks). 

After the gathering of the olives, they were spread to dry for a few days, stirring them in order to air them, until enough baskets were gathered for the grinding. The olives were washed and cleaned, and then milled by the grindstone and turned into pulp, called "dough." This dough would fill the large woven baskets, which wereround and knitted from "floudin", that is,peel or hollow rushes. The dough would dripoil which was the cleaner one and called "pure". "Baskets" full of "dough" were placed on the press andsqueezed three times:the first time without water, producing "honest" or "virgin' oil; the next two times bythrowing boiling water (2 "kolotzia" = ladlesmade ofgourd) on the baskets with the dough to wash the residual oil. Water and oil flowed from the "baskets" into a circular groove or "Vourna" (= a kind ofsink)and from there into a container. The floating oil was collected either by hand or with the palms. The residue of uncooked oil was called "aloupos", while the residue of boiled oil, was called "Tzizouros». Oilwas kept either in small oil storage jars called "ladokoumnes", bottled, tarred or waxed with goodbeeswax; or in glass demijohns. Several surviving ledgers mention "jars of eladiou" (= oil), "koumnes" and "ladokouzin" (= a kind ofdemijohns). 

The traditional olive mills that operated until the middle of the 20th century coexisted for a while with themore modern olive mills with presses, where pierced "baskets" of a new type were placed on the shaft of an iron press. 

CYPRIOT SAYINGS FOR OLIVE

  • If olives do not turn black, do not eat acock.
  • The olive tree was invited in a wedding, and replied that she was a lady.
  • A vineyard of yours, your father’s fig tree and your grandfather's olive tree.
  • An olive tree heard a plowand thought it was a ditch.
  • An olive treeheard a troweland criedmournfully.
  • An olive tree needs a crazy pruner and a clever picker.
  • Olivesare dancing and so do olive seeds.
  • He sees her like an olive in the axle.
  • Give meto the root,to give you to the branch.
  • An olive tree is a lady producing olives whenever she wants.                                                                                                                                                                 

Akis Theodorou
(Philologist) 

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