Embassy Oil…you Betcha..

Embassy Oil…you Betcha..

by guest contributor Dimitrios Machairidis 
Photo credit: US Embassy in Athens

Is it possible that an embassy in Greece becomes an olive oil producer? The answer is yes and the producer is the US Embassy in Athens. It’s the second time that both Greek and American Embassy staff come together to harvest the olives from the beautiful olive trees growing on the Embassy’s 10,000 square meter gardens, and make their own olive oil.

Greek olive oil by U.S. Embassy Athens

In 1961 architect Walter Gropius, one of the most celebrated representatives of the famed Bauhaus School, designed the US Embassy Athens Chancery. According to the Embassy Press Office, the Gropius building is a metaphor for democracy in the country to which modern democracy owes so much. True, the exquisite building is one of the most elegant in the prestigious Vasilissis Sophias Avenue in downtown Athens.

The U.S. EMBASSY Athens elegance in front of Lycabettus hill

As a modern tribute to ancient Greek architecture the building is surrounded by olive trees, which are synonymous with Greek mythology, history and civilization. Mythology says that when the ancient gods Poseidon, the god of the sea, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom and skill, contested for the patronage of the city of Athens, Athena offered the olive tree as a symbol of peace and prosperity to the Athenians. In contrast, Poseidon offered them salty water as a symbol of dominance of the seas. Athenians were so impressed by Athena’s present that they chose her as patron deity, and the city of Athens was named after her.

An embassy garden full of olive trees and Mediterranean flore

The first olive trees were planted in the gardens of the Embassy during the ’60s. Since then, the Embassy campus has been expanded with a series of additions and renovations, such as the Nox building and the parking garage in 2007. The campus expansion brought more olive trees, and today there are about 20 trees in total.

US Embassy Athens Chancery designed by Walter Gropius

Unlike other countries around the Mediterranean Sea that have limited varieties of olive trees, in Greece there are more than 12 varieties. Most of the olive trees at the Athens Embassy belong to a variety called ‘Megaritiki’, a native of the Attica region from ancient times, capable of surviving its dry climate. There are also some trees from the variety ‘Lianolia’ from the island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea, which produces some of the tallest olive trees in Greece.

The olive garden of U.S. Embassy Athens

Olive harvesting takes place between November and December. Harvesting at the Embassy takes place at the end of November. Gardening and Embassy staff joins forces to collect the olives, and according to the Embassy, while many of the Greek staff has experienced this tradition before, the olive harvesting is a new and unique experience for most of the American staff. The olives are then pressed and last time produced approximately 45 liters of olive oil, a small but precious yield distributed in small bottles amongst the Embassy staff. It’s up to them how they will use it – as a present to their friends and families or for use on their Greek salads. Lucky you if you have friends working in the US Embassy Athens. Send them a reminder to save you some drops of olive oil.