The story of beauty based on olive oil spans the centuries and the geographies and arrives intact to the present day. It has the first historical node in the IV and III BC: as evidenced by a rich variety of archaeological discoveries, even then Crete, Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia were specialized in cosmetics, through the production, processing and trading of aromas, ointments and fragrance oils based on olive oil, often used as a fixer for the strong aromatic essences traditionally used by these civilizations.
The use of olive oil for cosmetic purposes comes directly from the universe of values and beliefs that is the seed of the Mediterranean sensibility. Even the Egyptians, among the first to discover and enhance its emollient and moisturizing potential, in their Ebers papyrus mentioned in detail ingredients and processes for preparing an anti-wrinkle cream based on olive oil to which they subsequently added cypress, milk, incense grains and wax.
The Greeks, then linked strongly to the grove of the olive tree, symbol of their land, used the precious golden nectar to sprinkle the body of the athletes, so as to enhance and enhance the aesthetic perfection of the sculptural and defined bodies; but also to prepare them, through the thermal massage, to the sport activity. The use of oil was so deeply rooted in the Greek culture that it was easily and repeatedly seen in the Homeric writings. Nausicaa is in fact invited by the queen to anoint herself with oil after bathing with her maids; even Ulysses is welcomed with the ritual of washing and anointing the body with olive oil; in the funeral rites dedicated to Patroclus, the moment of anointing is the key of the narrative pathos. In Greece the art of ointments in fact, is strongly affirmed by finding centers of great vitality in Cipros, Delos and Corinth: places where the classic cosmetic is born.
The widespread use of ointments based on olive oil is the source of a flourishing production of tools and artefacts designed for the storage and use of the same. Ampoules, containers in alabaster or blown glass soon became symbols of a real status, jewelry to wear hanging on the wrist with precious chains.
The culture of massage based on olive oil is also particularly appreciated by the Romans, who recognized thegreat centrality of oil in skin care, calling the treatments based on olive oil “beauty baths”. Not only emollient and moisturizing, but also soothing for skin irritation, for skin dryness and desquamation and, finally, for burns, without forgetting that for a very long time, when there were no sutures, olive oil fulfilled a healing function even for cutting injuries.
The cosmetic use of this product is stopped during the Middle Ages, when the prevailing Christian Catholic culture openly condemn any action related to the care of the body. Then the Renaissance, with the love for perfumes and care and beauty practices, will lead to a progressive rediscovery of olive oil in cosmetic practices, although the real return of olive oil in the empire of beauty is recorded in the seventeenth century, when often in the Secreta (pocket booklets containing recipes and beauty remedies) it is associated with other products for the care and beauty of the skin. An example in this sense is also contained among the “remedies” that appear in the “Secrets of Lady Isabella Cortese”, a volume dating back to 1622 (Venice), nowadays preserved in the Museum of Olive and Oil in Torgiano.
A long and interesting journey of the precious gold of the Mediterranean, which seems to combine centuries of human history, linking beauty and well-being.
Bibliographical references: Museum of olive and olive oil – Itinerary; volume of the Lungarotti foundation edited by Maria Grazia Marchetti Lungarotti, Torgiano (Perugia) 2001; AA.VV, extra virgin olive oil. The values of tradition, the culture of quality, Nardini publisher, Florence 2003.
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