In the small village of Asgata, Cyprus, is the Olive Oil Press and Flour Mill Museum. Cypriots literally survived on ‘bread and olives.’
The Oil Press and Flour Mill was operational from 1920 to 1986. The owner bought new or used machines from Italy, where were operated by hand or diesel until Asgata had electricity in 1968. The villagers began renovations to the old mill building in 2012 to turn it into a museum, with 90% of government funds and 10% of funds from local villagers. The Oil Press and Flour Mill Museum opened on 6 November 2016.
Cypriots have based their diet on olive products for thousands of years. In the Old Testament, the olive tree is the tree of hope. In the Greek and Roman tradition, the olive tree is the tree of peace.
Olive oil, which the Greek poet Homer called liquid gold, has been used for thousands of years for food, frying, cooking, and medicinal purposes. The wood of the tree has been used to make furniture, boxes and bowls. Olive oil and olive kernels have been widely used to produce soaps and other natural beauty products for the skin and hair. It is still used to light candilia, which are small hanging oil lamps in Cypriot churches. Tea can be made with olive tree leavesand is said to help mitigate high blood pressure.
Olives were taken to the mill in baskets carried by donkeys, where the olives were weighed to set the cost for the miller (the alestidji). The olives were then washed. The Asgata oil factory had two granite millstones where the olives were smashed and turned to pulp. The millstone was turned by a British-made Ruston single piston engine.
The olive pulp was transferred to iron nets, called zempilia, which were originally made of goat hair, then of nylon. These nets (or sacks) were stacked one on top of the other (four or five of them) on a metal axis in the middle of the press. Using hydraulics and a piston, the press would squeeze out the water and oil from the olive pulp. The oil would float to the top of the water. The water went into a pipe that led to the street – and olive-scented water would flow into the centre of the village and into the river. The oil was funnelled into tin containers for sale.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls