In Search of the Original Olive Tree

Next stop. San Gimignano. This is the village I have been waiting to visit. Fifteen years ago, I visited the Medieval village of San Gimignano and was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the village by the mayor’s daughter. I fell in love with its rich history of dueling families, each competing for the title of owning the tallest building. Known as the Town of Fine Towers, narrow chimneys dot the skyline, reminiscent of the 72 towers some as high as 230 feet. Now just 14 towers remain in this walled 12thCentury in this charming picturesque town.

Medieval Towers of San Gimingnano, Italy

Towers of San Gimignano

It was here I remember seeing an ancient olive tree surrounded by mosaic tiles and a rope which prevented people from being able to touch the tree. People quietly circled the tree in procession in reverence to the original olive tree of Italy.

I was on a pilgrimage. But I was deeply disappointed.

The streets were so crowded with tourists, I could barely walk the street without touching someone. Where I remember quaint shops with local food specialities made from wild boar, magnificently coloured tiles, and animated shopkeepers, were now replaced sanitized versions of the past. Boar was no longer on the menu.


Shop in San Gimignano with a stuffed wild boar's head

Stuffed Wild Boar’s Head


All that remained was a stuffed head of a boar that had tourists lined up to get their pictures taken beside.The ceramic shops carried tiles with numbers and letters of the alphabet, perfect gift for a tourist who could spell out their name or street address in Italian tiles. I missed the little bookstore where I bought a book about the towers, all in Italian, but the shopkeeper was so charming and insisted that this book was far superior to the one I held. Of course, that conversation was entirely in Italian of which I speak not a single word, but still gave me such a joyous memory.




Olive Grove in San Gimignano

Beautiful Olive Grove




I hunted for the olive tree but to no avail. I asked the local people but they kept stirring me toward the long line ups for the museums. I seem to remember that the tree was perched high above the town, so we climbed to the top of the cathedral and my heart leaped when I saw row upon row of trees in an olive orchard. But no single tree was preserved.



We heard that the local gelato shop had the best gelato in all of Italy. As a pacifier to my bruised ego, I lined up with the rest of the tourists for something sweet and soothing.

Disappointed, we returned to the ship and shared a bottle of wine by pushing in the cork on our stateroom deck.

Perhaps my memory has some gaps, and the tree that I see so vividly was not here, in San Gimignano, but rather in my heart.


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