Maria da Guarda Estate, located in Serpa, Alentejo, has an olive grove with about 1.3 million olive trees. It is one of the olive groves with the largest number of olive trees on an estate of Portuguese capital in Portugal, being a living legend that tells the art of making oil.
The history of the name of the farm is linked to a local person who had a vision of the Mother of God. In this vision, Mary remembers that, during the arduous agricultural work, each worker had their own Guardian Angel for work and so the yoke was soft, the load lighter and the work happier.
Archaeological records found at the Maria da Guarda Estate reveal elements such as the lagareta, a stone on which a Roman settlement was built, and where Lagaretta oil, a very exclusive brand, takes its name. It is a precious legacy and the prologue to the production of Alentejo and national oils. However, the vocation of the nearly 2 million kilos of oil produced annually in the oil press of the farm are dedicated almost entirely to exportation in bulk.
During the Roman Empire, the olive tree symbolized glory and peace. The oil coming from Lusitania, for its singularity and low level of acidity, conquered the palate of the demanding emperors, who brought to Rome the valuable nectar produced in the distant lands of Portugal. The olive tree and the oil are the basis of the Mediterranean civilization, which goes from classical Greece to Lusitania, passing through the Garden of Gethsemane, the garden of olive trees where Jesus went to pray on the eve of his death.
An old Portuguese saying: “my grandfather’s olive tree, my father’s fig tree, the vine grower I put in” illustrates the time needed to have a balanced olive production. In Portugal, evidence of the presence of olive trees can be dated back to the Bronze Age, but it is attributed to the Romans for the expansion of its cultivation in this country.
In Serpa, where there are numerous vestiges of Roman roads, bridges and buildings, and where the Farm de Maria da Guarda is located, there are the ruins of the City of Roses, as well as the remains of oil presses from ancient times that testify to the millenary vocation of ownership and the region in olive growing.
From the twelfth century the Portuguese oil, of excellence for food becomes one of the main export products, being in 1650 the most exported good to England.
The oil of Portugal, especially appreciated by our kings, had a special impulse with John III who in 1555 decreed that oil, bread and wine would never be taxed. Our entire feat is rich in stories written, read and told in the light of an oil lamp and famous for good meals accompanied by precious oil, in castles, monasteries and palaces. At every step the stones of Portugal speak to us of the excellence of oil and its various uses for lighting, health, war or just for food.