Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS)

The Agricultural System Ancient Olive Trees Territorio Sénia, Spain

GIAHS since 2018


Detailed Information




In the Territorio Sénia, distribution by economic sectors is the following: agriculture 13%, construction 11%, industry 11% and services 65%. It is highlighted the importance of the agriculture, in spite of most population are employed at services sector.

Both agricultural and livestock activity in Territorio Sénia maintain a balance and are closely related. Olive groves need other activities from the primary sector at the same time it supports them. Likewise, pig and poultry farms as well as cattle and sheep sector in the territory supply organic fertilizers to olive groves. The olives are transported to oil mills in order to produce olive oil, which creates subproducts that are difficult to process, both economically and environmentally.

Within the Territorio Sénia, these subproducts are reused in the majority of cases with the following economic and environmental benefit:

1. The olive stone is an excellent fuel used as a biomass resource for both the operating of oil mills (heating, hot water) and pig and poultry farms. The use of these kind of biomass as renewable energy allows economic savings and has advantages for the environment that other fuels are not capable of guarantee.

2. Leaves and the remains of olives during the milling process are also used as organic fertilizers to the own olive grove.

3. The remainings of the milling process (pomace oil) are sometimes used as a food input in cattle and sheep sectors, especially during the winter when grassland is scanty.

Therefore, it is a sustainable system in both economic and environmental aspect.

The Territorio Sénia is a large producer of the olive oil as 12 million liters per year are produced, varying from one harvest to another. Likewise, the olive oil produced in the Territorio Sénia not only has a commercial purpose but also it is important its use for self-consumption. There are lots of farmers or people who are involved in other sectors but also own an estate with olive trees and collect their olives to bring them to an oil mill and be able to consume their own olive oil.


The varieties of olive tree are very ancient and native. Probably, they were originated when the first farmers selected the variety of wild olive trees in a certain area. By selecting this variety they looked for the specimens with the largest fruit, a high content in oleic acid, frost tolerance, and wind resistance. Therefore, it is said that every variety is unique and adapted to weather conditions for each specific area.

In the area of the Mancomunidad Taula del Sénia four major native varieties can be found, which cover large part of the area in the olive growing regions. The most important varieties are: Farga, Morruda, Sevillenca and Empeltre. It is also worth mentioning other minority varieties that are also cultivated in the whole territory and are very important for their wealth of local and native diversity such as Canetera, Llumeta, Cuquello and Marfil.

The study of DNA of the different varieties allows to define the possible similar relationships between each other. Results have shown that all varieties are quite different among them. However, it seems an evidence that the varieties Farga and Cuquello are closer than others, which suggest that the second one is a seed from the first one as they share at least one allele in every of the locus studied. Moreover, Canetera and Llumet also have a certain similarity with this group, even though these varieties are clearly differentiated morphologically. Something similar occurs between Empeltre and Marfil although the relative distance between them is important. The rest of the varieties are more unrelated than the other ones.

This suggests that a great genetic wealth exists within the population of the olive trees throughout the regions members of the Mancomunidad Taula del Sénia. Possibly, due to their history, each variety came to the region in different moments and from different origins. Therefore, this diversity can also be observed in terms of both the agronomic behavior of the olive trees and the characteristics of the oil that every variety can produce.


The ancestor of the olive tree is the wild olive tree that spread through the Mediterranean thanks to bird species such as thrushes. This tree was domesticated in Near East 7000 years ago and the domesticated varieties were moved to the Iberian Peninsula by different civilizations.

Many of the cultivation techniques of olive groves and oil production being practiced nowadays were used in ancient times as they were described in Roman and Arabic agriculture treatises. Obviously, these treatises have not been read by farmers who have cultivated olive groves for generations nor even have ever heard about Columela or Catón as their knowledge have been transmitted orally, from generation to generation of farmers and have been adapted to the features of the territory.

Practices concerning olive growing are common in the whole Territorio Sénia and some characteristics and techniques used are specific of this territory as they depend on the type and variety of olive trees, the climate conditions and the legacy of traditions from past generations.

·         Plantation frameworks: distances of 12 metres between the trees and absence of geometry in the majority of cases. It is a legacy of the way the olive grove was started in this area. People took advantage of wild olive trees that already existed and selected the most vigorous ones in order to be used for grafting.

·         Very low plantation densities, between 50 and 70 olive trees per hectare.

·         Formation systems of 1 foot per olive tree. Normally, the traditional olive grove has 2 or 3 feet per olive tree.

·         Size of the trees: monumental specimens with large tree tops.

·         The 99% of the olive grove in Territorio Sénia is a traditional rainfed crop.

·         The renewal of the olive trees is not done in the whole property at the same time. The olive trees that die are replaced by other young trees progressively.

·         The predominant varieties in the territory can only be found in this area: farga, sevillenca and morruda.

·         Pruning depends on the size of the trees and the weather in the area.

·         Dry-stone buildings or land piled into mounds are used to protect the trunks of these olive trees with large tree tops against the wind.

·         Pest control (olive fruit fly) is done in a coordinated manner in the whole territory by trapping.

·         Concerning the production of olive oil, there is a strong tradition of partnership through cooperatives that mill the olives of hundreds of partners.

·         Capacity for collaboration between the different cooperatives and olive oil producers. Although they are competitors, they are able to join them to carry on the project Ancient Olive Trees Territorio Sénia, create the Guarantee Mark Aceite Farga Milenaria and follow the Regulation and good practices.


Traditions on the olive oil and the olive growing are part of the culture in the form of sayings and refrains. A repository of popular sayings has been created due to centuries of olive growing, olive fruits collection and olive oil production. These sayings contain so much true in few words. Some of them are related to weather events, dates, saints, agriculture and human relationships: “Si por San Juan en tu olivar, aceitunas hallas, una aquí y otra allá, buena cosecha habrá” (If you find olive fruits in San Juan in your olive grove, one here and one there, there will be a good harvest).

Some of the ancient olive trees in the Territorio Sénia has an own name and their own history or legend, which are being transmitted from parents to their children.

Among the uses of the olive oil, the culinary use is the most extended, appreciated and appropriate to enjoy the health benefits of the olive oil. It is the basis of most Mediterranean dishes and its aromatic nuances are the culmination of any dish. The olive oil made a name for itself in haute cuisine thanks to the book Nouvelle Cuisine, which supposed an abandonment of the heaviest sauces and opted for cleaner tastes: the olive oil gives a picture of lightness, despite being a fat.

Cultural manifestations with a playful character around the world of the olive groves and their oils heighten traditional practices and celebrate the outstanding milestones of the annual cycle of the olive growing and the extraction of its oil. Agricultural work of the olive growing is varied and complex and usually require the participation of several people and their families. Therefore, these practices are considered a social action where effort, experiences and conversations are shared.

Mancomunidad Taula del Sénia. Local public entity, which is formed by the councils of 27 municipalities from Valencian Community, Catalonia and Aragon. It was founded 12 years ago and works towards their inhabitants. Moreover, it works in cooperation with many public and private sectors and lead the program of preservation and putting on value the ancient olive trees in its territory. These municipalities have in common their history, geography, language, culture and the highest concentration of ancient olive trees.

Asociación Territorio Sénia. Private non-profit association which is formed as 50% by the Mancomunidad and as 50% by different economic sectors. It is necessary the agreement between the two parties (public and private) in decision-making, regardless of the number of assistants in a meeting. Apart from all the oil mills included in the Guarantee mark, there are also olive trees owners, restaurants and tourist companies, among others, which are part of the Association.

Local community. On the one hand, the extensive association network of the area is included in this groups: cultural, civic, sporting, environmental entities, among others. These entities cooperate by participating in the European Heritage Days as well as in festive events related to the ancient olive trees or even sharing their claims against the plunder of some of these specimens.


The Territorio Sénia is a land of contrasts, as confirmed by its landscapes. Its municipalities are spread between 1.129 metres (Castell de Cabres) and 7 metres (Vinaròs) above sea level.

Out of 10 municipalities of the Mancomunidad are over 1.000 metres above sea level. The highest summit is Tossal d’en Canader (1.396 m). Moreover, Tossal del Rei (1.356 m) is the point where Valencia, Catalonia and Aragon are united.

Furthermore, extensive livestock (sheep and cattle) is very important especially in mountain areas, where landscapes are more abrupt and rougher and large areas with grass are needed for their livelihoods. Within these areas, there are also farmers who continue practicing transhumance, so animals are moved on foot from one pasture to another depending on the season.

Another differentiated area is the intermediate one, where muncipalities are located between 100 and 500 metres above sea level. There, the common and basic crop is the olive grove, so it creates a landscape known as “the sea of olive trees”. However, there are also other crops such as carob trees, almond trees and grain. The highest concentration of ancient olive trees in Territorio Sénia can be found within this area.

The olive growing in the Territorio Sénia is a unique adaptation to space with long and fruitful history. It has its roots in the first processes of agricultural domestication and has got a key role in their history, culture, economy, ecology and beautify of its landscapes. Therefore, the olive tree is an essential part of the landscape of the Territorio Sénia and constitutes the living environment of great part of the population in these lands. The olive tree and its derived products are part of the culture, art, literature, folklore, rituals and, evidently, gastronomy.

The olive groves within the Territorio Sénia are characterized by the presence of traditional varieties of olives such as Farga, Morruda, Sevillenca and Empeltre, which are hard to find outside these lands, which confers personality and authenticity to the landscape.