Todolí & Tot Oli. From the Foradada Region

JOSEP A. GISBERT, ARCHEOLOGIST

Ascending from the sea to the highlands of Diania¹, an ancient road connects the hill-top towns of Vall d’Ebo and Alcalà de la Jovada around which lie the archaeological remains of two Roman rural settlements, the villae of La Roca and La Cairola.

Throughout the centuries, people stored the golden oil in presses and large earthenware jars (doliae). The oil was produced by stone-grinding olives (orbes) in mills (trapetvm), and the presses (torcvlvm) forcefully extracted the olive paste. The wine and olive oil culture in these mountain regions were an inseparable part of the agrarian landscape already present in ancient Roman times.

During the Al-Andalus era, the rural environment of the La Foradada centred around the Gallinera and Alcalà castle fortresses (husun). They had territorial control of several small rural communities (gayrias) inhabited by families of Muslim origin who left their traces in place names such as bni.

They cultivated both small fertile plots and dry fields. The use of mills in the process of extracting the olive oil was common work during the Middle and Modern Ages. In feudal times, the fortress caverns owned by territorial landlords housed wine barrels and vessels, and olive oil in earthenware jars. It was the fruit of the soil, often cultivated in the forced service of the castles’ inhabitants.

La Foradada’s name comes from the particular hollow in the rock, next to which are the archaeological vestiges of a watchtower. Made of rammed earth, it still preserves the remains of a well. The watchtower was used from the 11th to 13th centuries to observe and control the surrounding lands, in visual communication with the castles. A ray of sunlight that pierced the hollow of the rock and pointed to a particular spot was interpreted as a miraculous effect of astronomical conjunction which led to the building there of the Saint Francis Order Monastery in Benitaia in 1611 under the auspices of the Borgia, Lords of La Vall de Gallinera.

Todolí’s olive trees now grow in what was once pastures and woods in an area that for centuries produced the golden oil, fruit of the ancestral agricultural landscape.

The olive trees grow in the terraced slopes carved out by men with drystone walling that originated in Mallorca, from where many people immigrated after the expulsion of the Moors in 1612. The terraces were constructed at the end of the 19th century to plant Moscatel vines. In an adjoining, east-facing open space, the grapes were spread and dried to be made into raisins. The manor house still has the arches of the naya (porch) of the riurau² where the cañizos³ (reed racks) were piled up, serving as a refuge from sudden storms.

Even after so many centuries of agricultural tradition, the scent of wild nature remains in this region. After a centenary period of vineyards followed by a mixed cultivation of almond, olive and carob trees, Todolí’s plants give us an olive oil with roots going back a thousands of years. The mix over the millennia of groves and shrubs and a century of agriculture, along the alchemist’s wisdom and the author’s taste, constitute the core of its unique, exceptional nature.