Olive Oil Soap: a Sumerian invention in Calabria


There is a handmade olive oil soap conjures up the salty air, sweet smell from the nearby olive groves, and the evening’s scents on a summer’s eve in a beach town on the Mediterranean, in Calabria.

A Calabrian treasure of scents

Calabrian women have used for centuries olive oil soap as skin care,  the handmade soap, particularly, contains a substance, oleocanthal, which has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties.

A pure Olive Oil soap

Indeed, Olive oil cleans gently and kindly while helping your skin retain moisture. With regular use of this soap, everyone will feel the skin becoming suppler, softer and silky smooth.

Further, this versatile soap is wonderful for the body and the face, or melted in the bath.


There is a beautiful story about olive oil versatility and its profound utility, with regard to the soap made with olive!

The tradition of making soap with olive oil is very ancient. Some people say that it dates back to the ancient Egyptians, then the Romans, whose olive oil soaps have been used even for hair care.

Particularly, since the times of Roman empire until the Middle age the Silk Road was used for the export of so called “Aleppo’s” olive oil soaps, highly appreciate and famous.

Aleppo’s soap


Indeed, not many could imagine that the use of olive oil for the creation of soap is the result of the rich culture having lived in Mesopotamia, hence in very ancient times!

Namely, not many know that in the year 2,800 BC, when the Sumerians ruled Mesopotamia, there was the first evidence of a “soap-like substance”!!

At that time, the precursor of soap was the mixing of animal fats and olive oil with wood ash and water. The main use of this product was for the cleaning of wool, but secondary use was the sacred rituals of purification.

During Sumerian era, instead, only olive oil was used, eliminating animal fats. It was then that health benefits began to be discovered, such as the treatment of skin diseases.

Aleppo’s squared soap

Afterwards, the Syrian city of Aleppo, thanks to its tradition of producing high quality olive oil soaps since ancient times, as a legacy of the Mesopotamian culture, has helped to create a thriving industry, which the well known Silky Road has favored and helped to consolidate, by marketing such soaps till the modern age.

A beauty farm soap


Even today, sometimes, olive oil soap is called Aleppo soap by virtue of this centuries-old tradition. This magnificent soap is well smelling, fragrant and pure.

Indeed, the Olive oil soap is a product with many applications, unchanged since that era when it is described in some Mesopotamian tablets, whose pictorial cuneiform writing shows the different production methods.

Cuneiform Tables

Further, these techniques were perfected by the Egyptians, who added alkaline salts and made new uses for them.

Later, even Roman culture produced this soap and applied new uses to it. It has mainly been used as a waxy substance for hair. It has also been used by doctors and surgeons to clean body impurities.

From the 11th century AD, Spain became one of the main producers of olive oil soap under the Muslim government. The most famous of his time is the one produced in Castile.

Castile’s Olive Oil Soap

However, the main important thing is that…this kind of Sumerian soap is the  real precursor of the soap that we use all days!

An ancient mission of Calabria: pro-create Wine!


The same History of the Western world begins, according to Homer, with a divine deliberation about the disagreement to be posed between East and West, with the proud disagreement of the Achaean (the Greeks) from the East of Troy, and with the legendary war of the same name.

The Legendary War of Troy

To seal the decision of the gods intervenes the wine, that which divine Ebe pours to the Olympians, a wine certainly ancient, as immemorial are the traces in Calabria, in the land called “Locride”, of the production, coeval with Homer and perhaps the facts of Troy, of this magnificent vine elixir.

Thus Homer tells how the glass of Hebe, filled with wine is offered to the gods of Olympus, shortly before they decide the fate of Troy and the new world of the Achaeans (the Greeks):

“Sitting around Zeus,

the gods were at

conference / on

a gold floor, and between

their Ebe, venerable, /

poured wine them like the

nectar; those with the

gold cups /

drink a toast, while

turning their

look at Troy “.

Iliad IV, 1 ssg.

The statue of Ebe from Canova

In the classical Greek world Hebe (“Ηβη, Hebe) does not have a well-defined history, it is a” discreet goddess “; however Hesiod speaks of it often and we like to imagine that the ancient archaeological sites, found in Calabria where the must was treated (the so-called “Palmenti”), were the primitive place where wine was for the first time “pro-created” by the ancient Bruzi and then by the Greek colonists. Yes, “pro-created”, born, for the first time in the Western world in collaboration with a creator, ….but not with the Goddess Hebe, but with God himself, who intended to give it to the “land of men”…

Gift of God


The ancient millstones excavated in the rock are the clear material document, in the area of Locride, very close to the site of the “Passito di Bianco”, of the relative flourishing and long-lasting production of wine in this territory, suited for the cultivation of vines from immemorial time.

The abundant presence of rock mills (tanks of sandstone for the decantation of the must), dug into the rock, represents a very important testimony of the flourishing wine culture in Calabria. This phenomenon describes indirectly and in an important way the agricultural landscape of a specific area of the Locride, that is that of the Ionian coast of Reggio included between the municipalities of Bruzzano, Ferruzzano, S. Agata del Bianco, Caraffa del Bianco, Casignana, Africo and Samo, where a massive concentration of over 700 specimens has been found.

Palmenti in Calabria


The manufacts made in the rock are part of the oldest production facilities for wine. Some rocky remains of the western Mediterranean date back to the first millennium BC, but since it is a technique used in all historical periods and lacking artifacts that prove its age, their dating is often difficult.

These types of millstones are also mentioned in the Bible [Jeremiah 48.33; Job 24,11] and have been present in Syria and Israel since the Bronze Age, where there are even more than 10,000; they were also found in Greece, particularly in Crete and the small island of Gaudos, used from the Minoan to the Hellenistic age.

The millstones of the area of Locride, instead, express the evident vocation of this territory, since Biblic time or Homeric, to viticulture and to the production of wines that from here were then shipped to the Mediterranean ports.

Near Bianco and Locri


The “Palmenti” show the primordial techniques in which the crushing of the grapes was carried out with the feet, as the paintings of the tombs of Ancient Egypt describe well.

The name “palmento” derives from the Latin pavimentum: it consisted of basins dug into the sandstone, an upper one called, in actual Calabrian dialect, “buttìscu” and a lower one called “pinàci”, made communicating with each other through a hole. The sandstone is a very friable rock and where this was not present, the stalks were built in mixed masonry and made impermeable with a layer of sand and lime plaster mixed with earthenware of a thickness of about 3 cm.

Palmenti near Ferruzzano, in front of Ionian sea

The palmenti were equipped with a channel that allowed the outflow of the liquid squeezed into a basin for fermentation, both made of clay. Then in the upper basin there were grooves in the side walls, where a large table full of holes ( in actual Calabrian dialect:“la foràta”) was placed, which served to create a narrow passage (“consu”) into which the pomace was poured to be further crushed by a large table of holed oak wood called “chjancùni”.

Once the processing practices were completed in the millstones, the must produced was finally placed in the wine amphorae.

Wine Amphora

A good part of the many millstones of this area of Calabria, which revolved around the prosperous Magna Graecia colony of Locri Epizephirii, are hypothesized to date back to a period between the 7th and 4th century BC, due to some archaeological materials found later, in Ferruzzano and in the towns of the district of S. Domenica and Carruso: some fragments of tiles, in Greek “pithoi”, plus a fragment of a Locrese vase and a fragment of a Corinthian vase, as well as the base of a MGS amphora (Greek-Italic).


On various surveyed and studied milestones, Byzantine crosses have also been identified, which therefore indicate that wine production continued to be present and lasting even in the sixth century AD: among them we must remember two extremely important ones since they bear the Justinian cross engraved, unique examples in Calabria.

This area is also rich in Basilian caves and architectural ruins: this suggests that the landscape has been transformed over the centuries, alternating between buildings, destruction, reconstructions and movements from the coast to the hinterland.

Greek Ruins


Until not too long ago, given that the use was ignored, the Palmenti were used even as troughs for the animals; others, unused, were destroyed to make way for the cultivation of the land.

Such oblivion is a symbol of History repeating: Western world and Italy forget origins of wine making as a gift, as a “procreation” of Calabria!

Oblivion of ancient wine making

One of many unique features of Calabria’s Wine Region is its great number of vines, representing the genetic root of all Italian and Western vines. Apart the ancient tecnique of Palmenti, which was “pro-created” here, you cannot count the popular indigenous varietals like Gaglioppo, as well as many that are still being re-discovered today, which gave rise, genetically and archeologically, to the highest number of indigenous grapes of all Italy and the World.

Since first production of a pure wine of vine in Armenia, 6,000 years ago, only Calabria and its Magna Graecia gave to the world a unitary tecnique of production and winemaking.

This is the main reason why the top of global wine  list elected Calabria for decades as the land of more interesting wines, not only for the region’s untouched splendor and beauty, but also for the history of its wines!

The golden mask of Agamemnon