Many small towns around the city of Bari base their economy on olive trees. Bitonto, however, is particularly emblematic, for it has become the place where olive growing is the most specialised. The "fine" oil taken from these trees represents an almost exclusive economic source.
The importance of both oil and olive tree is attested from ancient times through legends, quotes, emblems and symbols connected to olive groves. The best example is the olive tree and the motto found on Emperor Federico II's coat of arms: "Ad pacem promptum designat oliva Botontum", meaning "The olive tree designates Bitonto to ask for peace".
70 oil mills had been registered In 1815 (Catasto Murattiano) and in a few years there were over 200. In 1864, of the 176 mills and cellars around Bari, 119 were in Bitonto. After the introduction of the mechanisation the number of mills was lowered, but nowadays there are still twenty active mills in Bitonto.
The oil, which was made at first from the Cima di Bitonto (Barese Ogliarola) - sweet and with a hint of almond - was integrated from the nineteenth century to the Coratina (typically found in Northern commons such as Andria and Corato). This particular variety showed itself to be more proficuous and easier to harvest because of the larger size of the olives. The plant is very different from the first, it is tall and regal, but more importantly it is one of the plants with the highest levels in polyphenols in the world. This means it results in very spicy and fruity oils (particularly if the olive isn't ripe) which keep their features unaltered for over two years thanks to their natural capacity to resist oxidation. Many olive trees in Cima di Bitonto are re-grafted from time to time and the mixture between the two kinds of olives makes Bitonto's oil's longevity even more valued both from an organoleptic and a commercial point of view.
Another one of Bitonto's characteristic is the early opening of its oil mills, which happens concurrently with the Feast Day of Saints Cosma and Damiano in October, about twenty days before all the other municipalities in Apulia.