I haven’t heard of anyone who hasn’t enjoyed spending holidays in Andros. The island is full of breathtaking beaches, wherever you look you will see beautiful houses and shops created with local flair and whenever you want to eat you’ll find plenty of taverns offering tasteful local specialties. If you happen to visit Andros make sure to enjoy all these, but don’t leave before you visit a place that’s really special. It’s something you will hurry to share with your friends when you get back home, and be sure you will never forget about it: The Cyclades Olive Museum of Andros.
Even if you’re not a big fan of Museums, this one will enchant you. It’s not just another exhibition of remains of the past. This building is still alive and you will feel the breath of all those people who had worked hard all their lives struggling to mill every last drop of oil from the blessed fruit of olive trees. It’s a real olive mill which has been restored exactly as it was more than 50 years ago when it was abandoned. And all this wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Mr. Dimitris Helmis’ persistence and passion and his devotion in offering his own time, his soul, and who knows what else, in order to revive this place and create a monument of Greek tradition, in many aspects.
Journey into the past
The village Ano Pitrofos was built in the 16th century and the olive mill was one of its first buildings. The house was abandoned in the 1960’s and was slowly falling apart as timed passed, covering the old oil mill in the basement year by year. Mr. Helmis took over the building in the end of the 1990’s; the house as well as the oil mill had been completely restored to their original state by 2006 preserving its structure, the equipment and all of the houseware found. This accurate revival of the building and its oil-lamp like lighting will take you back on a sweet journey into the past, free from any fakeness.
It is the only preserved and fully equipped traditional oil mill unit, standing in its original site, and you will get the chance to see the process of milling step-by-step exactly as it happened centuries ago: You will hear about the Herculean task of moving the large 1.2 tons weighing stone from the mountains to the mill, how the donkey would pull the wheel around to mill the olives and in the end you will witness the impressive techniques used at the big manual press to extract every drop of oil out of the milled olives. Back in their glory days, the oil mills were operated from October to February, almost 24/7, and the only way to understand how hard and lengthy this process was, is to see it with your own eyes.
Objects bearing human life and history
You will notice that there’s something unique about this museum the moment you enter into the stone-built basement. 100 years old photos of the villagers, kitchenware at the family hearth and old tools in every corner create an atmosphere no other museum can. Because, these are not just exhibited items; these items have been part of the place for decades and centuries. Through these items and rooms, stories of the old and new owners revive to create a clear connecting line between the past and the presence, reminding us of the dual face of time. The face of creation, but also of the face of oblivion. The aspect of oblivion was made very clear to me when I looked into the eyes of this woman in the portrait. Her picture was found in the ruins of the building, but no one could remember who she was.
Knowledge and Emotion
You will learn a lot of things, not only about the process of oil milling, but also many interesting facts about oil, its quality and classifications and also a few tips of how to pick good olive oil next time you go to do your groceries.
In the end of the beautiful and warm tour through the rooms and through time, you will get to see a short video of the first milling, using all the traditional methods, shot in 2000 when the first phase of restoration was completed. Some of the people you’ll see on this video had been working at the very same oil mill using their own hands half a century ago. And there they were again, one more time. The emotions in their eyes will move you deeply.
Don’t skip visiting this great living monument of our agricultural tradition, a true model of modern Greek creativity.
We sincerely thank Mr. Helmis for his inspiration, his persistence and his stamina to go forth with the restoration and maintenance of this beautiful place!
Learn more about the museum on the website of The Cyclades Olive Museum.