The oldest traces of wild apple trees come from the area of today’s Turkey about 8500 years ago. However, the first noble varieties of apple trees were bred 2000 years later in the area of today’s Caucasus and the peninsula of Asia Minor (Anatolia). Then the seeds were transported to Egypt and Palestine. Later, apples began to be cultivated in Greece, from where they reached Rome, and spread throughout Europe. In Poland, the cultivation of apple trees was started in the 12th century by the Cistercians in their monastery gardens.


Apple symbolism

The apple is a fruit that has been associated with both positive and negative symbolism throughout history. In the Christian tradition, the apple was a symbol of temptation and desire. It also symbolized cunning, deception, evil. However, at the same time it was a symbol of life, eternity, health, fertility and knowledge. Alexander the Great was interested in this fruit, looking for the elixir of youth and immortality. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the apple depicted in paintings was the fruit picked by Eve from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Nevertheless, the Bible does not use the name of the fruit - Adam and Eve simply ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge. The apple is also an eternal attribute of royal power - it is used in coronations next to the sceptre and the crown. The royal apple symbolized power in the Roman Empire as well as in Byzantium.


Apple tree in ancient culture

Thanks to military conquests, the apple tree came to Egypt during the reign of the pharaohs. Apple trees were grown there for utility and decorative purposes, and after some time the apple also became the object of worship. On some papyri from ancient Egypt an apple is present next to the ruler. The spherical apple symbolized the world and Pharaoh’s rule over the world. In Greece, apple trees were already known around 1200 BC. The apple also played a significant role there. It was considered a tasty and medicinal fruit. The apple is also mentioned in Greek mythology. There is a well-known story about the apple of discord, i.e. about the wedding events at the Court of the Greek Gods. Goddess Eris, present at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, at one point threw an apple with the words: “For the most beautiful”. The three goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite began to fight over it. The dispute was settled by Prince Paris, recognizing Aphrodite as the most beautiful and giving her an apple.


Apple in the Christian tradition

In Christian culture, the apple played an important and symbolic role. According to the Bible, God created a perfect world in which there was no suffering, tears or death. In this world, that is, in Paradise, he brought Adam and Eve to life. Unfortunately, driven by vanity and pride, they soon betrayed God. As a symbolic gesture of disobedience, they tasted the fruit from the forbidden tree (the message says that it was from an apple tree), believing that in this way they would be equal to God. The disobedience and pride of Adam and Eve met with a severe reaction from God. They were expelled from Paradise into a world that is close to us. Paradise - a garden of pleasure was sometimes identified with an orchard. In the Christian tradition, the apple was a symbol of temptation and desire, but it also has a positive meaning. In the hands of Jesus or the Mother of God, it announces the redemption of sins. Medieval and later paintings often depict baby Jesus holding an apple in his hand - a symbol of the world. An apple with a cross instead of a petiole is a royal apple, a symbol of power.


Apple trees in monasteries

As the Roman Empire grew, apple trees spread across Europe. Trees were planted in the gardens of wealthy Roman settlers. In the Middle Ages, apple cultivation developed mainly thanks to monasteries, although apples were viewed with some suspicion as they were considered a symbol of original sin. At the same time, due to their spherical shape, they were associated with something particularly valuable and perfect. The apple has become a symbol of world domination. The apple was also an attribute of earthly monarchs. From the monasteries, the craft of grafting trees and cultivating apple trees spread to the palace gardens of magnates and courts. In Europe, a large role in the development of apple and pear cultivation was played by the gardens of Versailles near Paris during the reign of King Louis XIV. In the eighteenth century, the court gardener La Quintine developed methods of growing dwarf apple trees in the form of strings, candelabras, fans, lanes, cones, as well as methods of cutting such trees. These were the first gardens filled with dwarf apple and pear trees, which became the prototype for dwarf commercial orchards in the 19th and 20th centuries. In Poland, the greatest achievements in the promotion of gardening, and in particular the cultivation of fruit trees, were made by the Cistercian and Benedictine orders brought to Poland from southern Europe by the then kings in the 11th century. The monasteries in Ląd near Kalisz, Jędrzejów, Sulejów, Sandomierz, and Tyniec near Kraków developed the craft of gardening in viridaries, i.e. in closed gardens, including the craft of grafting the first noble apple variety called 'Aporta'.


History of apple cultivation in Europe

The cultivation of apples has spread mainly in the Mediterranean basin. The apple tree comes from Southeast Europe, Asia, China, Japan. At the beginning, due to the great distances between the apple tree varieties found on different continents, it was not possible to interbreed them. Only human activity has contributed to the creation of many new plants. It was then that varietal breeding was started, which initially consisted in the positive selection of seedlings, later on purposeful interbreeding of the best varieties and the application of the principles of genetic engineering. By the 19th century, several thousand varieties had been developed in Europe. The introduction of apples to Europe was one of the most important events that shaped Europe and its culture. The apple is the most popular and most consumed fruit in the world. Its popularity has grown over time as it has become a staple food for people, especially in countries where people do not have access to fresh produce. Popularity goes hand in hand with the high quality of European apples, which to this day delight the palates of consumers from various corners of the world.


The beginnings of apple cultivation in Poland

The first mention of the cultivation of apple trees appeared only in the 12th century. Contrary to popular belief, there were no wild apple trees until cultivated apple trees were planted and fruit seeds were dropped near houses, in a field or forest. Seedlings bearing unremarkable fruits called wildings sprouted from these seeds. There were valuable seedlings among them, which were propagated by grafting and given an appropriate name. Villagers harvested pears, plums, sour cherries and cherries (wild cherries), and hazelnuts from trees growing in the fields or at the edge of forests. In the times of partitions, and especially since 1870, the development of commercial fruit-growing begins. The centres of development were either monastery villages (Opatów, Sandomierz, Tyniec, Czerwińsk) or court farms, which, planting trees for their own needs, planted excessive amounts and sold excess fruit. Nurseries propagating by grafting valuable varieties of fruit trees from Germany and France were also established. Jan Krystjan Urlich’s nurseries in Warsaw were among the most impressive ones.