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Olive Oil Lamps, romantic and useful

olive oil lamps had a long history, and were used for lighting alongside with candles. Oil lamps were mostly replaced by gas lights, kerosene (petroleum) lights and electric bulbs. However, people are still using oil lamps in the 21st century. See the different uses, the different styles and the different materials.

“And you shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive-oil for the light, that a lamp may be set to burn continually”. Exodus 27:20

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Oil Lamps Uses

olive oil lampCollectors love to increase their oil lamps inventory and museums love to display their oil lamps collection. The British Museum holds an impressive collection. Oil lamps history goes back to the Stone Age some ten thousand years ago. Oil lamps were ubiquitous and the technology reflected the technology of the relevant age. Bronze, iron and clay olive oil lamps were used alongside with candles to light up dwellings, and were used in religious ceremonials.

With the appearance of natural gas and kerosene that were much cheaper than olive oil, olive oil based lamps were used less ubiquitously and only for specific uses. By and large, oil lamps are still used for religious ceremonials, romantic atmosphere creation, emergency lights and by people who crave the past.


All oil lamps contain a larger chamber that contains the oil reservoir, a smaller chamber with a nozzle and a wick that connects the two chambers. The chambers are placed side by side or vertically.

For vertically stacked chambers, the nozzle (or nozzles) are always above the main reservoir, the oil reaches the nozzle through the wick’s capillary mechanism. The wick pretty much regulates the burn rate.

Menorah depicted on old oil lampMulti-nozzle oil lamps are lamps that have one main reservoir and more than one nozzle. The most famous is the Jewish Menorah. Ancient Roman clay oil lamps, showing on their face Jewish Menorah, are on display at the Museo Nazionale Archeologico ed Etnografico "G. A. Sanna" at Sassary Italy. The original Menorah from the Jewish Temple was not found to this day.


Through the ages, most materials known were used. Just to mention the main materials used to make oil lamps: gold, silver, iron and bronze, clay and slip, terra-cotta and carved stone. Modern oil lamps are made mostly from clay and glass; many times you can find replicas of old oil lamps.

Homemade oil lamps

Olive oil lamps are proffered over kerosene lamps or natural gas lanterns because kerosene and natural gas are byproducts of crude oil and their fume might be toxic. The best oil to use is olive oil, it burns slowly and the burning odors are pleasant. Pomace olive oil (lampante in Italian) is cheaper than higher grades of olive oil. All you need to make your own oil lamp is a bit of imagination, a fair size container, a wick and a nozzle. The wick can be a simple strip of cotton. The container can be a glass jar, and empty sardine can or any other container that has a lead. You can puncture the lead and insert the wick until it is dipped into the olive oil. You need to play, try and tweak the arrangement until you get a satisfactory performance. You may google the term “homemade oil lamp” to see other people creative ideas.

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