Friday, 7 July 2017

Heavenly Scent … Attar of Roses …



We are now off to Bulgaria to imbue our senses with the heavenly scent of rose oil … to explore a fertile valley full of luscious bushes …

Rosa Damascene


… imagine walking through, riding on horseback, hiking along a trail … or now probably driving to take a tour … of a verdant plain covered with roses …



Fields of Roses


… first seeing the new foliage, then the soft buds, before in late May and early June the full blush of roses starting to flower … more and more as the days pass on … giving over the entire valley to a pink glow of rose …





I’m back to quoting Patrick Leigh Fermor from the last of his trilogy of books ‘The Broken Road’ … as he walked in the 1930s over the Great Balkan mountain ranges into this fertile valley …

Essentially Eastern Rumelia - which became absorbed into the country we know as Bulgaria.
Plovdiv and Kazanlak artistically blobbed in red! ... but you can get the gist of the topography

 The entire valley is covered with rose bushes, hundreds of thousands of them, all despoiled now by the long summer and fingers of the rose-harvesters;


Courtyard of Rose Museum in Kazanlak
For Kazanlak is one of the chief places in the world for attar of roses, that powerful distillation of rose oil which was so highly prized in the courts and harems of the Orient, especially in India and Persia.


The deep crimson, yellow-centred Damascus rose, famous for the sweetness and pungency of its scent, is the favourite flower for the attar …


… armies of men and women toil in the valley gathering the petals, culling them soon after dawn, before the high sun can drain them of the dew and the perfume which the night hours have been storing up.


Then in Kazanlak, these showers of petals are poured into enormous vats, the oil is collected … the precious remainder, like Calvados in autumn in Normandy, is distilled through a battery of alembics…


Distillation Equipment of Zosimos from the
15th C - Byzantine Greek manuscript
Codex Parisinus
… and so concentrated is the essence which finally emerges that it takes over three thousand pounds of rose petals to produce a single pound of attar.


The valuable elixir is then bottled in tiny gilt and cut-glass phials, a mere thread of attar to each, and sold, understandably for enormous prices.



The smell is captious, overpowering and a little cloying … at the heart of the rose harvest, everything in Kazanlak smells of it.


The valley is aswoon … the brightly coloured petals, bursting out of their sacks on the carts and wagons in which they are piled, scatter the dusty roads with rose pink escapees …


… ahead to the north lay the Shipka Balkan, and I was soon climbing through the woods of walnut, oak and beech, empty except for an occasional swineherd and a swarm of razor-thin pigs: dark hairy creatures rootling for beech nuts and acorns which crackled underfoot.


I hope like me … you can feel you were there with Fermor in his rose blossomed valley … before he walks north into the natural woodland decorating the low hill sides before the craggy mountains push their way forth towards the sky.




Rila Mountains - the source of the
Maritsa river which flows through
Plovdiv on its way to the Aegean Sea

After writing this I have a hankering to also visit Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria, but in its recorded history usually known as Philippopolis, after Philip II of Macedon conquered it in 4th century BC.




The city was a Thracian settlement later being invaded by Persians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Goths, Huns, Bulgarians, Slav-Vikings, Crusaders and Turks … that’s a right mix of genetic heredity!

Plovdiv nestled in its hills



Subsequently the Russians were added in to the mix … as they liberated Eastern Rumelia, a large swathe of land, from the rule of the Ottomans.





As the European Capital of Culture 2019 – Plovdiv’s history will be revealed to the world … and I am sure there will be tours to Kazanlak with its Rose Museum …

Lamartine House

… as well through the valley of crimson, yellow-centred Damascus roses through which the Tundzha river and its tributaries flow slowly meandering across the landscape.




Rose gathering



I can imagine this place … and as it is five years ago that my mother passed on … this is dedicated to her as she was passionate about her flowers as well as learning in any way she could.  





Imagine the scent from these freshly picked
Damascus Roses



We would have had some wonderful discussions following on from reading these sorts of articles – sadly I found Fermor too late … but I, at least, have found him …





I wouldn't mind driving this route ... but particularly would do
Number 3 Plovidv and along the valley north east to  Kazanlak





Our first flush of roses is over … beautiful they have been … now the next buds are bursting forth to bring us summer scents of heavenly wonder …





Rose Distillation Process ... Bulgarian Rose Otto

Atlas Obscura - Rose Museum Kazanlak


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

59 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

He was an incredibly evocative writer wasn't he? I don't think I have ever read any of his travel pieces without longing to see the places he wrote about for myself.
A lovely post for your mother - who passed her love of learning on to you.

Mike@Bit About Britain said...

As usual, I didn't know half of this, Hilary. Sounds like Plovdiv's the place to go! I lovely dedication to your mum. I still miss my parents and its nice to catch myself appreciating things they would have enjoyed; I think that's how people we love stay with us.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That Lamartine House is wild.
People like roses for the flower but I never considered the oils made from them.

Out on the prairie said...

what a treat to enjoy. I can never have enough of their scent.

bazza said...

I learned so much from this post. I really knew nothing of Bulgaria or distilled elixir of roses!
The rose bush near our front door doesn't let you forget it's there; it can be smelled from four meters away!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s effulgent Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Chatty Crone said...

Gosh - you learn something every day that you are on earth. I love flowers, but not too good at raising them - but I did love that rose. I also had no idea that you could get oils from them. Thank you.
Have a good weekend! Sandie

Andrea Ostapovitch said...

I love what Mike said. My Grandmother's memory floods me whenever I smell roses. She scented everything with rosewater. That valley would be heaven.
Have a great weekend,
Andrea

Rhodesia said...

I always have a bottle of rose oil on hand to put on certain spots in the room when I feel like roses around. I am lucky our roses all have a great perfume, and walking around Pons earlier this year in the park, I have never smelt roses in the air so strong, it was amazing with beautiful rose beds everywhere. I wonder if they had the Damascus rose there. It seems a pity that so many roses in this day and age have no perfume at all.
Another great post with masses of interesting info. Well done Hilary.

C.D. Gallant-King said...

Three thousand pounds? Of rose petals? That's a lot of Rose petals.

Sounds like a fascinating place. Eastern Europe and the Balkans have such an interesting history.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That is a lot of roses needed. Then again, it takes a lot of rose petals to make a parade float.

A Heron's View said...

I think that Attar of Roses is the most popular fragrance ever used and still very widely used today amongst al types of people and for many different reasons ranging from perfumes to medical reasons.
Damask Rose Otto 2.5 grams costs €90.00

A Cuban In London said...

Gorgeous writing. Beautiful images, too. Thanks.

Greetings from London.

Murees Dupé said...

I never knew Bulgaria was famous for their roses or rose oil. Definitely learnt something new. Hope you are doing great, Hilary.

Lenny Lee said...

what a nice dedication to your mom. my mom loved roses and always had a big garden full of them. my favorite was a bright orange one called Tropicana. funny i still remember the name of that one. i remember the garden smelling so nice and my mom being so happy when she was out there tending to the roses and all the flowers.

i think it's kind of sad to destroy so many beautiful roses just to get a little attar to sell to people who are rich.but it sure is a beautiful sight to see before they remove the leaves.

Liz A. said...

That's a lot of roses. I certainly hope the attar is worth the trouble. Although, I wonder if anyone needs such a dense concentration.

Emily Bloomquist said...

Sounds like a wonderful place to visit and I can almost enjoy the scent through my laptop. Ecuador exports a lot of roses but many varieties here are grown for beauty rather than aroma. I love it when I run across strong scented roses here, the kind where a small bouquet fills the air with amazing rose scents.

Emily | My Life In Ecuador

Annalisa Crawford said...

What beautiful prose - I can understand why you'd be tempted to follow in his footsteps.

Joanne said...

I have a heady whiff of the roses - rich and thick. Wow. Tough to sustain good roses in Texas - the weather is so extreme. However my neighbors are originally from the UK and they have a lovely selection every spring. It must be in the genes.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Hundreds of thousands of rosebushes! Wow. The sight and scent must have been amazing. I loathe imitation rose scents, but the real thing can't be beat.

troutbirder said...

Ah. Who was have thought? I love Calvados at the first sniff or was it sip. In any case quite a few of my fellow tourists were quite elderly and nearly choked because their first taste was taken on the mistaken assumption it was some fancy French wine...:) I'm adding Bulgaria to my "bucket list....:)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ EC – Fermor is extraordinary … reading his words again – they ring delightfully true giving one a heady mix of the views, aromas and history ... I love it – and like you want to visit.

My Ma was delighted I was out there writing and bringing ideas for her to think about …

@ Mike – I agree Plovdiv is definitely on my map and that journey … it is a wonderful way to think about one’s parents and what they would have enjoyed … as here the delight of a bed of flowers … and yes she is here with me as I type …

@ Alex – the Lamartine House is quite extraordinary isn’t it … and was named after the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine as he travelled back from the Middle East. We know things … but they just don’t sit at the forefront of memory …

@ Steve – it must be a stunning area to visit … and like you I love the scent …

@ Bazza – delighted to read this … as I didn’t know very much – but finding out I’ve really whetted my appetite … having that rose bush by your front door must bring you lots of pleasure … so lovely …

@ Sandie – it’s fascinating how we can utilise plants in so many ways – so pleased to see you here …

@ Andrea – memories of our relatives are prevalent and this post has brought back many for me … my father’s mother loved lavender … so she had lavender bushes in all her borders …

@ Diane – I’ve got some rose oil somewhere … must do what you’re doing with yours. You’re lucky you’ve a garden. Pons must have been a stunning visit … interesting town too … when one gets that heady scent it’s difficult not to stop and drink in the sense of place for a while or more … there’s a frontage here along Eastbourne seafront that is full of roses and carnations – so I make sure I walk past to soak in their aroma …

I agree about having plants where the scent has been bred out – so sad …

@ CD – yes a lot of rose petals and a lot of fields … I’d love to visit to learn more – East European/ Ottoman history is fascinating …

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Diane – of course if we go the parade float route – then I can see lots of petals being used there … I didn’t think about that.

@ Mel – attar of roses has been around for millennia (in some form) … as you say for health reasons usually … to cancel out some of the smells that were more prevalent in earlier days … I know the expense of a tiny phial … is a huge amount …

@ ACIL – Fermor writes beautifully – as I’m sure you’re aware … glad the images gave the piece a bit more body as such …

@ Murees – good to see you – yes it’s an interesting history lesson, something I didn’t know about.

@ Lenny – so lovely seeing you here – and I’m so glad you appreciated the dedication to my Mama – how fantastic this post brought back memories of your mother … and you can remember her favourite: ‘Tropicana’ – it is certainly a big blousy rose – and I see has a fully fruity fragrance – with a wonderful colour … coral orange – I agree it looks gorgeous.

Those memories are so precious for you … and it’s wonderful you can remember the garden and being with her when she was so happy.

It is sad to destroy the flowers – yet in doing so … they give pleasure to so many others … earlier in history – they’d have helped ‘eliminate’ some of the rather odorous smells that would have been around.

@ Liz – it is isn’t it – but the ‘trade’ has been around for centuries; I’m sure the attar is perfect for its use … less strength would not be more – in this case …

@ Emily – that’s great you can ‘scent’ the fields of attar through your laptop. Now you mention that South America and Ecuador exports lots of roses … I’ve seen that … in fact I’ve posted about them somewhere, but can’t for now find it!

Bouquets where the rose scent fills the air – are just lovely, as too a bowl of roses at home …

@ Annalisa – I know … Fermor writes so well … I couldn’t compete – occasionally I try …

@ Joanne – that’s great the scent stretched over into Texas. I imagine Texas wouldn’t be good rose growing country – sad because they are a stunning flower to have around. How wonderful to have neighbours who can get their roses to grow – yes the green-fingered Brits …

@ Susan – the valley must be full of them and so heady with scent – wonderful. I am totally with you – I too loathe false scents, sadly people seem to live with them now-a-days – they are my bete noire! The real is just perfect … nature at its best.

@ TB – that’s great you’re adding Bulgaria to your ‘bucket list’ … excellent. I expect your fellow tourists in Normandy were probably expecting something slightly sweeter – Calvados is definitely an unique taste …

Thanks so much to you all – delighted you’ve enjoyed your trip to Bulgaria to see the roses of yore that were indicative of my mother and her early life with us … happy weekend – cheers Hilary

bookworm said...

I knew about Attar of Rose but not how and where it was harvested. I can't even begin to imagine the scent hanging over the valley. On the other hand, the pickers must learn to detest that scent, as they toil in the hot sun. The Unknown Journey Ahead agingonthespectrum.blogspot.com

Sylvia van Bruggen said...

wow what a wonderful description of the roses and their smell. It made me feel like I was there. The scent of hundreds of rose bushes... wow!!!

I had no idea Bulgaria was such a big producer of rose oil. I use it on my altars, always makes me smile when I smell the rose scent. So lovely.

Thank you for taking us on a trip through the roses, I am smiling :)

Birgit said...

The words sound intoxicating just like these rose petals! I would love to smell these roses and I dropped my jaw learning how many petals is needed just for a small amount of this perfume. Love that house and always reminds me how they avoided the tax man.

Kim Blades said...

Hello Hilary. What a beautiful place Bulgaria is with its medieval feel and scent of roses. Another place I would love to visit. But I can go there in your stories. Take care. Kim

M. Denise C. said...

Bulgaria? Roses? Who knew--?? Thank you, Hilary.

Jean Davis said...

What beautiful roses! Thanks for sharing about Bulgaria, a place I knew little about until now. :)

Jacqui Murray said...

That's fun. I have never heard of that. Loved the map.

Deborah Weber said...

Oh what a rich intoxicating journey Hilary, and what a lovely tribute to your mother. As a natural perfumer I've been working on a rose based perfume these past months, and I've loved loved loved working with a variety of rose oils. I can only imagine what a delight traveling the pink-glowed rose trails of Bulgaria must have been. Rosy blessing to all!

Suzanne Furness said...

What a fine and beautifully scented post to dedicate to your mother. I love roses, so wonderful to look at and the smell . . . reading this I could imagine the aroma. I am intending to plant some scented climbing roses in our garden. All the best, Hilary.

Inger said...

I could actually smell the roses, what a wonderful writer.

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,

Shall keep my comment mercifully brief. Such rose-enhanced aromatic quotes from that clever author. It all makes scents to me.

Have a wonderful Sunday, Hilary.

Gary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Bookworm – I imagine the workers do get overcome … but it must be such a wonderful place otherwise with the delicious scent …

@ Sylvia – that’s excellent if you felt you were there … Fermor writes exquisitely … that scent of roses. I think many of us have rose oil around … but to learn this about Bulgaria really entranced me … so glad you’re smiling too …

@ Birgit – intoxicating is a good descriptive words for his show of the landscape … masses of petals to make a small amount of oil – then miniscule portions taken off.

I didn’t take in your mention about taxes and the LaMartine House … but I have since found out … another interesting snippet – thank you …

@ Kim – thank you … I too can travel with my stories –I’m grateful to say … Bulgaria has really drawn me in … so I’m glad you appreciate the post …

@ Denise – I know … a stunning part of the world and those roses … aroma abounding …

@ Jean – I’m glad you felt you have a learnt a little about Bulgaria via this post … the rose fields must be wonderful …

@ Jacqui – so pleased the maps helped, together with the valley of the Damascene roses …

@ Deborah – you love scents, treasured oils and as you mention a natural perfumer … that’s coincidental isn’t it that I write about these roses, while you are working with a variety of rose oils to create a new perfume. Delighted you travelled with me through the pink-glowing fields …

@ Suzanne – it was a post that came to me … and my mother loved all flowers, but roses were a favourite – so glad you could scent the aromas. Oh what a wonderful idea – scented climbing roses are just a delight to have around…

@ Inger – yes Fermor certainly writes fantastically well – I’m always entranced by his journeys …

@ Gary – so glad the post made some sense to you as you read through Fermor’s words …

Thanks everyone – so good to see you … we are having balmy days here – it’s stunning see the sea with hardly a ripple and feel cooling breezes – summer is really here – cheers Hilary

Robert Bennett said...

It's so gorgeous. I guess I'd never considered the real history of roses, but this was pretty incredible. Thank you.

Sandra Cox said...

Oh my gosh. I can't imagine. Talk about a corner of heaven or Shangri-la.

Sandra Cox said...

PS And what a lovely tribute to your mom. Flowers and learning, the best things ever.

Nick Wilford said...

I knew nothing about distilling roses and I also learnt more about Bulgaria than I ever did before. Another excellent post!

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Roses are so beautiful and fragrant but a difficult flower to keep up with. They take real dedication to keep them from returning to their wild state, or to keep free of disease and such. I love them though, and when I've had them in my garden I'd pick bouquets in June to bring into the house.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Robert - I certainly didn't know there was such a huge rose oil industry in Bulgaria, nor that much about its history ...

@ Sandra - it must be wonderful to be there, when the plants are in full bloom, and to see the petals being picked and taken to be distilled - thanks so much, my mother would have loved knowing about the process ...

@ Nick - my eyes have been somewhat opened to oil of roses, and also to what is now Bulgaria ...

@ Karen - they are as you say lovely ... but need some attention and care, as do all plants. Those bunches of roses from your garden must bring back lots of memories ... wonderful scent ...

Cheers to you all - have good weeks ahead ... Hilary

Jo said...

Fermor sounds just up your alley Hilary. I loved the descriptions of the roses. The petals falling by the wayside reminded me of cotton picking in NC and one sees bolls of cotton having fallen out of their sacks as the trucks haul them to the mills. No scent as far as I am aware anyway.

The modern roses don't have the perfume of the older ones. Used to really love them in my garden in the UK.

cleemckenzie said...

I'm imagining the rose scent in the air. I struggle with my small patch of roses that seem to share their pollen so that I can't tell when one is going to be red or white or a bit of both. I'm also imagining 3,000 pounds of rose petals. That's one heck of a lot of rose petals.

This is a perfect way to pay tribute to your mother.

Crystal Collier said...

The roses sound so beautiful, but all I kept thinking while reading that was, "Glad I'm not there. Hello allergies!" Is that sad? I love flowers, but I'm remembering when my hubby, then fiance, sent me 2 dozen roses while he was away, and I couldn't even be in the same room as them. My roommates got to enjoy them though. And so did I, after they'd been dried. =)

H.R. Sinclair, Southpaw said...

What a spectacular site that must be when in full bloom. I wonder if it get hard to breathe in the distilling rooms. Roses can be so heady and thick when there are so many of them.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I can't imagine that many roses. And so many to make a tiny bit of attar. It would be an amazing tour to take.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jo - I do love his books ... so descriptive. I can believe the cotton bolls escaping from their panniers - I doubt there is any scent from those. They are crafting new roses with scent too ... but the old fashioned varieties are very pungent - so deliciously scented ...

@ Lee - that's a wee bit challenging ... sounds like you have one dominant rose - and thus get the cross breeding ...

I know the amount of petals needed to make the oil is totally mind boggling ... but thank you for your words re my Ma - she'd be happy ...

@ Crystal - oh gosh allergic to roses ... how sad - I know some people are - some of the nurses used to say to me ... oh no - fresh flowers when I brought them up to my Ma - she loved them - because of their allergies.

Your story about your hubby sending you those flowers ... must make you laugh now - but frustrating then ... and great for your room-mates ... so glad you dried them and kept them .. .

@ Holly - a spectacular sight indeed ... and I'm sure the scent gets overpowering at times (if not all the time) ... roses can be 'heady' - I agree there ...

@ Susan - it's difficult isn't it - to imagine the process and the area and the plant full of rose petals ...

... oh thanks - the tour does sound incredible doesn't it ...

Cheers and thanks for your visits ... a sight to behold most definitely - Hilary

Nilanjana Bose said...

Lovely evocative writing! As usual I have learnt a whole swathe of things I didn't know. All I knew was the name of Damascus rose and that attar of roses costs a bomb. (I'm not much of a fan of floral scents - potential savings are enormous, I guess :)

Hope your summer is going well!

DMS said...

Wow! I feel like I was right there. I had no idea about any of this. How fascinating it must be to be in a place that smells so strongly of roses. I can imagine it being heavenly and a bit too much. I think I would like seeing it the most. Amazing what it takes to make an attar of roses. My head is swimming with all I learned on my journey here today. Thanks for sharing. :)
~Jess

Christine Rains said...

Oh how lovely! What a vivid description. I can imagine being in a valley of roses and the scent is fresh in my nostrils. Thank you for taking us on this journey.

Pat Hatt said...

That house is sure weirdly set up, in a good way. Never thought about them coming in oil form. Wow, everyone wanted to invade too, quite the genetics indeed.

Lynn said...

So lovely that roses make you instantly think of your mother. Lovely post and very informative! Makes me want to visit Bulgaria.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Nila - wonderful writing isn't it. Since I've been reading Fermor's books I've been constantly delighted with new references ... and this valley just entranced me. Oh I can see the savings you spend on floral scents ... I don't do them either - fresh flowers or one 'parfum' Lanvin Arpege: that's me.

@ Jess - his writing is quite extraordinary ... beautiful descriptions. I'm sure the aroma is overpowering in the fields and at the factory ... but heavenly too. I definitely have a hankering to visit. Just glad Bulgaria and its roses enticed ... wonderful.

@ Christine - you are so right - vivid description at its best - short and succinct, but beautifully expressed. So glad you can imagine being there ...

@ Pat - the house was specially constructed ... I think I'll need to do a post on that too. So many plants 'convert' to oils ... which we forget about - as here with rose oil. I know everyone was passing through on their way to Europe ... it is a huge mix of peoples ...

@ Lynn - yes, flowers and her love and knowledge of plants always bring memories back of my mother ...

Thanks to you all for visiting - lovely to see you ... cheers Hilary


RO said...

This sounds so amazing! I see roses all the time, but never really thought about the history tied to it. I can almost smell them right now! Hugs...RO

FinnBadger said...

Looks fascinating. Hopefully you'll be blogging about your trip.

Sandra Cox said...

It would be worth a trip to Bulgaria just to see that valley:)
Hope the rest of your week is productive and pleasant.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Ro - the place does sound amazing doesn't it ... it must be so different, yet so glorious ... I'm glad you found Leigh Fermor's words so descriptive ...

@ Phillip - actually I never went, nor plan to ... just the anticipation of visiting and then being able to think about it by writing in advance ...

@ Sandra - I agree ... I'd love to visit Bulgaria to see its topography, architecture ...

Cheers to the three you of you - a clear crisp sunny early morning down here - Hilary

Marja said...

A nice tribute to your mother. What a treat that must be a valley of roses Also the landscape and houses look very attractive. Eastern Europe is on my bucket list Would love to include Bulgaria in it now

sage said...

A wonderful and interesting trip--a delight to the eyes and nose! Enjoy

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Marja - so glad you've added in Bulgaria to your Eastern Europe trip - I think it'll be well worth it .. and I'd love to visit the rose valley and the museum ...

@ Sage - when I get to do the trip .. it will be fascinating ... and I will definitely get up to the Rose Museum and valley ..

Thanks to you both - cheers Hilary