“It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.”
Long a symbol of love and passion, the ancient Greeks and Romans associated roses with Aphrodite and Venus, goddesses of love. Used for hundreds of years to convey messages without words, they also represent confidentiality. In fact, the Latin expression "sub rosa"(literally, "under the rose") means something told in secret, and in ancient Rome, a wild rose was placed on the door to a room where confidential matters were being discussed.
Each color offers a distinct meaning: red, the lover's rose, signifies enduring passion; white, humility and innocence; yellow, expressing friendship and joy; pink, gratitude, appreciation and admiration; orange, enthusiasm and desire; white lilac and purple roses represent enchantment and love at first sight. The number of stems in a rose bouquet can also express specific sentiments. The June birth month flower and the 15th wedding anniversary flower, roses are also the national flower of the United States and the state flower of Georgia, Iowa, New York, North Dakota and the District of Columbia. And, not surprisingly, June – the month so often associated with weddings – is National Rose Month.
Rose Season: 15th March - 13th May
Each year, from the end of March until the middle of May, the country’s Green Mountain flushes pink. Thanks to its relatively temperate climate, this mountain plateau – approximately 100 miles inland from northeastern Muscat – has been the site of gardens filled with damask roses for over a thousand years. And, their much sought after perfume is still cultivated in traditional methods, thought to have been introduced by the Persians. Petals are picked in the morning, when the Arabian sun is at its least fierce, before being packed into earthenware to be boiled in mud ovens. The resulting condensation is then carefully filtered until a clear liquid – the famed Omani rose water – remains.
Alila Jabal Akhdar – to give the Green Mountain its proper name – hides its orchards and gardens among twists, folds and valleys, known as wadis in Arabic. At first glance, the region’s epithet seems something of a misnomer. However, guided tours through mountain villages and terraced farms reveal rows upon rows of pink bushes, themselves framed by jutting peaks. As a cottage industry of sorts, you’ll also find the village homes where the rose water is distilled. If you throw your net a bit wider, there are also hikes past
kilometre-deep canyons and rock dwellings carved out of the very
Rose Essence Extraction
The distillery process will begin only when the villagers are confident that they have enough roses, typically about 2kg, to produce a full batch of rosewater.
Once a sufficient amount of roses have bloomed, they are plucked and kept covered under a wet blanket for three to six hours. The damp roses are then stuffed in 15-litre pots and a small copper bowl, known as tasar/salha, is placed on top of them.
The opening of the pot is sealed with a wet fabric and a wood fire is ignited (these days many are switching to gas-heated flames) below the pot. Within 30 minutes, the vapour starts evaporating off of the rose petals which will create a condensation on the surface of the wet cloth, dripping back down into the copper bowl.
It takes nearly three hours for the copper bowl to fill, and when it does, the liquid is poured into another vessel, the burnt petals are replaced with fresh ones, and the process begins all over again. This cycle will continue 24-hours-a-day for two to three months, until the season ends around mid-May.
Prized, pure rosewater, made using only rose and water, is typically identified by its crystal clear colour, but the rosewater of Jebel Akhdar, while pure, is quite different. In addition to having a much longer shelf life than typical rosewater, it is brown in colour, and features a prominent smoky smell and taste due to the fact that in this simple distillation process the petals are allowed to char and the liquid, rather than being distilled in an open system, is tightly sealed in a closed system where it is allowed to take on the smoky scent and flavour of the burning petals.
“It is said to have medicinal properties, curing headaches and improving the skin, and the water is often sprinkled on guests and visitors to the mountain small villages to welcome them. But the primary use of this water is culinary. If you sip a cup of kahwa served to you by the locals in
Dakhiliyah, then it will no doubt taste different from the delicate rosewater-laced coffee you’ve tasted down in Muscat. The biggest consumer of the smoky rosewater in Oman are the halwa factories who use it for the distinctive flavour it adds to traditional Omani halwa.”
Excerpt From: “Rose.” iBooks.
Rose Season: May - June
Endearingly nicknamed the Rose City, Isparta ranks among the world’s biggest growers of the renowned Damascena rose, and exports rose oil all around the globe. Eco-friendly British brand Lush are buyers, and the rosewater is shipped out to the grand mosque at Mecca. With a 200-year history of rose oil distillation, harvest time, in May/June, in Isparta is more than just a boost to the economy (a mere 1kg of rose oil retails for around €8000, making it a profitable venture). It’s also a time of celebration for the villagers’ featuring a two-day Isparta Rose Festival, and a plethora of home-made rose marmalades, ice creams and cosmetics hit the markets.
The rose is most significant in Ottoman Culture and tradition. As the Ottomans gained experience in cultivating the rose, they developed numerous beneficial uses for it. Aside from the delicate fragrance used as perfume on the body, it was also used in mosques to fragrant them. In fact Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II had ordered for the Haghia Sophia to be cleaned with rose water before it was converted into a mosque. The Ottomans also started using the rose for its cosmetic and medicinal benefits.
There are currently 20 rose factories in Isparta, which produced approximately 10 tons of rose flowers in 2015 alone, roughly 80 percent of the rose production for Turkey. Most famous for the purest form of rose oil, which costs about 9000 euros for 1 kilogram and is often used in perfumes and cosmetics, Isparta exports to France, the United States, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Holland and Saudi Arabia.
Bulgaria is well known mostly for the Black Sea and its famous rose oil. It is the most important “rose country” in the world.
But it is only a special region in Bulgaria where this fine substance is produced. In the “Valley of Roses”, situated between the Balkan mountains and Sredna Gora (Middle Forest), between the towns Karlovo and Kazanlak, the Bulgarian oil-bearing rose has been cul-tivated for more than 300 years. In the valley itself there is a specific climate – mild winter and a long warm spring which give the perfect combination of moisture and warmth for the breeding of roses. The oil-bearing rose Rosa damascene was brought to Bulgaria from the Middle East and has established as an independent type of rose different from other oil-bearing roses cultivated elsewhere.
The Festival of Roses is like a tribute that is paid to beauty, especially that of roses. This festival originates from the celebrations held at the beginning of the rose-harvesting period. Old rose growers used to organise pageantries and paraded dressed up in rose flowers. The first rose festival in Kazanlak took place in 1903. A few years later, a similar festival was organised in the town Karlovo, situated in the same area.
Rose festivals have three main events - the electing of Queen Rose, the harvesting ritual in the rose gardens and the parade along the streets of the town. The festival is interesting for any visitor and it is contributing to the popularity of the rose industry, which is a primary means of sustenance for the people living in the Rose Valley.