Rose Industry in the Rose Valley of Bulgaria

The first roses were brought to Thrace by the returning soldiers of Alexander of Macedon's garrisons. Belgian chronicle mentions that in 1210 crusaders saw large areas planted with roses near Edirne. It is however not clear whether it was not crusaders themselves who brought the roses to that region. Hajji Khalifa, a Turkish geographer and traveler, writes about the rose gardens he saw near Edirne in 1652.

What he meant by "near Edirne", however, is rather vague. Edirne was the first capital of the Turkish Empire before the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. It was also the largest commercial center for a long period of time. The French Ambassador to Edirne wrote in 1849 that rose oil was produced in the environs of Edirne, more precisely, in Kazanlak, Stara Zagora, Karlovo, Kalofer and Plovdiv. It is assumed that those chroniclers, who wrote about Edirne, often had in mind the Rose Valley as well. The roses referred to were brought from the region of the town of Kashan in Persia through Syria and Damascus.

Administratively Kazanlak belonged to the Edirne Vilayet and was thus under the supervision of its chief gardener. The soil and the climate in the Kazanlak region turned out to be quite suitable for the rose, so the planting was sustained there, while in the surroundings of Edirne it declined and eventually disappeared. Reviewing in detail all that was written on the origin of the Bulgarian oil-bearing rose, Venelin Topalov presumes that the cultivation of roses was introduced to the region around Kazanlak, a town founded in 1420, by Turks. The roses were reportedly brought from Tunisia by a Turkish judge.

Rose Industry in the Bulgarian Rose Valley

Legends told in the Kazanlak area have it that the judge had beautiful vast gardens planted with fragrant roses. On February 25, 1593, through his chief gardener in Edirne, Sultan Murad III ordered the judge to make a better use of his lands and cultivate roses for the needs of his palace.

The climatic conditions of Kazanlak proved to be more favorable for the cultivation of the rose than those in its country of origin. This is specifically valid for the rainfalls. The air humidity, cloudiness and precipitation in May and June contributed to obtain roses yielding high percentage of oil, and oil of superior quality. This oil contained less stearoptene than the one produced in the Kashan region. An original Bulgarian technology for rose planting was gradually developed and adopted as a general practice. It was called kesme. In addition to being less labor consuming, it produced roses of a much higher propagation factor, about 1:3. The major benefit, however, was that the original character of the rose and the quality of the oil were preserved. The rose stabilized as a planting and under the local conditions it developed in full. No other cultivation method has been able to preserve the character of the rose almost unchanged for over three centuries. This fact explains why there were no attempts at cultivating other rose varieties in the Rose Valley. The technology proved so good that rose bushes were even exported to the Russian and the Turkish empires of the time.

Distilling equipment was imported from Persia and Tunisia. They were very carefully tested and assessed and while the apparatus was accepted as more up-to-date, the planting material was not approved. Significant improvements were made in the borrowed vessel alembic (a copper, 100-120 1 vessel, tinned on the inside which was used for distillation of rose flowers), which was developed both into a separate distillation unit and as a complete distillation equipment, called gyulpana or gyulapana (the place and the equipment used for distillation of rose flowers, or what is nowadays called, rose distillery) Striving to obtain rose water of better quality and of higher alcohol content, in the course of time people came to employ double and then multiple distillation. This was a unique Bulgarian innovation in the technology, which made it essentially different from the original one. The multiple distillation technology was tested and adopted on the analogy of the method of stilling rakia (a kind of Bulgarian brandy) used in the villages north of the Stara Planina mountain in the vicinity of the towns of Troyan, Sevlievo and Gabrovo. Rose water of higher alcohol content was obtained and, what is more important, a new product, the rose oil, was produced. The Bulgarian rose oil soon made a name for its superior quality. The demand for this oil of unsurpassed quality has not faded until today.

Rose Industry in the Bulgarian Rose Valley

The Bulgarian producers of the time became aware of the fact that they were manufacturing a new and precious product, and that the industry of rose processing had to expand towards the production of rose oil, rather than rose water.

Distillation of rose flowers for liberating oil, a technology unknown anywhere in the world so far, was welcomed by the new industries of perfumery and cosmetics that were flourishing in Western and Central Europe at that time. To satisfy the new consumers of rose oil, the markets were transferred from Edirne and Constantinople to Vienna, Frankfurt and Paris. The new direct road connecting Bulgaria and Vienna, as well as the boat traffic along the Danube River, which was making its first steps, came into use. These developments brought rose oil merchants into close contacts with the European consumers. Safe transportation of the costly rose oil required good packing.

Rose oil concum

For this purpose, special tinned copper vessels in decorated wooden casing, called concums were designed. The so-called muskals, made of copper or glass, also inserted in poker-worked wooden and sometimes metal casings, were used for smaller quantities.

The Bulgarian rose oil was recognized in the world market for its superior quality and the cultivation and processing of roses developed as the first Bulgarian industry.

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