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Rose of Damascus

Rosa damascena – the Rose of Damascus. Surely this has to be one of the most gracious creations of the Earth Goddess – beautiful to behold with a glorious fragrance that has seduced men and the empires of men.

a hybrid Damascus Rose

These days it is cultivated and processed on an industrial scale to meet the demand for rose oil and other related products – but it was not always so. Originally a  native of Mesopotamia, Persia and India, the essence distilled from this flower was one of the great treasures of the Mogul and Ottoman Empires. In Kazanlak in Bulgaria, the distillation process was refined and perfected; and with the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire many of the skilled workers made their way to the area around İsparta in Turkey, bringing their craft and tools with them.

Today, the fields around İsparta are a sight and scent to behold at this time of year as the ‘crop’ comes into flower. The rows of flowers drift through shades of pink to red (to reflect market demand) and tradition has it that the rose heads are collected in the hours before sunrise; but I’ve not been around at that time to say one way or the other if that is the case on these ‘factory’ farms.

Anyway, all that is not the point of this post – those interested enough can follow this link to learn more. What this is about is the wild, undomesticated, non-hybridised Rose of Damascus. Various authorities have it that it no longer survives in the wild in its original form. They may be right, with cross-pollination adulterating the genes. But what about in those isolated places where mass production has never taken place – where hybrids are unknown – might such places shelter and nurture some of the original stock? I’d like to think so!

Two years ago, J and I discovered a small, uprooted bush, still showing a few sad, white flowers in what once had been the garden of a now derelict and long-abandoned house at the foot of our local mountains. The area was in the process of being cleared by slash and burn to make way for crops and so we salvaged a couple of bits of root and brought them home. We whispered sweet nothings, planted them up and hoped they would survive.

They did and today I took this photo of what I believe to be an original, unadulterated Rosa damascena – the glorious Rose of Damascus.

Rose of Damascus (Rosa damascena)

Here are a few interesting, related photos about rose oil.

100 year-old rose oil still Bulgaria
beautiful example of a personal still
preparing the mash
rose oil still circa 1885 Turkey

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

12 thoughts on “Rose of Damascus

  1. We have some glorious roses in bloom now but I’ve never been to fields of roses. Is Isparta the nearest place to see/smell them?

  2. I absolutely love that you and J saved the bush and got it to bloom again. It is absolutely THE Rose of Damascus. I dare anyone to disagree!

  3. Wow, it is great that they were still able to preserve those century-old rose oil still.

  4. So the original rosa damascene is white? And here I was thinking the color “rose” must have come from this variety, since they’re all that color now. Live (or read) and learn.

    1. . . a rose by any other name . . all are beautiful! The distillation process produces a clear product, but the market pressure to colour the associated products led to the pink hybrid which became dominant, ‘taking over’ the native species. That there are pockets where the original survives has to be a given, I believe.
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  5. It’s great that all your sweet nothings worked and you managed to bring back to life a beautiful Rose of Damascus certainly worth it. And it’s great that the preserving of the old rose oil still goes on.

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