Rose damaskina

Content is developed by:

  • Rositsa Ivanova
  • Zhenya Tsaneva
  • Preslava Pencheva

In the Middle Ages along with the development of the Islam religion in the Near and the Middle East the rose was used for the production of Rose Water.
It is known that in 817 the caliph Mamun got 30 000 bottles of rose water as a tax.
We find the first reports regarding the production of Rose Oil through distillation in the calendar of Harib from 961, written in Cordoba,Spain. The next historical reports for the production of pure rose oil dated from 1577 in Frankfurt on Main – Germany and in 1614 in the town of Grasse – France.
As a historical beginning of the introduction of the Oil-bearing rose from the Near and Middle East in Europe we can indicate the 13th Century.
During the crusades count De Bruyer in 1270 brought the Damascus rose from Syria to France.
The same rose was brought into the Sub-Balkan valley where in found the best growing conditions in a area later called „The Rose Valley”. The specific natural geographic conditions – favorable temperatures in February, the time of the formation of the buds which blossom in May and June, the high air humidity at this period and the sandy forest soils , on the one hand and the skill of the Bulgarian peasants of the area to produce pure and uncomparable in quality rose oil necessary for the progressing European perfumery on the other determined the traditional occupation of more than 200 000 people in Bulgaria.

Till the 16th century the oil-bearing roses often decorated the palaces of paschas ans Beys , and was later user for the production of Rose water necessary and applied during the Muslim customs and ceremonies .

In1840 the germen count Moltke would write : „Kazanlak is the Turkish gulestan , that is , country of roses . There the roses grow in furrows , like potatoes”.
In the middle of the last century the oil-bearing rose was planted mainly in four geographic areas of Bulgaria – Kazanlak , Karlovo , Tchirpan , Stara and Nova Zagora . Still we find oil-bearing roses in 1870 in the surroundings of Elena , Triavna and Sevlievo , as well as in the region of Pazardjik . In 1906 there were in Bulgaria 22 rose growing regions with 210 communities , from which during the 40’s remained only 6 region .

The question – where for the first time was used the double distillation in the production of rose oil is also interesting . The French researcher Langlais considers , that the production of rose oil through double distillation first was made by the Europeans and not by the Arabs . For initial he indicates the year 1582 . And in fact , we find no information at all in the works of Arabian authors regarding the double distillation of rose attar .The European travelers who had visited Persia and India in the Middle Ages do not mention the production of rose oil in this way either . They usually praise the good qualities of rose water . The year 1612 is associated with the use of double distillation by the Arabs , usually recalling the legend for the Persian queen Nurdjikhan .

Since the beginning of the last century the rose oil in India was produced in the same way : they used to put into the cauldron 40 pounds of petals and 60 pounds of water ( 18 kg of petals and 271 of water ). The mixture was stirred well with hands and under the cauldron was lit the fire . When the water began to evaporate they put the lid and the cock of the cooling pipe was closed . The distillation lasted about 4-5 hours and for that time about one half of the water evaporated . With the 30 pounds of rose water obtained they used to pour over 40 pounds of rose flowers and so the process went on .
The saturated rose water they used to pour into earthenware or tine containers , which they left in cool places during the night . The next morning the rose oil was separated with special instruments . The Indian rose producers didn’t use cooling vessels with cooling pipes . They put the vessel with the distillate into cold water . Similar in form and technology is the French alambic where the cooling pipe is inclined at an angle of 30 degrees . In his 330 years’ history of rose oil production the Bulgarian rose grower introduced a number of new details in the traditional technology known at that time .
Through those he not only increased the quantities of oil obtained , but also maintained its fine fragrance and incomparable quality .

rose oil


The primitive rose distillery – Gulapana was usually built in proximity of running water . Under a special shed were built the fireplaces for one , three or more distillation cauldrons in function of the land cultivated by the grower . The rose grower Petko Orozov from Kazanlak caught the waters of the springs in the area of “Atemoy vrah” and built an artificial river “Abayata” , on which he established the distilleries of St.Grouyoglu , St.Kaseoglu etc .
The Bulgarian rose producer implemented two new methods of cooling at the distillation of the rose petals : cooling vat and cooling tub . The pipe was inclined at 45degrees from the alambic to the cooling vessels . The lid of the bulgarian alambic was larger than the indian and french ones , with reverse inclination at the end which contributed for better accumulation of the water distillate .

During the past century along with the development of the rose growing in Kazanlak operated 42 craft shops for production of alambics , which not only manufactured alembics , but also used to tin them .

In 1860 in the Kazanlak are were used 1271 alambics with capacity of 160 .
The number of the operating alambics in the rose valley in Bulgaria depended on the number of rose gardens for the year .The above said information is available from a representative of the english “Pharmaceutical Journal” who visited Bulgaria at that time . It is interesting to know that the author distinguished three qualities of bulgarian rose oil . According to him in the villages with dominating bulgarian population , such as Shipka , Touria , Morozovo etc. was produced most of the first class rose oil . The information that the magazine supplied regarding the preceding year , 1859 confirmed that because of the “rust” disease on the oil-bearing rose less distillation alambics were used . The average rose oil produced during the harvest period per one alambic was 135 vials or 675 grams .

Felix Kanitz ( "Rose-picking in Bulgaria")

Till the beginning of our century or around 1902 when was started the building of distilleries operating with alambics with capacity of 800 and 2000 liters , the number of the smaller ones used before was reduced considerably .
While in 1905 there were in the country 2798 distilleries equipped with 13128 alambics , in 1931 remained 376 distilleries with 1449 alambics . Besides the new shape of the alambic , the bulgarian producer implemented new elements in the technology of the oil production .
He used to put in the container about 15 kg of flower and 601 of pure water , often spring water . Usually he kept a proportion of 1:5 or 1:4 flower : water depending on year – rainy or dry . The extraction of bulgarian rose oil lasted for about 3 hours and the collected distillate from each alambic , about two bottles per cauldron , was redistilled , and the rose oil obtained was separated by means of special devices . For production of 1 kg of rose oil were needed about 3000 kg of rose flowers , picked up between 5 and 11 o’clock a.m.
The production of more and better quality rose oil depended both on the region where flowers were grown and the skill of the distillation masters .
Turkish documents from 1846 related to rose distillation in the regions of Nova and Stara Zagora prove that bulgarian rose oil producers compared to the turkish ones,
obtained more oil per alambic , respectively 40 to 85 vials or double the quantity produced by the turkish .According to local rose oil producers the secret consisted in right time reduction of the strong fire and the continuing of distillation at low fire and regular cooling by means of the cooling vessels where cold water was running continually .
Original in shape and content is the copper container for storing and export of rose attar , called “Konkouma” . The bulgarian rose dealers used to export rose attar in “konkoumas” with capacity from 50 g to 5 kg , but for storage they used such containers with capacity up to 200 kg . Depending on the orders of the perfume makers those copper containers were wrapped up in soft felt fabric and isolated with felt and finally arranged in wooden cases for expert .




The production of rose along its 330 years history was different . While in 1849 were produced 180 000 vials or about 900kg, in 1852 they were 300 000 vials or 1500 kg . The pre – war years , 1905 – 1914 marked the highest rose oil production –
between 3 and 6,000 kg .In 1917 in Bulgaria there were more than 80 000 decars (1 decar +1000 m²) rose plantations . The price of a vial or 5 grs of rose attar was different . In 1799 – 1805 the price was between 3 and 5 groshes , in 1820 it was 3 groshes , in 1850 – 7 groshes and in 1878 it was 16 groshes . After the Liberation in 1878 the price was still going up . In 1885 – 5 levs , in 1897 – 6 levs , in 1922 – 82 levs and in 1925 – 270 levs .
The application of steam heating at the distillation of the rose was introduced in 1876 by the rose-dealers house H. Hristov , but the war from 1877 -1878 interrupted the large-scale application of that method. At the beginning of our century such method was applied by french specialists in the region Karlovo .
Many appraisals ,diplomas and medals testify for the quality of the bulgarian rose attar.
In 1888 because of the pretension of certain german oil produced in Leipzig ,330 grs of Kazanlak rose oil was sent for testing to the Moscow chemical laboratory. After numerous analyses carried by russian specialists , a book entitled “The Bulgarian Rose Oil” , Moscow , 1892 was published where the authors stated : “The german rose oil differs from the its darker colour and contains more stereoptene .” It is obvious that its high percentage needs to be reduced as well as its total value. “It is perfectly wrong the opinion that the german rose oil is more efficient than the bulgarian in its application”
At the beginning of our century the chemistry teacher at the Kazanlak pedagogical school , Hristo Iaramov – the founder of the first bulgarian laboratory for testing of rose oil and he began to issue quality certificats for export.
The presentation of the bulgarian rose oil on world exhibitions and fairs brought many gold medals and diplomas for the exhibitors .The rose dealing house “Dontcho Papazoff and Cie “ won two gold medals at the exhibition in Vienna in 1873 and in Philadelphia , USA , 1876.