The Rose Festivities in the Rose Valley, an annual event of nationwide importance for Bulgaria, are a candidate for inclusion in UNESCO’s intangible heritage list. They celebrate rose picking, which provides material for rose oil, a product essential for cosmetics, and also a substance possessing a myriad of benefits for the skin and for the hair.
Oil-bearing roses have been grown in the Rose Valley for several centuries. The specific conditions of the location, especially auspicious February temperatures, and that is the month when rose buds are formed, also the sandy soil, and the showers in May and June, which additionally help to increase the production of oil, contribute to the growth of fragrant roses whose petals are picked to process and get rose oil. It is often pointed out that even in the home country for oil-bearing roses, China, the climate and other conditions are inferior to the ones available in the Rose Valley.
Annually, between 7.8 and 8.5 thousand tonnes of rose petals are picked in Bulgaria.
Some historical facts
In the 19th century, there were about 10,000 decades with roses, and the amount of rose oil produced annually was up to 1 tonne. The first rose oil production factory in Bulgaria was opened in 1820. Some decades later, the factory founder’s sons started to offer the product on the international market.
At the beginning of the 20th century, perfumery and cosmetics started to put rose oil into the focus as an indispensable ingredient of their products.
In Bulgaria, the “Bulgarian Rose” company in Karlovo has had a protected name of origin: “Bulgarian Rose Oil”, since 1944. The name was entered in the Patents Office of Bulgaria.
In 2014, the “Bulgarian Rose Oil” label received a patent as a Bulgarian product included in the Register of geographic names protected by the European Commission.
Rosa Damascena and the oil produced from it
Roses grown in the Rose Valley are of the Rosa Damascena sort. To produce one gram of oil, over 1,000 petals are needed. The substances contained in the oil are over 300, and they all exert auspicious effects on the body and skin. Thus rose oil produced in Bulgaria is the most precious and in the highest demand worldwide. The oil is derived by double distillation. The main components in it are higher alcohols and a host of trace elements. They all contribute to the long-lasting charming scent of the oil.
Rose petal picking
Picking the petals of roses in the Rose Valley takes place in the end of May and the beginning of June. Its start is turned into a festive event.
Picking the petals is performed by hand. Another key requirement for the picking is to take place in the very early hours of the morning and last by noon at the latest. The reason is that during that period, the flowers are the richest in scent. The dew on the petals also helps for that. Rose pickers should pick flowers that are not completely abloom because they can better keep the scent and the humidity needed.
Rose pickers are dressed in national costumes and are accompanied by masqueraded dancers called koukeri, plus dancing groups. They invite guests to try picking petals themselves, and also to sample rose jam, rose brandy and rose liquor.
The first festivity to mark the picking of roses festival for oil was organized in 1903, in Kazanlak. Nowadays, the celebrations are held in several towns in the Rose Valley and comprise not only picking petals but, too, parades and rituals, as well as competitions. Guests and citizens can see rose boiling, participate in folklore festivals, and, most interestingly, watch the choosing and crowning of the Rose Queen among young girls.
The Rose Queen competition
That is a competition with which the festivities in the Rose Valley start. The main Rose Queen competition takes place in Kazanlak and has been held since 1963. The Queen represents the town and the country at different international events. Since 2015, the Kazanlak competition has had its own statute.
In Karlovo, another important town in the valley, festivities are also organized, with rose pickers in national costumes. On the central square, celebrations comprise songs, dances, crowning the Rose Queen, and the end is marked by a round dance called horo. Guests and natives can see exhibitions of artisan objects, and at the town museum, a distillation demonstration is carried out.
Rose cultivation in Bulgaria and rose oil properties
In the several centuries of growing oil-bearing roses, Bulgarians have added to the precious properties of this plant, which was initially imported from abroad. Cultivation has augmented the quality of rose petals and of the oil derived from them.
Rose oil belongs to etheric oils. The distillation which helps to extract the oil is carried out with water steam, and fresh rose petals are used. Then intermediate cooling follows, which helps to raise three times the amount of rose oil derived.
There is also another method of getting oil from roses, via extraction using ether. The resulting substance is soft and waxlike. From it, the oil is derived using alcohol.
Organic rose oil is highly ranked by leading perfumery producers, like Elizabeth Arden, Chanel, Paco Rabanne, Kenzo, etc.
Rose oil producers and the annual amount of production
Bulgaria is doubtless the worldwide leader in the production of the fragrant oil. Annually, about 2 tonnes of oil is produced, and 95% of that amount is exported.
Rose producers in the country total over 2,000. They contribute to producing between 70% and 80% of the total rose oil amount produced the world over.
Kazanlak, a small town in the Rose Valley, is considered the “capital” of the Rose Valley. It also boasts a museum unique in the world, the Rose Museum. There, the history of rose growing and oil production, as well as petals picking, can be learned. The museum houses in excess of 15,000 exhibits.
It is a must to see and smell a vessel for oil which was last used in 1947. The fact that it still smells strongly of roses testifies to the quality of this unique Bulgarian product.