Rose Festival Kazanlak History and History of the Rose Damascena in Bulgaria

The Rosa Damascena plant was most likely brought to the Bulgarian lands from the Middle East. The best home for it in Bulgaria was found in the valleys around the towns of Kazanlak, Karlovo and Kalofer along the southern slopes of the majestic Balkan range and Sredna Gora mountain. There is something about the air, soil and climate of that area that stimulates the natural synthesis and accumulation in its blossoms of rose oil of outstanding aroma.

The Production

Thanks to the gained experience during the centuries in the brandy production the Bulgarian rose-producers developed the process of rose production by the means of double distillation. On that way the quantity of the extracted product was increased, keeping the fin fragrance and unique qualities of the rose attar.

rose festival kazanlak history

The primitive rose-distilleries – gyulpanas were built near the rivers. Fireplaces were built for one, three, five or more cauldrons; shelter was preparedwith beams and Turkish tiles. The wealthy rose-merchants Dimitro Papazoglu, Kancho Shipkov, Hristo Hristov built gyulpanas with twenty and more cauldrons. In different places people used different numbers gyulap cauldrons and always built the gyulpanas near rivers. Sometimes the wild rivers broke the gyulpanas and made additional work for the rose-producers. If the river banquets were high wheels for raising the water to gyulpanas were used.

rose festival kazanlak history

The traditional Bulgarian gyulap cauldron consisted of two parts -cauldron and lid. The cauldron had four handles: two upper and two down, which served to bring it down the fire. The cauldron body was in the shape of frustum of a cone, in which was laid the lid. The last was bigger than the French and the Indian one and on this way was improved the water vapour gathering, which were brought to the cooling barrel falling under 45°. And that was the difference between the gyulap and brandy cauldron. The brandy cauldron was under the slope of 90°.

Number of the working cauldrons depended on the corps. For example in 1860 in Kazanlak region were used 1271 cauldrons: in Aleksndrovo 107, Shipka 103 etc. Approximately 135 phials rose attar were produced by a cauldron. The Kazanlak region was a leader both in the number of planted lands as well in the number of used cauldrons.

The methods of the rose producers

The main prerequisite for producing rose water and after boiling -rose attar was the sufficient cooling of water vapours. As a result of many years practice the Bulgarian rose-producer used two methods. Bulgarian inventions were three to five times more effective than Indian and French methods. The first method used cooling hod and the second cooling barrel. They were uninterruptedly supplied with water to obtain sufficient cooling. Unless in India was cooled the vessel in which was gathered the rose oil, in Bulgaria the medial cooling through cooling hod and cooling barrel led to continuously and effective cooling of the distillate. An hour after lightening the fire under the cauldron, in which was put 15 kg rose blossoms and 60 L clean water the mixture boiled up and started the rose-boiling. Receiving more and quality rose attar depended on both – the rose blossoms and skills of the rose-producer.

Bulgarians – the greatest masters of the Rose oil production

The practice proved that the Bulgarians are better masters than Turkish in rose-boiling. Turkish records from 1846, concerning rose-boiling in regions of Stara Zagora and Nova Zagora give the clue that more Bulgarians produced more rose attar from a cauldron. The Bulgarian rose-producers produced from 40 to 85 phials rose attar from a cauldron per season, and the Turkish from 14 to 53 or twice less. The rose boiling should have been made on weak fire, not admitting the cauldron to burn and the rose water to leak. Despite of hard work during the gyulap everything was beautiful and interesting. Near the river around the fires of the gyulpanas masters worked skillfully. At the same time in the center of the town or village were organized celebrations. The Bulgarian rose-producer celebrates the gyulap as a Day of the rose.

rose festival kazanlak history

The producers collected the leaking rose water in special gyulap bottles – about 8 L. To obtain rose attar, collected from each cauldron two bottles were turned back in the cauldron and started the process of re-boiling. Re-boiled rose water and the concentrated rose attar were put in special flasks, called “syuriya”. Since the rose attar is more light it went to the surface above the rose water. Then very carefully with the help of pipettes and syringes it was separated and stored in the attar flasks.

The rest of re-boiled gyul in the cauldron was strained through sieve and the cauldron was supplied again with rose blossom and water. This process continued till the rose blossom turned out. For obtaining 1 kg rose attar it took about three thousands kilograms rose blossom form red Kazanlak rose and about five thousands of white. The produced quantity of rose attar was measuring in special unit for weight, called phial and is equal to 4,9844 grams or approximately 5 grams. Till the Crimean war in the Bulgarian rose-producing regions, people produced up to 300 thousands phials rose attar per year. For example in 1949 Bulgaria produced 180 thousands phials and in 1952 – 300 thousand.

Rose Festival Kazanlak History after the Liberation from the Ottomans in 1878

After 1878, the production of rose attar began to increase. In 1881 in Karlovo region were produced 110 thousands phials rose attar, in 1899 – 405 thousands phials, and in 1909 – 848 thousands phials. During the years people produced different quantities rose attar. Some years increased, some decreased depending on the geographic factors, world wars and crises.

The producers exported the Bulgarian rose attar in special vessels, named konkums – tinned copper vessels. For export they used konkums with capacity of 5 gr. to 5 kg., and for storage of 5-120 kg. They wrapped the konkums for export in soft feit cloth and wooden cases. On them the producers put their badge and the weigh of the rose attar.

The first fields

The first commercially harvested rose fields were planted in those areas in the late 16th century. The Rose oil was obtained by water distillation of the blossoms and re-distillation or cohobation of the “first waters”. Seventeenth century craftsmen introduced the copper ‘kazan’, or still, with a special sealing lid and a side pipe that passes through a barrel of cooling water for condensing the outflow. The stills were wood-fired and the outflow was stored in special glass tanks from which the oil was skimmed off the top with a little funnel-shaped implement. This method, which required great skill and dexterity, was perfected throughout the centuries with the aim of enhancing and better preserving the fine aroma and quality of the rose oil. It was employed in all ‘gyulapans’, or rose distilleries, scattered through the Valley of Roses.

The first distillery

rose festival kazanlak history
rose festival kazanlak history

In 1909 Mr Enio Bonchev – a very intelligent and progressive tradesman built the first rose distillery in Bulgaria. He built it in the village of Tarnichene, situated in the heart of the Bulgarian Rose Valley. A Robert College graduate, Enio Bonchev was able to establish trade relations while he was in England and later in France where he graduated from the Lyon Business School. World- known companies such as Yardley, Shiris and Sunlight as well as smaller perfume and cosmetic producers form Paris, Vienna, Milan and New York were among Enio Bonchev’s clientele. For the high quality of Rose oil, the distillery was awarded a gold medal by UNESCO at the international Congress on Essential Oils in Plovdiv in 1964.

In 1947 the Rose oil distillery in Tarnichene was nationalized by the Bulgarian government; under the supervision of the state it continued working until 1967 when was turned into a museum.

The Karlovo Rose Valley

The town of Karlovo is also part of the Rose Valley. It is renowned as a center of rose-growing and rose flower procession, long before the Bulgarian liberation. For many years they were only a means of living but in 1906 Bulgarian and foreign tourists became interested in the attractive rose gardens, magnificent nature and traditional architecture in the region.
Initially, after the restoration of the Vassil Levski’s birth-house in Karlovo the days 31st May and 1st June / Whitsunday and the Holy Spirit / were celebrated as the day of Levski and in the town a big national fair was organized, gathering people from all over the country.
Later, that national fair takes the character of a National holiday and as a result of the coincidence with the spring blossoming of the roses it gradually became famous as the Rose Festival in the Rose Valley, the region of Karlovo.

During the Communist Period

The fame of the Rose Festival Kazanlak history declined after 1944. The tradition lost its popularity although people from the village of Rozino celebrated the Rose Festive every May as a local initiative. The first of the holidays was on 3rd May 1957 and the tradition continued 10 years. Eyewitnesses remember the fact that Todor Jivkov attended some of the ceremonies.
In 1967 with a Ministerial decree the statute of the Rose Festive was confirmed as a national holiday. It was organized annually in the first Sunday of June and the host rights were given to the both rose-growing regions – Plovdiv and Stara Zagora Districts which had to organize the event consecutively.
Karlovo was the host of three national holidays in 1968, 1970 and 1972. Since that time Karlovo and Kazanlak Valleys have organized separate celebrations.

Some important events in the programme of the Rose festival

1. At a beauty contest, preceded by a show-spectacle the “Queen of Roses” is chosen. She is considered to be the most fascinating, beautiful and artistic girl among the candidates.
2. “Rose-picking” ritual (Rozober) is held at the rose gardens near Karlovo. Folklore groups, mummers (kukeri)-wearing scary masks and dance ensembles which recreate the great joy of the coming rose-picking participate in the event.
The Queen of Roses awards the best rose-picking workers while they are decorating the guests of the celebration with wreaths and garlands of roses. Afterwards they all taste rose-brandy, rose-jam and rose- liqueur.
3. Procession of youth, beauty and flowers in the streets of Karlovo in which folklore groups and dance ensembles participate.
4. Exhibition-bazaar of the traditional art crafts.
5. Holiday children concerts, brass orchestras with “majoretki“– marching girls and concerts of famous Bulgarian performers and many others.
Except thousands of visitors, guests of the Festival were the heads of states, notable personalities and politicians from Bulgaria and foreign countries. Some of them are Todor Jivkov, Fidel Castro, Simeon Sacs Cobburg Gotta and Donia Margarita. Ambassadors of other countries – (the Japanese, the Russian, the French and others), Ministers and National Deputies also attend the festivities.

The significance of the rose in the world

According to history, a celebration in honor of the queen of flowers – ROSE was organized for the first time by the Phoenicians.
For ancient Greece the fragrance of the roses was connected with mythology and legends. They tell that the red rose gained its color from the beauty Rosalia’s blood.
In Egypt the queen Cleopatra organized gorgeous festivities of beauty and youth, similar to those in Greece. During the festivities the aroma of the rose oil was drifting everywhere in the air.

The Romans organized special ceremonies in honor of rose, called Rosalii. They decorated with roses both graves of the dead people and heads of the liberated slaves. In that way the Romans turned the Rose festivities into celebrations of the free human being and liberty. In the Middle Ages rose also played an important role in the life of the nations. After the formation of the Islamic country the Arabs used the roses in their rituals, cuisine and prayers.

Today we still write the Kazanlak Rose Festival History. I am happy to attend it every year and to enjoy the beauty of this natural creature – the Rose Damascena. Come over and live this great feeling with me!

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