The Rose, Part I

  A bit of history 

With over three hundred species and ten times more cultivars, the genus Rosa, in the Rosaceae family, forms a group of plants often armed with sharp spines that can be erect shrubs, climbing or trailing. Symbol of love, beauty, politics and even war, the rose is, in its many shapes and colors, according to fossil evidence 35 million years old. Its species, hybrids and cultivars are spread throughout Asia, Europe, Northern America and North Western Africa, although its earliest garden cultivation date from 500 BC in China, Persia and in Mediterranean countries (some make references to 5000 years ago in China)
Rose petals were often used as garlands in celebrations, for medical purposes and in perfume or cosmetic treatments in the Middle East during the Roman Empire. The Romans used it so often that its cultivation became an economic activity and besides their own production they had to import roses from Egypt Carthage and Cyrenaica (now Libya). Their cities were embellished by fountains run by rose water and the houses were adorned with crowns of roses as a symbol of their status and the pillows and mattress were stuffed with rose petals. 
Following the Christinianization of the Roman Empire rose became symbol for Virgin Mary and led to the creation of the rosary (word derived from rose) that served ever since as a prayer object.
During the 15th century the rose was used by the divisions to control England - the white rose symbolized York while the red one Lancaster - in one of the biggest conflicts known as the "War of the Roses". In the early 17th century the Turkish introduced the rose cultivation in Bulgaria, in the southern near to the mountains, and since the 19th century the Bulgarian rose gain international recognition for its fragrant flowers.
During the 18th century the rose knows a period of growth and appreciation - the water rose being used including as a payment method. Empress Joséphine, Napoleon`s first wife, created a garden of substantial species of roses at Le Chateau de Malmaison, that a few years later bacame the setting of Pierre Joseph Redoute`s (1759 - 1840, botanist and official artist of the court to Marie Antoinette Queen of France) work as a botanical painter. By using complex painting techniques to create paintings with an accurate attention to detail he delivered Les Roses, a collection of 169 illustrations of roses. 

Pictures from The Rosarian Library, collage made by anayelperfume. 

  Legends. It is known. 

Aphrodite was seen as the creator of the rose in Ancient Greece - the Greek travel writer Pausanias stated that roses are red because the goddess cut herself in the spine of the plant and stain the white rose red with her blood. Homer mention in his epic Iliad that Aphrodite covers Homer`s body with the oil of the roses to protect him: " '... but Hector, son of Priam, will I nowise give to the fire to feed upon, but to dogs.' So spake he threatening, but with Hector might no dogs deal; nay, the daughter of Zeus, Aphrodite, kept dogs from him by day alike and by night, and with oil anointed she him, rose-sweet, ambrosial, to the end that Achilles might not tear him as he dragged him."

In ancient Rome, Isis (Venus) is mentioned in the Eleven Book of The Golden Ass by Apuleius as a guide for Lucius` remedy after this has been transformed into a donkey - he had to eat rose petals from a crown of roses worn by a priest during a religious ceremony in order to become human again. 

Another legend says that the word rose has its origins from Flora`s, The Goddess of Spring and Flowers, pain as an arrow of Cupid harmed her and she was unable to ask Eros for help... Calling him "Ros". Rose became synonym for Eros and a symbol for love, beauty, vitality, youth and the fruitfulness of the nature.

In India the rose is a symbol of beauty - the Supreme God, Vishnu, created his bride Lakshmi from 1008 small and 108 large rose petals.

On the 23rd of April, in Catalonia, is celebrated Sant Jordi (Santo Jorge, Saint George) - the patron saint of lovers - the day of the book and of the rose. A rose is gifted to the loved ones, and in change they give a book - a tradition that has crossed the local borders and is now celebrated in almost all of Spain.
Jorge was a Roman soldier, born of farming parents in the third century in Cappadocia (Turkey), who died at the beginning of the I century, probably in the city of Lydda, Lod (Israel) today. In the year 303 the emperor decreed the persecution of the all Christians and when Jorge refused to follow the orders, for being a Christian himself, he was sent to be executed. Jorge was beheaded in front of the walls of Nicomedia on April 23, 303, thus becoming a martyr. In 494 Jorge de Capadocia was canonized by Pope Gelasio I.
In the 9th century, a legend about Jorge was popularized as the heroe of a fight with a dragon that had frightened a whole population. The habitants maintained the dragon based on lambs, but when the animals began to become scarce, the people decided to fet him with people chosen by a raffle. One unlucky day it was the princess` turn and Jorge came to her rescue and killed the dragon whose blood spilled on the ground brought forth a rose that Jorge gave to the princess. 

San Jordi and the Dragon. Picture: National Geographic

Even Gaudí was inspired by the famous legend in the architecture of the Casa Batlló, whose roof is decorated by the scales of the dragon and the sword of San Jorge rises above the roof.
The fact that San Jorge is celebrated the same day as The International Book Day is a coincidence. In 1930 it was agreed as a date for the Spanish Book Festival on April 23, the day of Cervantes' death, and in 1995, UNESCO instituted on April 23 as World Book Day and copyright. Ever since any lover gives a rose a receives a book on that specific date.

In 1986 the Rose bacame the floral emblem of the United States.

Besides being known as ornamental plants, some rose varieties, like the Rosa Canina hips are used to prepare a delicious jam, soups, tea, syrup and the famous rose hip oil mainly used in cosmetics due to their high vitamin C content. Obtained after the distillation, the rose water is another associated product used in cooking, medicine or cosmetics. Rose petals offer a special fragrance to certain dishes. Who doesn't dream about candied petals or rose syrup? 
The rose not only fascinate with its beauty and special smell, but also with its taste. 

Roses were and are still an unmeasurable sourse of inspiration for art - they are represented and present in paintings, sculptures, architecture, ornaments, perfumery. 

About the rose`s role in perfumery in the next post. 

Sources of research: Wikipedia, The History of Roses, The Rosarian Library. 


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