Bulgaria, also known as the land of roses is famous for its Rosa Damascena. Rosa Damascena is traditionally grown in Central Bulgaria’s Rose Valley and indigenous to this region. A travel to Bulgaria in the months of May or June is incomplete if you do not visit the Rose valley. The Rose valley is located in the town of Kazanlak, which is around 230 kms from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.
As I learnt, Rosa Damascena was brought to Bulgaria from Syria by crusader Robert de Brie in the mid 13th century. The cultivation of the Rosa Damascena and its production in Kazanlak began shortly after the town was founded in 1420.
I was in Bulgaria earlier this month, so I decided to write my first post on Bulgaria about its famous Rosa Damascena and the Rose valley of Kazanlak, which I visited. I would recommend the Rose valley to anyone planning to visit Bulgaria, specially during the months of May or June.
The rose valley in Bulgaria produces about half of the world’s rose oil. The rose oil industry are found mainly in and around the towns of Kazanlak, Karlovo and Stara Zagora. There are also some other areas with rose plantations in Bulgaria.
In the Rose valley you can see the lovely roses, feel and smell them. The fragrance of the Rosa Damescena is famous around the world. Just being present among the rose plants in the valley is a wonderful feeling in itself. You’ll see miles and miles of rose plants and in the background is the Balkan mountain ranges. When you stand amidst the rose plants in the valley, the gentle breeze spreads the very unique Rosa Damascena fragrance which is very pleasant.
The rose picking season lasts from May to June every year. All the rose picking is done manually, mostly by ladies, in the early hours of the morning before the bright sun is out. Only the bloomed roses are picked and must be processed on the same day to ensure the production of the best quality of rose oil.
The Damescena Ethnographic complex
The Damescena is a private family distillery located in the heart of the Rose Valley between the town of the Bulgarian Rose – Kazanlak and the town known for its mineral springs and spa – Pavel Banya. The Damescena complex has a beautiful garden, a museum complex, and a distillery where rose oil is produced from the Rosa Damascena blossoms and a shop where rose oil is sold. There are also other rose based products, lavender and other essential oil products in the shop.
Rose oil in the shop are sold in traditional vials of 0.5 gm and 1 gm packaging. You can also buy them in hand crafted metal vials in carved wooden boxes ideal for an exclusive gift from the Rose valley.
There is a restaurant with the complex where you can try to Rose ‘rakia’, the traditional Bulgarian brandy.
More information on the Damascena Ethnographic complex can be found here.
What’s so special about Bulgarian Rose oil?
The Bulgarian Rose Oil is an essential oil, produced via the distillation of the flowers of Rosa Damascena. To produce around 1 kg of rose oil it requires about 3,500 kg of roses. Rosa Damescena has an unique fragrance, and this variety of rose is capable of producing the finest quality of essential rose oil.
In early days, the rose attar was measured in special unit for weight, called phial and which is equal to 4.984 gms or approximately 5 gms. The European Commission has approved the addition of the Bulgarian Rose Oil to have a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).
Annual Rose Festival
Every year, a Rose festival are held in the Rose valley of Kazanlak to celebrate the cultivation of roses and production of rose oil. The Rose Festival takes place during the month of June, with rose picking, street parades, local folk music and dancing and various events taking place on the weekends. A rose queen is also coronated during the Rose festival. 2018 will be the 50th anniversary celebration of the Rose Queen coronation. More information can be found here.
Other types are roses are also cultivated within the Damascena complex and here are a few.
What else from roses
The rose valley is not just famous for its production of rose oil. There are numerous other products produced from the roses. There is rose jams, teas, liqueurs and various sweets. Samples of these can be tried at Ethnographic Complex Kulata in Kazanlak. More information can be found here.
Valley of the Thracian Kings
Kazanlak, famous as the Rose Valley was ruled by the Thracian kings and they had their empire in this valley. The entire valley is filled with around 1500 mounds which are all tombs from the Thracian period. The most famous one of the UNESCO listed Thracian tomb of Kazanlak, discovered in 1944. The frescos within the tomb are of exceptional beauty.
Shipka Memorial Church
Shipka Memorial Church is a Bulgarian Orthodox church built near the town of Shipka in Muscovite style, in memory of the soldiers who died for the liberation of Bulgaria in the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78.
The bells in the church’s bell tower were cast from the cartridges that were collected after the battles.
- Kazanlak can be reached by train, by bus or by a rental car from Sofia.
- If you visit Bulgaria during the Rose Festival, it is best to stay in Kazanlak to experience the traditional early morning rose picking rituals. The hotel staff can guide you to the nearest village where there is a rose picking event.
- Do visit Kazanlak’s Rose Museum, which displays exhibits related to rose oil production.
- More information about the Rose Museum, Thracian Tombs, Ethnographic Complex can be found here.
- You can fine the Pharmacological Effects of Rosa Damascena here.
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You might like my other floral photo story on the Tulips at Keukenhof, Netherlands