Bulgaria's Blossoming Treasure

The Rose Growers of Turia

Traversing Bulgaria from east to west is a massive mountain range, the Stara Planina, better known as the Balkan Mountains. To the south, sheltered from the cold winds, is the Valley of Roses. To the south, this fertile plain is framed by the gently sloping Sredna Gora Mountains. Fields covered with roses, lavender, and grapevines make an idyllic impression. The mild, sunny climate, along with plentiful rainfall and the absorptive soil, provide ideal conditions for the Damascus Rose, which has been cultivated here for more than two centuries.

The species known as the Rosa damascena was brought to the Balkan Peninsula from Syria by Ottoman rulers. Originally, this beautiful flower adorned the gardens of the Sultan. Today, this rose is a symbol of Bulgaria – a country made world-famous by the plant. The Rosa damascena is no long-stemmed, elegant cut flower, but instead an oil rose, and hence a utilitarian plant that contains more fragrance molecules than any other species of rose anywhere. At the heart of Bulgaria, the famous rose oil has been distilled for more than 300 years, and is used today as a raw material in expensive perfumes by Chanel and Dior.

In the months of May and June, the valley experiences its highpoint. The fields of roses are a blaze of color, a rose-colored carpet. Traditionally, this is when the rose harvest begins. In Bulgaria as a whole, rose oil production approaches approximately 150 kilograms annually. Required to produce a single kilo of rose oil are 3000-5000 kilograms of rose petals – more than a million flowers.

Many young people leave Bulgaria in hope of finding work in another European country. Bulgaria – among Europe's poorest lands – continues to suffer during the post-communist era, and is plagued by mismanagement. The rose farmers are keenly aware of the situation, and constantly face difficulties recruiting pickers for the rose season. But in addition to a dwindling labor force, the rose farmers must also contend with continuous climate warming.

We accompany the Bulgarian rose farmers throughout the early summer, from the harvest to the traditional Rose Festival, which is dedicated to beauty, to flowers, to springtime, and to the fragrance of roses.

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