There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
El-Kelaa M’Gouna Rose Festival in Morocco
Have you ever wondered where all the roses are grown to make perfume? The French Perfumers in the 1940’s built distilleries in Morocco in the Dades Valley area to produce rose oil and rose essence from the Rosa Damascene. Considered by the Berber culture as a very feminine flower and called ‘Queen of flowers’. This small pink rose is a hybrid derived from Rosa Gallica and Rosa Moschata.
The area that grows the most roses for rose oil, perfume, dried rose buds and petals suitable for food production is Kelaa-des-Mgouna a town in Dades Valley often called simply the ‘Valley Of the Roses’ where the roses grow wild everywhere in hedgerows and in and around other crops rather than as a crop such as lavender farms in France.
The flowers are used for the fine quality of perfume they contain and as they are edible they are also used to make food products. Morocco is the third largest producer of the Rosa Damascene for perfume after Turkey and Bulgaria.
Legend tell us that the rose has been celebrated in Morocco since its arrival in the 10th century. Each year The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Morocco, hold a festival to celebrate the region’s famous perfume industry at the end of the rose harvest.
Rose farmers from across the country meet to celebrate the year’s crops, to celebrate the beauty of nature, and drink to a “rosy” year. This usually occurs in early May, dependant on the date of the last harvest.
The Festival includes feasts in a large souk or bazaar with folk dancing, markets, a procession and a shower of rose petals over the crowds. There are many events to highlight Berber culture as well as the more serious side of scientific seminars and conferences on the perfume rose industry. This year ‘The House of The Rose’ was opened. A huge development to provide a museum, exhibition centre, admin offices and a conference centre.
Rose oil is expensive because it takes 3000 kilograms of rose petals to make 1 litre of rose oil and as well, the distillation and extraction processes are also expensive. Nonetheless, the oil is highly desirable and sort after for the for the rich qualities and perfume it contains.
The rose oil or essence is used to make tea, to flavour various foods and to make a sweet preserve called Gulquand. There are four thousand two hundred kilometers of rose hedges that can only produce one thousand four hundred liters of the product. This tradition of farming the Damask rose has been going on for centuries because the Dades Valley has a bioclimate suitable for growing roses including cooler temperatures than further into the Sahara.
Morocco has three large rose production centres and many smaller ones with 15 distilleries across the country. They produce over 3000 tons of perfume roses per year.
The roses were initially produced to make rose water and dried rose buds for food and cooking although now there are a multitude of products made from the oil and petals. Perfumes, face creams, medicine, rose water and other food products like jams and rose syrup.
The Rose Festival is a hugely popular celebration in Morocco and an extremely pretty visual feast. Imagine miles of pink tulle, women and children with rose petal garlands, men with roses behind each ear or white turbans on and masses of rose petals and roses growing everywhere. Not only a sight to behold but a feast for all the senses as the air itself is filled with the perfume of rosewater. Also an added bonus is the beauty of the surrounding countryside of the Draa Valley and the Atlas mountains that make the festival a great destination for travellers too. The festival attracts more than twenty thousand people to the Valley each year. A ‘Miss Rose’ is selected for the procession and there is a huge amount of fun and festivities for locals and tourists alike.