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 1940s 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.
Kelaa-des-Mgouna, in the Dades Valley, is often called ‘the valley of roses’. It is a town that grows the most roses for rose oil production and the food industry. Although, this is a by-product of the edible rosebuds for perfume.
Legend has it 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 holds 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, 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 and the more severe side of scientific seminars and conferences on the perfume, rose industry. This year ‘The House of The Rose’ was opened. A colossal 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 rich qualities and perfume it contains.
The rose oil or essence is used to make tea, flavour various foods, and make a sweet preserve called Gulquand. There are four thousand two hundred kilometres of rose hedges that can only produce one thousand four hundred litres 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 rosebuds for food and cooking, although now many products are made from 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, and masses of rose petals and roses growing everywhere. Not only a glorious sight but a feast for the senses, the air filled with rosewater perfume. Also, an added bonus is the beauty of the surrounding countryside of the Draa Valley and the Atlas mountains that make the Festival an excellent destination for travellers. The Festival attracts more than twenty thousand people to the Valley each year.
Content Di Baker 2019