It was the first sunny morning of the week when we packed everything in the car to go on a road trip to Pamukkale. Like Forrest Gump once said: “Driving around Turkey is like a box of chocolate: you never know what you get”.
Maaaybe he said it slightly different, but one thing is for sure: Turkey is full of surprises.
One can not go on a road trip in Turkey without stopping at least twice in cute little towns. There are brown traffic signs along the road which mark the nearest famous sight to you. To us, these are mostly unknown destinations that don’t appear in guide books, on Tripadvisor, or in Google. (Probably only with an in-depth investigation).
Since we started exploring Anatolia, I started to write down these destinations in one of my travel notebooks.
Side note: I might be addicted to buying travel notebooks, diaries, big notebooks, small notebooks- basically everything that’s made of paper in a fancy wrapping.
While we were driving around in Anatolia, I have noticed several signs that point towards the city of Isparta.
What a cool name, right? 😀 This Isparta!
Unfortunately I did not take the time to
unleash my inner travel detective to read more about this city. Repeating the phrase “THIS ISPARTA!” in a Greek warrior’s voice every time I saw the sign seemed sufficient information about the place.
Oh boy, how wrong was I.
Before reaching Isparta on our way to Pamukkale, we had a quick stop at a gas station near the city. And that’s when I noticed that everything in this place is about ROSES. You could buy rose oil, rose soap, rose magnets, rose-everything-you-can-think-of.
5 minutes and a Google search later we found out that basically Isparta is the “city of roses”, the Turkish equivalent (and the rival) of the Bulgarian Rose Valley. The whole region is famous for the cultivation of Rosa Damascena, and this is exactly the time of the year when they harvest the flowers. They even have a Rose Festival!
We didn’t think twice: we turned back in a second, and we were off to Kuyucak Köyü, a small village near Keçiborlu and Isparta, to see the blooming roses and the lavender fields.
I am not even kidding: the whole region (we passed by 3 or 4 small villages) smelled of roses!
We saw the women picking the roses in big sacks, walking home from the rose fields to their families. I spoke to little girls who were selling lavender and rose water in their little village. I was shocked to see the fragile little flower stored in big sacks and measured on scales near the road.
A friendly old man sitting in the shadow of the only tree in the village center waved at me, and probably wanted to speak to me. Since my Turkish knowledge is very limited, I could only speak to him in the language of smiles. Oh, and I also said in Turkish that the rose is very beautiful. “Gül çok güzel” if you’re in need of that phrase 😀 #veryinternational #somuchlanguage
I know mostly useless Turkish words, like: lighter, sugar, bra, sunglasses, very beautiful. But seems that I can get away in almost every conversation by stating that something is very beautiful! 😀
We took time to smell the roses and learn a lot about them. Let’s see why the rose harvesting is such a big thing in Turkey!
The Damask Rose: why is it special?
The Rosa Damascena, or more commonly known as the Damask rose, is famous for its fine fragrance and it’s harvested for rose oil.
There are 2 types of roses cultivated for the rose oil: Rosa Damascena and Rosa Centifolia. But the Damascena rose is recognized as being the one with the strongest aroma, has healing properties and it is preferred in the production of essential oil.
The rose oil is used to make perfumes, rose water, and used in cosmetics. The rose oil production is the main economic activity in the region of Isparta. One of the biggest perfume makers in the world use this essence to obtain floral fragrances and long-lasting scents of their top-selling perfumes.
Turkey is currently the second biggest rose producing country in the world(!). The first one is Bulgaria, third place goes to France. The rose oil from Bulgaria and Turkey makes up the world’s 90% of the global production.
Turkey currently produces 8000 tons of rose petals per year. Almost 80% of the plantations are owned and harvested by families living in the Isparta region.
I’ve been holding on to a tiny container with probably 3 ml of rose oil from Bulgaria for ages! Now I got my stocks refilled in Turkey 😀
Damask roses are also used in cooking as spices. The petals of the rose are edible: in the Isparta region they even make rose petal jam from it! In Turkey they use it especially in Turkish delights. (Which are yummi, btw.) Rose water is often sprinkled on meats, or added in sauces- especially in the Middle Eastern countries.
The Damask rose symbolizes love and beauty: people tried to capture its fragrance even in the ancient times by making rose water.
Rose harvesting and rose oil production in Turkey
The Damask Rose fields are spread across thousands of hectares in Turkey! We passed through a few little villages in the Isparta region, and almost every corner was used to grow these fragile flowers.
The rose harvesting lasts for 2-3 weeks in May–June– depending on the blooming. When we were there (mid May), the flowers were already being harvested.
The delicate rose petals are hand picked between 6AM-11AM: this is the time the essential oil concentration is the highest. The rose petal pickers are mostly women who live in the nearby villages.
The big sacks full of rose petals are then weighed and carefully separated. The the petals are left to dry for more than a day. Imagine that place full of a bed of rose petals!
The next phase the boiling of rose petals: they boil the petals then press it to obtain the rose oil.
If you would like to read more about this process, THIS is a great article about it!
Four tonnes of rose are require to produce 1 kg of rose absolute essence. The price of 1 kg of the “liquid gold” is around 8000$.
Lavender fields in the region of Isparta
The region is also known for the lavender fields. Beside the rose oil production, these little villages also produce a lot of lavender fragrances too!
Unfortunately the lavender does not bloom until late June- we might return to see the purple fields.
One of the main areas for lavender growing is in the Keçiborlu district, mostly in Kuyucak Köyü village. The production of lavender oil in Kuyucak Köyü has been going on for about 50 years. The village of 250 people produces nearly 93% of all lavender in Turkey.
The many benefits of the rose
Guess who bought a basket full of goodies made of rose? 😀
The Damask Rose is not used only in perfume making: it has been used for it’s anti-wrinkling effect since the ancient times! Ottoman women used rose water for its beautifying properties. (Take that, instagram filters!). It was used even by Cleopatra!
Several products are made from the rose: creams, moisturizers, lotions- but the best is probably the rose water.
Rose water is also used in hamams (Turkish baths) for it’s aroma-therapeutic and cleansing effects.
Rose water is apparently some kind of potion made of unicorns in love! It has so many beneficial properties, I don’t even know how I lived all my life without it 😀 The pure rose water:
- it has anti-inflammatory properties, reduces skin irritation
- has antibacterial properties
- hydrates and moisturizes your skin
- has antioxidant properties, which helps you regenerate skin cells
- the scent of the rose reduces anxiety, and has aroma-therapeutic effects
- it’s a natural hair conditioner that helps you get rid of dandruff
- cleans your pores
- it has anti-wrinkle effect
- you can use it as a make-up remover, facial toner and cleanser
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