Why certain cultures take to certain things is sometimes obvious and at other times more obscure. A Czech loves beer, the Turks a powerful brew of coffee, and the Dutch crave peddling a bicycle. So it goes. The patterns of culture are often shaped by the resources around them and how they use them in daily life. How the Persians latched onto roses and all the the interesting byproducts they can offer is one of the those more obscure cultural curiosities. Nevertheless, roses are as much a part of Iranian life as mulberries in spring or the ubiquitous fat-tailed sheep on a hillside. The Iranians have been mastering the benefits of Roses for thousands of years. Even the eminent physician Avicenna carried it in his medicine bag as an assist in strengthening the heart and intestines.
We hit the city of Kashan late in the afternoon on a day in which our Woolx was more at the ready than adorned. The timing could not have been better. Kashan, in the midst of the annual Rose Festival, overflowed with people pouring in from across Iran. At the Fin Garden, a combination palace and rose garden built in the 16th century, throngs strolled along pools of water, listened to guides, and sipped rose water in clear glasses under the shade of plane trees. Along the narrow, shallow canals of rushing water children played and splashed.
Posing in the Fin Garden of Kashan
The Kashan region is known for the high quality rose that produces the best oil for flavouring the Iranian cuisine as well as the perfumes sold around the world. We know this particular rose as Damask Rose. To the Iranians it is called Muhammed Rose. The Kashan region is regarded as the centre of rose water production, the distillations reaching as far as Mecca where it is exclusively used to wash the kabaa.
Rose Water Tea House
One does not need to be in Kashan to get the impression that rose oil is everywhere. It is used extensively for overpowering unpleasant odors, sprinkling on clothing, cosmetics and preparing foods. We found it in our tea, out rice, and our ice cream. Outside the Fin Garden, many small distillation kettles hissed and boiled, working away at producing the powerful oil drop by drop. Shops overflowed with various bottles and food products, the most popular of which was a sugar/rosewater syrup. Under the trees we sat on a large four-legged woven bed, one of many around us, and sipped our rose tea – a small taste of the life of the Sultan Kabir who built this fantastic garden. I held my tea glass high as I remarked to our friend, Masood, that the life of a sultan is not bad. I wished I could be like Sultan Kabir.
“You must be careful why you wish for!”
“Kabir was murdered here in 1852.” I reflected on that for a moment.
“A-ha,” I finally said. “Then let’s just buy a bottle and hit the road.”