June 3 – Rose Festival in Kazanlak

Posted on June 3, 2016

You know that roses are important to Kazanlak, Bulgaria, when tourists come from all over for their harvesting.... When scads of people dress up in traditional garb and wear rose leis and headdresses... When a Queen Rose is elected and rose parades are held.

I grew up in Pasadena, California, and we had the world-famous Tournament of Roses as a New Year's tradition, with the Rose Bowl football game and the lovely Rose Parade. These traditions are so important to Pasadena that it is often called “The City of Roses.”

But there is no particular reason to link Pasadena with roses, in actuality. It has good weather, like all of Southern California, but its weather isn't particularly amazing for growing roses – Portland, Oregon, has much wetter weather that is ideal for roses.

On the other hand, Kazanlak, Bulgaria, has a very good reason for celebrating roses – it is located in the Valley of Roses, where the Rosa Damascena is grown. This rose is the source of a treasured rose oil that costs as much as gold.

The rose oil is used for aromatherapy and in perfumes and even medicines. It is used in the food industry, including as an herbal tea and as a sort of treat when it is preserved in sugar. It is used to make rose water. It is even used in the space industry as a greasing agent.

Kazanlak's roses bloom for about 25 days a year. They are harvested by hand in the morning, when their aroma is strongest. They are transported in small quantities to a distillery, where the oil is harvested.

Kazanlak has a Rose Research Institute where scientists have developed several varieties that can take best advantage of the conditions in the Valley of Roses. They send out seedlings to the rose farmers.

In addition to the ritual harvesting of roses, the parades, and the crowning of the Rose Queen, the Rose Festival has booths for rose products to be sold. And of course fun fair food that has nothing to do with roses!

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