An Aromatic Trail through the Centuries: The Damascene Rose as Art, Economics, and Anthropology on the Silk Road and Beyond

Seminars and Colloquia

The Rosa Damascena, itself a cultivar, is frequently described as the "queen of scents." Despite its name, which suggests a Syrian origin, it may have been selected in Persia. Its derivatives—attar, oil, and rose water—have become an indelible part of Islam and Hinduism. In the Middle East, it is known as Rosa Mohammadi. In Christianity, the white rose symbolizes purity and chastity, and the red rose symbolizes the blood of Christ. But as intimately bound as the flower is with expressions of faith, the economy and anthropology of the Damascena transcend religion. In classic Persian and Arabic literature, the rose and the nightingale are mainstays of secular as well as religious poetry. In Iran, Morocco, Bulgaria, Turkey and France, and increasingly in the US, it is serious business. The Damascena is politics, too; it is food, drink, and perfume. But before all, the Damascena is about people: Afghan refugees working the fields in Iran, Turkic peoples cultivating it in Syria, Roma picking it in Bulgaria, and Berbers growing it in Morocco. Like one of the main cultivars, the Rosa Centifolia (the one-hundred-leaved rose), the Damascena has one hundred guises. The talk explored the multiple realities and symbolisms of the world's most beloved flower.

Yavor Siderov is a journalist and political commentator who writes on Central and East European politics. He has studied history and international relations at the universities of Sydney, Berkeley, and Oxford. Formerly a producer and newsreader for Bulgarian National Radio and the BBC World Service, he is now a current affairs expert for several print and electronic media outlets in Bulgaria and abroad.

IWM Permanent Fellow Ayşe Çağlar provided the commentary and moderated the Q&A session. 


Fellows Colloquia are internal events for the IWM Visiting Fellows and Guests.