Celebrating the iconic jewel of the Garden of Hejaz
The rose of Taif
Taif's famous rose is an oil-rich 30-petal damask rose whose perfume of Arabia is robust, spicy, and dizzyingly complex, the scientifically named Rosa Damascena trigintipetala. This specie may have been transplanted from the Balkans by the Ottoman Turks who conquered the area in the beginning of the 16th century CE.
Indeed, the rose of Taif is virtually identical to the famous Bulgarian "kazanlik" strain whose Turkish name means "suitable for the [distiller's] kettle" and that has its own roots in the Persian rose plantations around Shiraz and Kashan, which in turn supplied fields in Syria. A legend among the growers of the area of al-Hada says that the flower originally came from India.
Since then it has been cultivated in Taif and processed into precious attar of roses and its popular—and even older—counterpart, rose water. The word attar, which is today a synonym for rose oil, comes from the Arabic 'itr, meaning "perfume" or "essence." The first description of the distillation of rose petals was written by the ninth-century philosopher al-Kindi, and more sophisticated equipment was described in the 10th century by al-Razi.
Harvest and production
Every day during the spring harvest, lorries bring sackfuls of roses to factories all around Taif. Workers transfer the flowers to copper stills, each holding around 20 000 heads.
Attar and rose water are produced using 120-liter (32 gallons) tin-lined copper boilers where are poured about 50 liters (13 gallons) of water and roughly 10 000 rose blossoms. This simple mixture is allowed to simmer gently for up to six hours.
The steam is collected by an alembic, a mushroom-shaped helmet that fits tightly on the boiler and has a tube that angles down from the top. This tube directs the steam through a zinc cooling tank filled with tepid water. There, the distillate condenses and runs down into a large glass carboy, where it begins to separate into rose water and attar. The freshly distilled attar is then allowed to stand for several days to permit impurities and colloidal matter to precipitate and the remaining water to separate. The clean essence is then carefully syringed away and stored in vials, each of which holds one tolah, or 11.7 grams.
The premium product is the slender film of rose oil left floating on top, which sells for an astonishing $40 000 a liter. It is only available in vials half the size of your finger. The scent of it knocks you out.
Its fragrance is used as ingredient for the finest perfumes by prestigious brands such as Ormonde Jayne Perfumery, Perris, Chanel, and Guerlain.
Taif Rose Festival
Taif’s rose is celebrated every year during the festival takes place every year in March-April at King Faisal Park in Qadeera.
One of the festival’s highlights is a flower carpet prepared by Taif Municipality spreading over 750 square meters and made of 100,000 flowers including more than 15,000 species of flowers of all colors in addition to seedlings of the famous Taif rose.
The festival hosts various pavilions at the festival set up by different government and private organizations, displayed along areas for traditional eatables, handicrafts, folk dances, cultural contests for children.
The iconic jewel of the Garden of the Hejaz (author: Florent Egal)