History of Perfumery

A fragrance which captures the soul is the simplest and the purest way to achieve happiness. Although such an impression is momentary, it moves us deeply, leaving mysterious memories of an encounter with the essence of happiness. Each of us knows the feeling of pleasure, caused by a delicate touch of a refreshing breeze, or the arrival of the season when the earth wakes up from hibernation, gradually enveloping itself with scents of lush greenery and flowers.

It is certain that the first field which used perfumes was religion. When people discovered the wonder of “the drop of juice from the tree of myrrh, the tear of the sweet balsamic scent of grass”, they immediately decided to sacrifice it to their deity.

The word “perfume” comes from the Latin phrase “per fumum”, meaning “through smoke.” The etymology of the term indicates that tree boughs and resins which emitted an intense fragrance were the first aromatic substances. The practice of burning them was performed by the Zoroastrians and Confucians, in the temples at Memphis and Jerusalem. Greek Elysium, as well as Christian Paradise and Islamic “Seventh Heaven,” are described as places filled with aromatic substances.

Egyptians gave their perfume making skills to the Jews, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and finally, to the European nations, after they had eradicated their barbaric customs and became ready to absorb the arts characteristic of civilized countries.It was the Egyptian priests, who first used perfume for religious practices, because only they had the ability to prepare fragrant mixtures. The perfumes and cosmetics which Egyptian women used in those days do not differ greatly from these used by women in today’s world.In those days, perfumes were so expensive that the Jews listed them as the most expensive royal gifts. For example, when queen Saska came to visit Solomon, she gave him “spices which were unheard of before.” Jewish women, in general, were famous for their magnificent beauty.

Babylon was one of the trade centers of aromatic substances in the ancient East. The main clients buying those products were the Babylonians themselves. Herodotus claimed that in the era of prosperity the inhabitants of Babylon had a habit of covering their bodies with oils and balms, while aromatic incense burned continuously inside their homes.

The Macedonian conqueror, Alexander the Great, who was contemptuous of the objects of pleasure, having spent a longer time in Asia, changed his mind about this gift of civilization. Athenaeum noted that Alexander would have the floor sprinkled with rare fragrances, as well as aromatic trees, myrrh and other types of incenses burnt in his presence.

In ancient Greece, apart from resin, which was used during sacrificial ceremonies, and essential oils with floral scents were also widespread. Rose fragrance was most commonly used.

A Roman emperor, Otto, was an avid lover of the art of perfume making, even when going to war he always took the entire set of fragrances.

At the court of Byzantine emperors, the championship in perfume making was valued as highly as it had been in Rome, especially that the Byzantines were in possession of a whole range of Eastern fragrances.

Prophet Muhammad claimed that what he valued most in the world were women, children and perfumes.

Islam, which caused the split in the East-Roman Empire, stopped the development of fine arts, but did not pose any obstacles to scientific research, therefore, a lot of great discoveries are owed to the Arabs.

Avicenna, a famous healer from the tenth century, discovered a way of obtaining medicinal and aromatic components from flowers and plants by distillation, which contributed to the fact that from then on the scent persisted much longer and was more durable.

In China, fragrances have been used since ancient times. Musk was the favorite fragrance among the residents of that country, and its medicinal properties were valued just as much as its scent. The list of substances used in Chinese perfumery is completed by sandalwood, patchouli, clove, cinnamon and camphor.

On the territory of modern Europe, in Gaul and Britain, the civilized habits were spread by the Roman conquerors. That era did not last too long, and after the fall of the Roman Empire, the new colonizers once again plunged these regions into dark ignorance. After the Crusades, the scope for using fragrances widened considerably. When they came back from their expeditions, brave knights brought well-known perfume of eastern fragrances, flower soap, rose water and spices for their ladies. Europeans became acquainted with musk through detailed descriptions made by Marco Polo.

After arriving in France to marry King Henry II, Catherine de Medici took with her a certain Florentine man, called René, who was a master of creating fragrances. René opened a perfume shop in Paris, and spread the production of perfume which were from then in daily use.

In the seventeenth century in the south of France, a new production center of perfume was formed in the city of Grasse. In the late eighteenth, early nineteenth century, instead of shops, small perfume factories were founded, such as Ubigana, Guerlen and others.

The success of organic chemistry the late nineteenth century led to the development of a process which allowed the obtaining of aromatic components via chemical synthesis. Now perfume makers could compose fragrances which did not exist in nature. This has greatly affected the profession of perfume making – an occupation which achieved its highest popularity in the twentieth century.



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