Postcard from Iran: Roses

Every year in the second half of May a festival of roses and rosewater is held in Kashan, between Tehran and Isfahan. Unfortunately, we were too early for that but did get to see a small rosewater distillery where a kind young woman answered the questions of curious foreigners.

Explaining the rosewater distillation process and what the store’s ‘tonic waters’ (including rose, mint and cinnamon) are used for. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The store’s distillery waiting to come on line. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Read a fascinating article about the rosewater tradition in the Kashan area. The town’s other claim to fame is that, as recorded for the West by Marco Polo, one of the Magi (Three Wise Men) was from Kashan, while the three of them are buried side by side in Saveh, northwest of Tehran.

The rose used for rosewater and perfume is Rosa damascene (Damask rose), known as the Mohammadi rose in these parts. Crusader ­Robert de Brie is believed to have brought the plant to Europe from Syria in the 13th century, hence its name, but the origins of roses are lost in the mists of time so it’s not outlandish to think the plant may have originated from Persia. R. damascene is a natural hybrid of R. gallica, R. moschata and R. fedtschenkoana. Sadly, the violent upheavals in Syria have affected the rose-farming tradition there.

A delicate climbing pink rose snapped at the Museum of Glass and Ceramics in Tehran. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Some roses definitely from Iran are the double R. foetida persiana, ‘Persian yellow’, which allowed European breeders to begin hybridising yellow shades, unknown until then, R. canina (dog rose, called Nastran in Farsi), while the beautiful R. Ispahan is named for the equally enchanting Persian city of Isfahan. Read an earlier posting about R. persica, once not considered a rose.

We saw many Banksia roses, native to China, looking lovely as they spilled masses of yellow flowers over walls and arbours.

This pretty, small rose, which our guide said is called the Seven-colour Rose in Farsi, was planted everywhere. The colour of flower changes as it ages and each flower has a different ratio and spread of colour. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Busy Friday or not, deliveries of roses keep coming to the beautiful Eram Garden in Shiraz. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Eram Garden is named after one of the four gardens of Paradise and on a sunny spring afternoon it felt a bit like being in Heaven! The site, which dates from 1823 in its current form, is now also a botanical garden and nominated as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

A blooming good show in front of the house (not open) in Eram Garden. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Roses feature on this tiled panel in the Nasir al-Molk mosque in Shiraz, also known as the pink mosque. And yes, that is a church painted into the vase decoration, apparently inspired by the artist’s visit to Russia. Photo: Sandra Simpson


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