Historic documents of ancient China and Sanskrit, refer to the charming scent of the rose. It is widely known that rose oil and rose water have been used during religious ceremonies since ancient times. The oldest information on the distillation of the rose and rose oil is provided by Ybn Khaldun, the 14th century Arab historian who points out that rose water was among the commodities dispatched to India and China in the 8th century. Although it is known that rose water has been produced and used for centuries, we have only recently become familiar with the production of rose oil. It is said that during the wedding festivities of Nevjihan Sultan, the daughter of the Shah of Iran, the pools in the gardens of the palace were filled with rose water. Nevjihan Sultan is said to have noticed that oil with the scent of roses was accumulating on the water and requested that this oil should be examined, thus initiating the production of rose oil.
According to hearsay, Nurjihan, a Mongol Prince in the 11th century, first discovered rose water and rose oil. It is told that Nurjihan ordered two of the pools in the garden of the palace to be filled with roses instead of water and that after some time he noticed that the water added to the roses in the pools was covered with a slightly oily, pleasant smelling substance. Subsequently, he ordered this substance to be extracted from the water. It is said that rose oil has been known and produced since that time and that in Iran 4.8 gr of rose oil was sold for four gold coins while in India one kilo commanded a price of 1200 gold coins.
It is possible to trace back the origin of rose oil production to Iran from where it spread to India, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, France and Bulgaria before it finally established itself as an advanced industry in Bulgaria. It is not known exactly when and how the oil rose came to this region and when rose cultivation first started here. Its scientific name leads us to the conclusion that its origin is Damascus. It is assumed that this flower was taken by growers from Damascus and brought to the ecologically suitable Kizanlik region in Bulgaria during the Ottoman period when Damascus and Bulgaria belonged to the Ottoman Empire.
The rose was brought to Turkey for the first time in 1870 by an immigrant and planted in Bursa, Denizli (Çal) and Manisa. However, its cultivation in Isparta was not until 1888 when a local, Muftuzade Ismail Efendi, first brought it back from the Kizanlik region in Bulgaria and planted it in Isparta’s Gülcü district. It is thought that the first rose oil production was made by Müftüzade Ismail Efendi in 1892 using primitive distillation cans and methods.
It is known that rose cultivation was highly developed in the Anatolian region until the First World War. In addition to the cities of Isparta, Burdur, Afyon and Denizli in western Anatolia, areas such as Konya and Ankara in Central Anatolia and Sivas and Erzurum in Eastern Anatolia were major rose growing areas.
Rose cultivation was adopted by the people of Isparta and its neighboring regions as a result of the incentives by the government at the time. A book on rose cultivation, published by the Ministry of Trade and Agriculture in 1912, greatly contributed to the development of this industry. Official records reveal that 6.915 thousand square meters of rose gardens were established during that time. Prior to the First World War, rose oil of Turkish origin became very famous in world markets due to its purity and excellence. However, statistics reveal that during the armistice years Turkish rose oil had lost its position against oils of Bulgarian origin and that towards the end of the War of Independence the amount of rose gardens had decreased by 50 percent.
With the founding of Gülbirlik in Isparta in1953, and the establishment of rose oil factories in Yslamköy in 1958 and in Yakaören, Kylyç and Güneykent in 1976 – in addition to the the rose oil solid factory in Aliköy which processes rose flowers grown in the region with cutting-edge technology – Turkish rose oil re-gained its demand in world markets, ultimately leading to the rapid increase in the number of plantations across the region.