Scent is all around us, from the flowers in our gardens to the herbs and spices in our kitchens. We love these scents because they make us feel happy, relaxed, elevated and inspired. In the modern world we’re also able to capture, distil and enjoy all the amazing scents and fragrances of nature from all the corners of the Earth in our perfumes, our soaps and, of course, in our scented candles. Here at EVA Candles we love to bring you the sensational fragrances of nature in our luxury soy wax scented candles, from exotic woods and spices to flowers from the rainforest and so much more. How did we come to enjoy the marvellous range of scents available to us today? In this article we’ll look at the exciting history of making scents and perfumes, starting with an astonishing discovery.
The Mediterranean island of Cyprus is said to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and passion. In 2003 a team of Italian archaeologists were excavating an ancient complex on the island when they discovered the world’s oldest known perfumes, dating back more than 4,000 years. They found perfume bottles, mixing jugs and distillation apparatus preserved beneath of the collapsed walls of ancient buildings. Scientists analysed the 4,000-year-old relics and found traces of fourteen fragrances, including extracts of anise, pine, coriander, bergamot, almond and parsley, mixed in four different blends. It tells us just how important scents and fragrances are to find such sophisticated perfume production happening right at the dawn of history.
From Cyprus 4,000 years ago we travel to 3,200 years ago and Babylonian Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq and Syria). A cuneiform tablet dating from that period mentions a perfume maker named Tapputi who is now considered to be the world’s first recorded chemist. The tablet describes how she took flowers, myrrh, balsam and other aromatic plants then distilled them with water and other solvents before purifying the result by a repeated filtration process. Tapputi was also referred to as ‘Belatekallim’, meaning ‘overseer’, and it seems that her skills were so prized that she held an important position in a royal household. Given the significance of perfumes and scents in royal and religious ceremonies, perhaps it’s not surprising that Tapputi was such a superstar scientist.
Staying in the same part of the world but moving two thousand years forward in time we come to 800 AD and an Arab philosopher, scientist and musician named al-Kindi, who was one of the most influential scholars of his time. Al-Kindi was the father of cryptography, wrote fifteen treatises on music theory and introduced Arabic numerals to the world, and yet he still found time to literally write the book on fragrances. His ‘Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations’ included dozens of recipes and methods for fragrant oils and aromatic waters.
Two centuries later the Persian polymath Ibn Sina, also known as Avicenna, one of the fathers of early modern medicine, brought the science of creating scents into the modern era with his process for extracting fragrant oils from flowers. Avicenna experimented with rose petals and invented a steam distillation process that is used to this day. He also wrote a medical textbook that was widely used up until the 18th century and developed aromatherapy. Considering how productive and inventive al-Kindi and Avicenna were, it seems that scents really do energise and inspire us.
In Europe scents were created for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary in 1370 by distilling rosemary and thyme in brandy. Later recipes used essence of mint, sage, lemon and orange blossom. In the 16th century René Bianchi from Italy, the perfumer to the Queen of France, made France a centre for perfume making, leading to an explosion in flower cultivation. Another Italian-born perfumer, Johann Maria Farina, moved to Cologne in Germany and in 1709 he created the world-famous Eau de Cologne. The perfume factory that he founded is still in operation today, run by his descendants, and holds the record for being the world’s oldest perfume production facility that’s still in use.