Published:  12:34 AM, 13 May 2019

More than a scent: Cyprus promoting its perfume past

More than a scent: Cyprus promoting its perfume past Yiannoula Lazarou checks a replica of a 4th millennium B.C. perfume distiller that was discovered in the ancient Mesopotamian settlement of Tepe Gawra near modern-day Mosul, Iraq, as drops of perfume made from Cypriot herbs trickle from a bamboo. -AP

Before Cyprus gained fame as the mythical birthplace of the goddess of love Aphrodite nearly three millennia ago, Cyprus was known around the Mediterranean for its perfumes, scents that the mighty queens of Egypt coveted.

What appears to have distinguished the Cypriot fragrances was the quality of the rich olive oil in which the ancient perfumers captured the musky scent of indigenous oak moss, citrusy bergamot and labdanum or rockrose. This was done through a distillation process using clay vases of exacting dimensions, reports AP.

"Perfume is the symbol of life," said Maria Rosaria Belgiorno, a retired professor with Italy's National Council for Research whose own archaeological digs on the east Mediterranean island 14 years ago unearthed the oldest perfumery of the Bronze Age. Perfumes hide the smell of the dead and of decay.

They, according to Belgiorno, have a "spiritual connection" to life. And that connection is one of the motivations behind a new perfume theme park nestled in Cyprus' verdant Solea valley, which allows visitors to recreate those ancient perfumes in the traditional way, with replicas of the ancient clay distillers extracting the scents from the locally grown herbs over an open fire.

Belgiorno says evidence to the popularity of Cyprus' fragrances is found in a reference to a Cypriot perfume merchant inscribed on 4,000 year-old tablets found in the ancient Greek city of Thebes. That reference pre-dates the emergence of the deity Aphrodite, meaning Cyprus was famous for its perfumes before it gave birth to the ancients' love goddess.

The origins of perfume-making are believed to date back to 4,000 B.C. in ancient Mesopotamia, where archaeological digs in the early 20th century near the city of Mosul in modern-day Iraq turned up the first evidence of such activity.From there, perfume-making migrated to Anatolia and then to the Mediterranean and beyond, with perfumeries discovered in such diverse places as Sardinia and Slovakia.


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