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Perfume Oil History - Crusades to Renaissance

When the Crusades kicked off – in the 11th Century – among the treasures brought back to Europe by Crusaders from the Middle and Far East were aromatic materials (and perfumery techniques).  The celebrated Arabian physician Avicinna is said to have been the first person to have mastered the distillery of rose petals, in the 10th Century.

The Italians perfected this art and took it to a whole new level. Cut to Italy.  Modena, in fact, where after a breakthrough involving cooling of the tube which carried vapours from the distillation pot, they managed to produce a scented alcohol close to 95% proof.  This revolutionary clear liquid was variously known as ‘aqua mirabilis’ (marvelous water), or ‘aqua vita’ (water of life).  By the tail end of the 14th Century, liquid perfumes had replaced solid ones – though they were also drunk, as scented waters, tinctures (and breath fresheners…!)

Mixed Herbs

Marco Polo brought exotic aromatics and scented goods back to his home city of Venice.  The great explorer returned laden with fragrant treasures from the new civilisations he’d discovered, on his voyage. This major trading hub flourished for a while as the centre of the perfume world. Almost everything was perfumed:  shoes, stockings, gloves, shirts, even coins.  Glamorous women carried or wore a silver version of the pomander, wafting trails of scent through the little perforations, as they moved, helping to block out the fetid smells of the streets and canals.  Meanwhile, doctors wore long robes and bird-like masks stuffed with aromatic herbs to shield themselves against epidemics (including deadly plague).

But it was in 1370, in Hungary, that perfumery as we know it today was really born.  Queen Elizabeth of Hungary inspired the first perfume – a fusion of aromatics including lavender and rosemary.  It became known as ‘Queen of Hungary Water’. The perfume was offered to her by a simple hermit as an ‘elixir of youth’.  Lo and behold:  at the age of 72, Elizabeth married the king of Poland.

We hope you enjoyed this history of perfume, brought to you with grateful thanks to the Perfume Society. If this has inspired you to buy a perfume oil, please click for Hers perfume oils or His perfume oils.

Return to A History of Perfume Oils by clicking here

Article courtesy of The Perfume Society 2017

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