By Emmanuel Yashim, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
From Thursday, June 1 to Sunday, June 5 no fewer than 25 journalists from across the world converged on Kazanlak, a city in central Bulgaria, about three and a half hours drive from the capital, Sofia.
They were there not only to attend the 18th World Meeting of the Bulgarian Media but to witness the annual traditional Rose Festival in the area.
The gathering also offered the opportunity and the platform for the laying of wreath in remembrance of Hristo Botev who was killed 147 years ago in the course of defending his community.
Botev is considered a Bulgarian revolutionary and a poet. He is seen by Bulgarians as a symbolic, historical figure and national hero.
Having ended the meeting within two days, it was time to witness the traditional annual festival of the Rose flower.
It was the 120th time that the festival was held in Kazanlak, a town of not more than 300, 000 inhabitants, but one with a rich tradition, history, and culture.
The city is fondly referred to as the “Valley of Roses”, the “Valley of the Thracian Kings’’, and “Capital of the Queen of Flowers”.
Kazanlak is famous for its abundance of flowers, especially the oil-bearing and fragrant rose. The city is considered to be the capital of Bulgaria’s Rose Valley.
A visit to the town generates a blissful feeling because of a combination of the weather, naturally beautiful scenery, and majesty of the Stara Planina—the elongated, 130 km-long ridge of the mountain which forms a natural border
Kazanlak’s beauty is made even more dreamlike by the fertility in the valley of Tundza (archeological project) and the warm mineral springs.
Speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Zlatna Kostova, Head of International Relations at the Bulgarian News Agency (BTA), said the Valley of the Thracian Kings derived its name from being host to tombs where kings of the Thracian tribe were buried.
She said Thracians or Thracian Bulgarians are a regional, ethnographic group of ethnic Bulgarians, inhabiting or native to Thrace.
Today, according to her, the larger part of the population is concentrated in Northern Thrace, but much is spread across the whole of Bulgaria and the diaspora.
Ancient Thrace was located in the Balkan Peninsula region, which comprises most of modern-day Bulgaria.
A visit to the Rose Valley reveals the extensive gardens of oil-bearing roses from which the famous rose oil is produced.
In a booklet entitled “120 Years of Rose Festival Kazanlak”, the Kazanlak Municipality said: “The development of rose production has a direct impact on the daily life and culture of the local population.
“The discarded petals were used as food for domestic animals while rose water was used to treat sick eyes, stomach ailments, and more.
“Sugar mixed with rose oil was used to treat gallbladder problems, and rose `rakia’ – a traditional Bulgarian brandy – and rose jam became favourite delicacies not only among Muslims but also among Bulgarians.
“The Kazanlak rose can also be found in the traditional clothing of the population of the Rose Valley, especially on the embroidery.”
While there are more than 300 species of the rose flower with the Roza genus specie originating in ancient times and found in the wooded and moist provinces of India, China, East Africa, and America, there are three unique ones grown in Kazanlak.
“The flowers and the fruits of the rose have been used for the production of aromatic oils, wine, tea, medicines, etc in Assyria, Babylon, India, China, Persia, and Egypt.
“In ancient Egyptian literature, the rose was considered a sacred plant, and during the reign of Ramses II in the 13th Century BC it was cultivated as a cultural plant,” she said.
These attributes of the oil-bearing rose have attracted attention from ancient times to the present day. It was for these reasons and more that the Kazanlak community hold a festival in reverence of the wonderful attributes of the flower considered by many as “the symbol of Bulgaria”.
The festival was one of Bulgarian splendour and pageantry, folklore dancing, traditional customs, crafts, and taking pictures in a rose field. This happens on every first Sunday in the month of June.
There was a carnival along the Knyaz Al. Batenberg Boulevard in the city centre by many associations ranging from artists, dancers, hunters, past athletes, fashion designers, make-up artists, mathematicians, and builders.
Others were electricians and computer technologists, personnel of the armed forces, among others – both the young and old, male and female.
It was generally a wonderful, beautiful, and dreamlike sight to behold, no wonder Abdullah Suleiman Salih Al Assaf of Saudi Press Agency (SPA) described the festival “awesome” and “worth celebrating”.
“I am both surprised and not surprised”, he said when asked whether the celebration was worth it. I didn’t know it was going to turn out this big. Initially, I thought it was going to be a small gathering of people, but look at this.
“The display of rich culture, tradition, and history here, and the colours on display are all awesome.
“The rich fragrance of the rose flower, the Rose Queen pageant, even the presence of the country’s president at the festival testify to the greatness of the event, he said.
“I am impressed by the commitment of the people of this community. Look at the participation”, he told NAN.
Also speaking with NAN, the Deputy Director of the Museum of Rose in Kazanlak, Radosalav Petrov said the festival was a celebration of the benefits that the rose flower has brought to the lives of the people in the area.
“The rose industry here is providing jobs for at least 30,000 people. This includes people who cultivate the roses, pick them when they are ripe for picking, and process the petals in distilleries to get the oil from them.
“There is also another aspect of the value chain. We can produce many products from the rose. And don’t forget that we will go ahead and sell them,” he said.
The Rose Festival was first organised by citizens of Kazanlak in 1903. It was dedicated to beauty and flowers as well as charity.
Rich exhibitions were organised and the funds collected were given to poor families, the aged, and orphans. The festival became more popular in the 1930s and by 1966 it had gained nationwide acceptance.
Thus, in 1967, the first national Rose Festival was organised in Kazanlak, and two years later, in 1969, a carnival procession element was added to the event.
The carnival procession was led by the Chariot of Seuthes III and the Rose Queen, who is usually the winner of the city’s Most Beautiful Girl Pageant for the running year.
The Rose Queen for 2023 is Kristina Popova, a high school graduate who was coronated at a ceremony at the Seuthopolis Square in the Kazanlak city centre.
The worldwide recognition of the festival is just one of the big acknowledgements of the Kazanlak people who have made a cult of beauty through one flower.
They have proven that dedication and commitment to work, and charity through the years can lead to the institution of a tradition worth celebrating as the Rose Festival, one which many observers consider to be phenomenal. (NANFeatures)