In ancient Rome, legend held that the rose first sprung from the blood of Adonis. Crowns of roses were used in weddings, garlands were hung at banquets and petals were strewn beneath the feet of victors. And while we may not be in ancient times, there is still a place that revels in the luxurious beauty of this flower: the Morrocan Festival of Roses.
Held annually in El Kelaâ M’Gouna, approximately 50 miles northeast of Ouarzazate, in the Dadés Valley, Morocco’s Festival of Roses celebrates the season’s rose harvest. Known as the Valley of Roses, the air is scented with the fragrant Centifolia rose, also called the Persian or cabbage rose, and the streets are lined in flowering hedgerows. The Moroccan rose industry is centered here, processing the lush pink blooms into rose oils for perfumes, beauty products, and cooking ingredients. It takes nearly 7,000 pounds of petals to make just 35 ounces of oil, and you can tour the country’s largest rose distillery to see how rosewater and rose attar (essential oil) are made.
Because the festival itself is tied to the harvest, the exact dates vary year to year, but is usually within the first two weeks of May—the festival has been the weekend of May 6-8 the last two year. It begins on a Friday, with the main events on Saturday and the festivities continuing into Sunday. Since the harvest culminates with the festival, come a few days earlier to see the most flowers. Early visitors will also be rewarded with the unusual site of literally tons of rose petals being trucked into the factories, their scent wafting behind them. The city of El Kelaâ M’Gouna is picturesque, and the surrounding countryside of almond groves makes it ideal for long, fragrant walks.
“It is the time you have lost for your rose that makes your rose so important,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in the classic “The Little Prince,” and the festival celebrations reflect this dedication and exuberance. You can expect a Rose Queen to be presiding over a petal-strewn parade of faux-rose floats, children handing out garlands in the streets and the souk turned into a bonanza of rose-scented gifts to bring home with you, such as soaps, lotions, oil, various kinds of perfumes and dried flowers. There will be traditional Berber food, music and dancing as well as an exhibition of local crafts. Local lore has it that the rose has been celebrated in Morocco ever since its arrival in the 10th century, and it is still primarily a festival for local villagers and farmers.
Written by Erin Tolman.
Photo by Thomas Hawk.