The word perfume derives from the Latin perfumare, meaning “to smoke through.” Perfumery, or the art of making perfumes, began in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, and was further refined by the Romans and Persians.
The world’s first-recorded chemist is considered to be a woman named Tapputi, a perfume maker who was mentioned in a cuneiform tablet from the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia. She distilled flowers, oil, and calamus with other aromatics, then filtered and put them back in the still several times. In India, perfume and perfumery also existed in Indus civilization (3300 BC – 1300 BC). One of the earliest distillation of Ittar was mentioned in the Hindu Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita.
In 2004 – 2005, archaeologists uncovered what are believed to be the world’s oldest perfumes in Pyrgos, Cyprus. The perfumes date back more than 4,000 years. They were discovered in an ancient perfumery, a 4,000-square-metre (43,000 sq ft) factory housing at least 60 stills, mixing bowls, funnels, and perfume bottles. In ancient times people used herbs and spices, such as almond, coriander, myrtle, conifer resin, and bergamot, as well as flowers.
The Arab chemist Al-Kindi (Alkindus) wrote the Book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations in the 9th century, which contained more than a hundred recipes for fragrant oils, salves, aromatic waters, and substitutes or imitations of costly drugs. The book also described 107 methods and recipes for perfume-making and perfume-making equipment, such as the alembic (which still bears its Arabic name. [from Greek ἄμβιξ, “cup”, “beaker”] described by Synesius in the 4th century).
The Persian chemist Ibn Sina (also known as Avicenna) introduced the process of extracting oils from flowers by means of distillation, the procedure most commonly used today. He first experimented with the rose. Until his discovery, liquid perfumes were mixtures of oil and crushed herbs or petals, which made a strong blend. Rose water was more delicate, and immediately became popular. Both the raw ingredients and the distillation technology significantly influenced western perfumery and scientific developments, particularly chemistry.
The art of perfumery was known in western Europe ever since 1221, taking into account the monks’ recipes of Santa Maria delle Vigne or Santa Maria Novella of Florence, Italy. In the east, the Hungarians produced in 1370 a perfume made of scented oils blended in an alcohol solution at the command of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, best known as Hungary Water. The art of perfumery prospered in Renaissance Italy, and in the 16th century, Italian refinements were taken to France by Catherine de’ Medici’s personal perfumer, Rene the Florentine (Renato il fiorentino). His laboratory was connected with her apartments by a secret passageway, so that no formulae could be stolen en route. Thanks to Rene, France quickly became one of the European centers of perfume and cosmetics manufacture. Cultivation of flowers for their perfume essence, which had begun in the 14th century, grew into a major industry in the south of France.
Between the 16th and 17th century, perfumes were used primarily by the wealthy to mask body odors resulting from infrequent bathing. Partly due to this patronage, the perfume industry was created. In Germany, Italian barber Giovanni Paolo Feminis created a perfume water called Aqua Admirabilis, today best known as eau de cologne, while his nephew Johann Maria Farina (Giovanni Maria Farina) in 1732 took over the business.
By the 18th century, aromatic plants were being grown in the Grasse region of France, in Sicily, and in Calabria, Italy, to provide the growing perfume industry with raw materials. Even today, Italy and France remain the center of the European perfume design and trade.
La historia cuenta que Alejandro Magno era muy aficionado a utilizar perfumes, capaz de perfumar cualquier habitación con solo el aroma de su cuerpo. En la Edad Media se fabricaron ungüentos con sustancias aromáticas, musgo incluido y después de un período de utilizar animales. En los siglos XVIII y XIX se volvió al agua de flores. El perfume está tan presente en la historia humana como cualquier héroe o leyenda.
Los aromas de la naturaleza han acompañado al ser humano siempre: las flores, el mar, los árboles… Ramón Planas y Buera del Museo del Perfume de Barcelona sostiene que todo comenzó en la prehistoria, el día que el hombre primitivo encendió una hoguera para calentarse o para alejar las fieras que pudieran acecharle y, por pura casualidad, encendió algunas ramas o resinas de un árbol y éstas comenzaron a desprender un olor agradable, un olor inédito que nunca antes había sentido nadie. “Quizás el hecho de encontrarla tan agradable y de que el humo se elevase directamente hacia el cielo, les hizo pensar en utilizarlo como ofrenda a las divinidades o a las fuerzas sobrenaturales que lo habitaban y que desde allí arriba regían sus frágiles destinos en la Tierra”. Los perfumes se han utilizado y se utilizan en rituales religiosos en diversas épocas y culturas.