In the Name of the Rose

Cyprus unlocked

There is a village that stands out from all others. In Agros, the aroma of roses permeates the air, evoking a hue of pink that seems almost tangible.

Text: Romina Xyda

Photos: Panagiotis Mina 

Perched within the Troodos mountains, Agros is a sacred place. Arrayed in amphitheatrical fashion across seven hills covered in swaths of rose bushes, it is the main village of Limassol prefecture. For more than a century, the damask rose (Rosa damascena), pale pink and with an intense fragrance, has reigned over the locale. According to myth, when Aphrodite stirred from the Cypriot sea, the air around her was awash with the scent of fragrant roses. The truth in this fanciful tale is even more captivating.

In November of 1917, Nearchos Clerides, a native of Agros and a gifted primary school teacher, encouraged sixty of his students to spread the cultivation of the damask rose, an event that would substantially improve the community’s standard of living and reputation. What began as a small nursery in the schoolyard was only the beginning. Each of his students enthusiastically vowed to plant fifty roses annually on the property of their families. These events cemented the bond between the locals and the damask rose. The next step was to acquire a still to produce rose distillate, further immersing the community in the culture of the rose.

Currently, the flower is the hallmark of Agros. Its annual harvest is a highly revered tradition, the fruits of their labours producing flavourful and nourishing delicacies. During May, when the roses are in full bloom, the harvest season commences, marking a joyous celebration lasting twenty days. Before the break of dawn, while the sun still slumbers and the roses are at their most fragrant, families and guests gather to cut the delicate flowers from their stalks to be placed into nets. Thus, the rose petals retain their freshness, moisture and rich essential oil content. After being separated from their stalks and meticulously cleaned, the petals go into cauldrons to undergo the process of distillation. The yield is an exquisite rose distillate. This precious substance serves as the foundation for an array of delectable creations, including rose tea, Mahalepi (rose cream), sweet rose, rose nuts, chocolates, Loukoums (sweet gelly cubes), liqueurs, aperitifs, essential oils, scented candles, soaps, jams, vinegar and cosmetics such as face and body creams that safeguard the skin from the damaging effects of free radicals. The rich history and tradition of Agros naturally led to the creation of a magnificent celebration: the first Festival of Roses held in 2006. Hence, every May marks this extraordinary event. For two weeks, rose enthusiasts immerse themselves in the world of roses, experiencing countless activities and demonstrations. They can explore exhibitions featuring products crafted from the roses of Agros, participate in the local harvest, witness the process of rose distillation and revel in music and dance performances.

Even if you visit during a different time of year, you can still bask in the beauty of nature in a village that exudes the fragrance of roses year round.

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