Right from the beginning of time, perfume has been synonymous with wealth, culture and civilisation and the perfume maker's job was ranked alongside that of a doctor, healer or priest. In fact the aromatic ingredients employed by ancient artists often boasted healing powers. So much so that Arabic, Israelite or Egyptian perfume makers did not just make perfumes and often went much further, producing incense, bath products, ointments, balsams and cosmetics that were considered treatments to be used to obtain refined pleasures and regain health.
Direct references to the healing powers of aromatic substances can be found in any traditional pharmacopoeia.
The ancient Egyptians are considered to be the real founding fathers of aromatherapy, employing an extremely wide selection of aromatic substances during religious and occult rituals and for everyday therapeutic treatments such as baths, massages, etc. As proof of this we know that the oldest known formula for making a perfume can be found in a hieroglyphic inscription dating back to fourteen thousand years ago.
The Egyptian aromatic treatment linked to complex embalming techniques is also very famous.
The “culture of aromas” was passed on to them by the Greeks who were responsible for creating the first known perfume industry.
The first evidence related to the use of perfumes and the like in Italy can be found in the Etruscan civilization. It is thought that the real growth in the use of essences and perfumes throughout the country took place following the meeting of Greek and Ancient Roman civilizations.
During the Republican period, the ancient Romans already made wide use of perfume, considering it to be an all-important element for preparing food and drink and not just for use in the celebrated public baths. Stories tell of how, during the age of the Empire, it was even used excessively and its misuse was commonplace. Obviously we have the Romans to thank for the widespread use of aromatic substances (essential oils, ointments, etc.) in all of Europe, as confirmed by a written account which came to light in Great Britain.
While Christianity was for a long time opposed to the use of personal perfumes.
In the 12 th century, when returning home the Crusaders brought with them the ancient eastern art of making perfume as well as the essences themselves, and this included the precious “secret of distillation”. This is a refined technique used to extract and trap a plant's aromatic ingredient which, thanks to the art of alchemy, was later perfected using alcoholic distillation.
And so, after centuries of living in the oblivion, perfume started to be appear once more in society as an element of elegance and pleasure even if it had to wait for the Renaissance period before the honoured position it held during Roman times was restored. Indeed it was during the Renaissance times that Italian perfume makers became universally famous, and it was around this time that Leonardo da Vinci wrote his treatise entitled " On the modern techniques of absorption and infusions ".
The great fashion of perfume was introduced to the French by Caterina De' Medici. Later, during the reign of Napoleon I, France was to become the home of the modern perfume making industry (especially Grasse which is known as " La cité des parfums ").
Florence and Venice continued to be the most important centres of perfume production in Europe through to the end of the 18 th century when “ the art of perfume making ” in Italy witnessed a rapid decline.
In Germany at the beginning of the 19 th century, Cologne Water – created by an Italian and produced using ingredients imported from Italy – started to grow in popularity
At the time of the ancient incursions in the Far East, the Arabs plundered large amounts of spices including cassia, sandalwood, nutmeg, myrrh, cloves, etc. which they also used to make perfumes and medicines (a practice which they truly excelled in). Among the many famous names that of Avicenna is to be remembered; an Arabian physician and scholar who lived during the 10 th and 11 th centuries and who, in addition to leaving behind a book dedicated to the rose (the most valued flower in Islam) also invented the refrigerant serpentine coil which was essential for distillation.
In China essential oils have been used for thousands of years and are still used today to treat psychological problems and cure a large number of inflammations, often combined with acupuncture.
Now that our brief history of perfume has arrived at the present day, we have to note first of all how today's world consumes quantities of sweet-smelling substances never seen before. Manufactured for the most part artificially, said substances now boast such a variety of uses that they cannot be compared in any way to previous eras.
This extensive spread of the use of perfume, a feature of the 20 th century, has been made possible by the extraordinary progress made in the field of organic chemistry.
It is no mere coincidence that the use and knowledge of essential oils has become considerably widespread over the last few decades. The wide-reaching rediscovery of aromatherapy offers unmistakable proof of this trend.