Risen from the ashes

Well, so the history of Pompeii – or at least their dramatic end – is probably known to everyone, ergo I decided not to burden the kind reader with that (you do not have to send flowers and chocolates to thank me, but you can).

In any case, the consequence of the tragic end is fascinating. Perhaps nowhere else have so many details and everyday ways of the life of the Roman Empire been preserved, as in the ruins carefully excavated from under the volcanic ashes.

It is astonishing, all the richness, color, plenty of civilized details and art objects, especially when one realizes that this was not quite a city in the forefront of history. In essence, it was a small town where Roman veterans went to spend a peaceful retirement, far from the annoying Great World, but again with ample service and comfort.

The fact that while the Romans overwhelmed by invasion the ancient world, they largely absorbed it, especially its culture, philosophy, religion, habits … and built on it, as we learned in primary school history lessons, but details we missed explain what this precisely meant.

For example, in the vast majority of the empire’s territory, the communication language ( and often even the official language) was not Latin, it was Greek. Why do I mention it? Agathó – the name of the local perfumer and the soap-maker, on whose memory the brand decided to build is Greek word “αγαθό” meaning good. It could have been his name, his trademark (or simply his workshop’s mark). It is questionable whether he was a local artisan (originally Pompeii was Etruscan, not Greek – but for example the nearby town of Neapolis, today’s Naples was originally Greek), or weather he immigrated from another part of the empire, or he simply liked the name.

And there is another thing that the Romans took from the Greeks and cultivated further. Fragrance. The Greeks were completely obsessed with the smells. They perfumed themselves, perfumed temples, perfumed living spaces, perfumed furniture … they used perfumes so much that some laws, especially in wartime, had to regulate, limit, or at least temporarily prohibit perfumes in order to save the resources needed to defend the empire. And the Romans continued. In consumption, and in its reduction in times of crisis. And – as in many other areas – they dragged the matter on. While the Greeks mainly used single-type fragrances, the Romans began to combine them more and more. And actually, for the first time in history, we are starting to read about specific perfume workshops with greater or lesser fame, individual specific perfumes with their own names and recipes. That is actually the basis of perfumes and perfume brands as we know them today.

Fine china walls meeting room at Capodimonte Museum.
(image source: https://www.napoli-turistica.com/real-fabbrica-porcellana-capodimonte/)

The new Agatho Parfums brand thus combined two local traditions. The perfumer from Pompeii served as an inspiration for fragrance making and in terms of packaging, the old porcelain factory Real Fabbrica di Capodimonte, founded in the area in 1740 by Charles de Bourbon, known at the time as Charles IV, King of Naples and Sicily (later ruled as Charles III., King of Spain). The individual scents of the brand are inspired by the scenes and events of Pompeii.

Traditions, however, relate only to the quality, materials and their luxury workmanship. The resulting fragrances however are extremely modern and remarkable.

(image source: https://www.facebook.com/agathoparfum/)

The brand has 6 fragrances in the portfolio so far, I got samples of the following three:

Casa dei Casti Amanti
(image source: https://www.napolike.com/visits-a-san-valentino-2017-and-restoration-the-house-of-chaste-lovers-a-pompei)

Castiamanti

The perfume is inspired by the villa “Casa dei Casti Amanti” (House of Chaste Lovers), named after a preserved fresco featuring lovers at a feast. Why they are called chaste, I do not know exactly, maybe simply because many other frescoes in the city are quite … explicit.

A quick gust of laurel with myrtle, a bit like cutting a hedge and then a dry, almost dusty saffron. Labdanum, a lot of non-sweet Labdan mixed with a cigarette smoke. The cigarette was turned off relatively quickly, although it occasionally releases smoke a little and the labdan is joined by honey. Dense and floral, decorated with a few rose petals. Its sweetness gradually disappears and labdanum is partially replaced by colder incense with spices. It’s like a fiery late afternoon that turns into a warm evening and ends with a cool summer night.

Giardino di Ercole
(image source: http://pompeiisites.org/en/archaeological-site/house-of-the-garden-of-hercules/)

Giardinodiercole

This fragrance is inspired by the villa “Casa del Giardino di Ercole” (the House at Hercules Garden), or by the Hercules Garden itself – named according to Hercules’ statue standing there. The house is also called the “Casa del Profumiere” (Perfumer’s House) because a perfume workshop was located there. Therefore the garden is extraordinarily large for the neighbourhood – it has grown flowers for use in perfumes. The pollen analysis has shown roses, violets and lilies so far.

First the resin from the chopped thuja bush, then the high-quality church incense with dry wood. Very, very nice incense, so nice dry I smelled perhaps only in The St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and also in the Shanaan fragrance by M. Micallef. Whether it’s natural or not (Agatho claims use of natural ingredients, so I guess this to be natural too, but with Shanaan the smell was allegedly created by a particular aldehyde), but it almost reconciles me with the loss by the cease of Shanaan production, that I mourn for a long time, the only thing I miss is a pinch of cold stone. In any case, this is a perfume I would love to own once.

(image source: http://www.pompeiitaly.org/en/pompeii-ruins/rosso-pompeiano-unique-imprint/)

Rossopompeiano

Rosso Pompeiano is the name of a red shade often used in preserved Pompeii paintings, and generally in paintings and frescoes from Roman times. The pigment was obtained from minerals containing iron oxide, giving it the characteristic color.

Take the good old Nirmala by Molinard, an honest matured vintage version, not this modern merry tint sold currently under that name, but the original cornucopia full of ripe to slightly overripe fruit and flowers in full bloom, add a good dose of quality orange blossom, heliotrope and vanilla. Shake, do not mix. It appears very nice, compact, juicy and unusual, despite (in my opinion) an unnecessary quasi-ambergris tail. Heliotrope in the composition is not too sweet-powder-almond, rather goes into a sweet-wind-tinted tone, remotely, but really only remotely reminiscent of liquorice. It gives the smell a little bit of nostalgia and timelessness. Nice and unmistakable.

I feel extremely good about the brand. It reminds me of to the last detail refined treasure, whether it concerns the content, the cover, the philosophy behind it, in all possible contexts. Quality everywhere, not a self-serving quality, but creating something unique, extraordinary, something that will not fade.

One day I want to have some of these at home.

(image source: https://www.facebook.com/agathoparfum/)

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