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Scientists recreating Smells of 16th Century Europe

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Interesting article




History is written, read, told — but rarely ever is it smelled.

Historians and scientists across Europe have now gotten together with perfumers and museums for a unique project: to capture what Europe smelled like between the 16th and early 20th centuries. A European street today may smell like coffee, fresh-baked bread and cigarettes. But what did it smell like hundreds of years ago? As part of this three-year-long project called "Odeuropa," the researchers want to find all the old scents of Europe — and even recreate some of this ancient smellscape: from the dry tobacco scents and the earthy medicinal herbs, to the odors of stinky canals.

The researchers will then work with chemists and perfume makers to recreate past smells and figure out how to display the smells in museums and other historical sites. 

I could only imagine the wide range of smells in ancient Rome. The pungent odor from factories producing the fermented fish sauce garum would be bracing, for example. (Fortunately, the end product was much milder in smell, even enticing.) The pungent odor of garlic, onions, and fish would fill the air.

The odor of dead animals and excrement in the streets would have been sickly. Needless to say, body and oral hygiene would have been poor. 

Fortunately, masking odors of flowers and spices would waft through the air. Burning incense from temples would give a pleasant break to the stench in the air. Incense would also be used to cover the pervasive reek of public cremations, as well as the smell of death from animals or prisoners in the amphitheater.

guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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The past stunk. Scientists want you to be able to smell it

As part of a project called Odeuropa, researchers from six countries are bringing historical European smells, including the Battle of Waterloo, to modern noses. "Smells shape our experience of the world."




If it's hard to imagine the smell of a defeated Napoleon fleeing on that history-making day in 1815, think the scent of rain-soaked soil and grass mingling with the fetid odor of rotting corpses and earth burned by explosions, as described in soldiers' diaries. Mix in leather and horses, gunpowder and even the smell of the French emperor himself. 


"We know Napoleon was wearing his favorite perfume that day, which would resemble the present-day 4711 eau de cologne and which was called 'aqua mirabilis,'" says Dutch art and scent historian Caro Verbeek, an Odeuropa team member. Her dissertation traced the scents of the Battle of Waterloo, and will serve as a foundation for Odeuropa's work to reconstruct it.  

Napoleon chose his fragrance to mask the evil stench of battle, Verbeek says, but also to stay healthy, as the cologne contained compounds believed at the time to help protect people from disease. 



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