Aqua Mirabilis, the Italian scent that changed perfumery

Apr 24, 2018 159


The glossy, celebrity-filled cologne counters of modern shopping malls hide a fascinating, if odd history. Today’s fragrances offer heady punches of patchouli, sweet vanilla, amber and candy floss, but their ancient counterparts called for deer musk, the anal secretions of cats and even whale grease.

Phew! It took centuries before perfume became the personal statement it is today and for that we have Renaissance Italy to thank. This is the story of how the Florentine Medicis and Venetian spice traders brought liquid perfume, or aqua mirabilis, to the world. Italians weren’t the first to want to smell nice. In fact the urge to surround ourselves with scent goes back much further, at least four thousand years further, to the ancient Egyptians who were massive fans of fragrance.   

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