I guess most of us have seen the words Eau de Cologne at least once. But have you ever wonder where these words came from? Over time, the original meaning of the words has been slightly altered. But it is still used to describe a scent that has become a legend. And Cologne (Köln in German) is where that legend began.
Cologne spanning on both sides of the Rhine River is one of the oldest German cities and its root dates back to 2000 years ago. The Romans first founded the village on the Rhine River in 38 BC and named it Colonia. Then, the imperial governors of Rome resided here and the town flourished into one of the most important trading centres in western Europe, a tradition it solidified in the Middle Ages and continues to uphold today.
The city was also one of the leading members of the mighty Hanseatic League and one of the largest cities north of the Alps in medieval and Renaissance times. Today, Cologne is Germany’s fourth-largest metropolis and a major cultural hub for the Rhineland, housing more than thirty museums and hundreds of galleries. The city also hosts several international trade fairs such as Art Cologne or Gamescom.
The city’s highlight is obviously the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) whose filigree twin spires dominate the skyline. This grand structure was originally designed to house the reliquary of the Three Kings and as a place of worship for the Holy Roman Emperor. But it was left incomplete until 1880, seven centuries after the construction began.
Today, the monumental Gothic cathedral is the spiritual heart of the city. It is also one of Germany’s most visited landmarks, drawing 20,000 attendees a day. You must circle around to truly appreciate its beauty as no other cathedral is so perfectly conceived, so uniformly and uncompromisingly executed in all its parts. For these reasons, Cologne Cathedral also stands for the strength and endurance of European Christianity.
The Signature Scent
But the Dom was not the only reason that drove me to Cologne. As a perfume enthusiast, I came here to learn about the city’s signature scent, Eau de Cologne. The original “Water of Cologne” is a spirit-citrus perfume composed by Italian-born Johann Maria Farina in 1709. He described his perfume as “a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossom after the rain”.
Soon after, Eau de Cologne became rapidly famous worldwide. In the 18th century, that scent was an indispensable accessory at all royal courts. Since then, it has become a generic term for a scented formulation that contains dilute ethanol, a mixture of citrus oils and other essential oils.
The most famous original Eau de Cologne is 4711, named after its location at No. 4711 Glockengasse, just a few steps from the Cologne Cathedral. It was also developed in the 18th century but by Wilhelm Mülhens. Yet it is still one of the oldest still produced fragrances in the world.