Surrounded by gilded mirrors and swirly rococo décor, we sit and wait patiently for our tour of Cologne’s Fragrance Museum to commence. We’ve come to Farina Haus to learn all about Johann Maria Farina, the inventor of the famous Farina cologne, the first mass-marketed perfume in the world and the man who put the German city of Cologne firmly on the map.
In a dramatic swish of ruffles, velvet and ringlets, our guide makes his grand entrance, ushering us down a dimly-lit staircase to a room that’s been decked out to look like a Johann Maria Farina’s office and distillery room.
Our host remains completely in character as Johann Maria Farina throughout the tour and talks us through the story of how this young Italian man came to establish one of the world’s most recognised scents.
Giovanni Maria Farina was born in 1685 in Santa Maria Maggiore and settled in Cologne in 1709.
When Farina first moved to Cologne, there were very strict laws regarding foreign settlers. After successfully gaining citizenship, he showed his gratitude by naming his first creation Eau de Cologne ‘Water of Cologne’. Being the very first perfume of its kind on the market, it wasn’t long before the word "Cologne" became a household name.
In 1703, when his fragrance empire was but a twinkle in his eye, Farina began experimenting with a combination of scents including citrus fruits and bergamot.
The fragrance was light and fresh, in stark contrast to the popular heady scents of the day, which included cinnamon oil, sandalwood oil and musk. Back then, these robust scented oils were commonly used as a substitute for bathing due to the prevalence of numerous water-borne illnesses. We can only imagine how this situation played out in confined spaces…
By 1708, Johann Maria Farina had developed what he considered to be a breakthrough scent. Writing to his brother, Johann Baptist Farina, he said:
“I have created a perfume which is reminiscent of a spring morning following a soft shower where fragrances of wild narcissi combine with that of sweet orange flowers. This perfume refreshes me and stimulates both my senses and imagination”.
In the distillery room, our guide presents us with small unmarked jars, asking us to guess each of the fragrances. All the while, he explains the process that goes into creating the famous cologne.
Citrus fruits dominate the fragrance, most noticeably bergamot. The bergamot is said to be harvested whilst still green and only unripe peel is used in the production of Farina’s perfume. The fact that only natural essences were and still are used means that the perfume maker must blend and combine various versions to maintain a consistent fragrance.
Farina was fastidious about preserving his scent and regularly set aside small samples of his perfume which were then used as benchmarks to ensure the overall fragrance did not undergo any change. Some of these samples still exist today.
Tickets for the historical guided tour cost €9 and last 1 hour. Admission is free for children under 10.
Tours can be booked online or in person at Farina Haus Fragrance Museum. Each tour participant leaves with a miniature bottle of Farina’s signature scent.
Downstairs there is also a fully stocked perfume shop selling a wide range of Farina-branded fragrances for men and women – where better to pick up an authentic souvenir of Cologne?
50 667 Cologne
+49 (0)221 3998994
- Fiona Hilliard