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Follow your nose with smelly tour of Amsterdam

Published: 27 September 2022 at 09:35

Odeuropa researcher Sofia Collette Ehrich using the City Sniffers map in Amsterdam

Anglia Ruskin University historian helps develop free ‘City Sniffers’ map and guide

Visitors to Amsterdam are being encouraged to follow their nose and take part in a unique tour of the city using a special smelly map.

Called “City Sniffers”, the map is a collaboration between Amsterdam Museum and Odeuropa, a cultural heritage project involving researchers from across Europe, including from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), that is recreating the smells of the past and sharing their historical significance.

The free City Sniffers map brings together key city centre locations with aromas that tell the city’s story, and the walking tour is accompanied by an app, also developed by Odeuropa researchers, explaining the history behind these smells and their connection with present day Amsterdam.

By rubbing the map at key points on the tour, participants can experience the stench of medieval canals, learn about the important role of rosemary, which was used at weddings and funerals, and was thought to protect from the plague, and enjoy the fragrance of linden trees, avenues of which were planted around the city centre.

Historian Dr William Tullett, Associate Professor in Sensory Studies at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) and a researcher with the Odeuropa project, said:

“First and foremost, this a fun and free activity that people of all ages can enjoy. By experiencing what a place used to smell like and comparing it with today, it encourages people to think about a location in a new way.

“Amsterdam is full of incredible historical sites, but it smells very differently today to how it would have done just a couple of hundred years ago. By rubbing the map, participants can experience the scents and smells that shaped the city but have now been lost.

“While we’re pleased that some of these smells, such as the foul sewage-filled canals, are no longer with us, the history that accompanies the map explains how human activity has constantly changed Amsterdam’s aroma. With global warming expected to cause further changes in future decades, for example to the types of plants and trees able to tolerate warmer climates in the city, it’s also a reminder that the smells of today won’t be around forever.”

The tours are free and are self-guided with the app, and participants can pick up a City Sniffers map from the information desk of the Amsterdam Museum at Amstel 51 until the end of the month. The limited edition map was designed by Liam R Findlay, printed by Scent the Brand, and the scents were developed in collaboration with IFF. The researchers are now exploring rolling out City Sniffer maps for other cities.

Odeuropa is a research project funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme and is the first European initiative to use artificial intelligence (AI) to investigate the importance of scents and smelling, and to discover how scents have moulded our communities and traditions. Researchers are also producing an encyclopaedia of smells, which will be made available online.