Launch of City Sniffers: A smell tour of Amsterdam’s ecohistory

‘Rub’n’Sniff’ map containing six emblematic scents connected to Amsterdam’s past and present, created for Odeuropa’s, City Sniffers- A smell tour of Amsterdam’s ecohistory, printed for the event by Scent the Brand. Designed by Liam R. Findlay.

Join us at the end of the summer for a self-guided, urban smell tour titled City Sniffers: A smell tour of Amsterdam’s ecohistory. The tour follows one path of six stops with scents and stories within the city. Using a free phone application to navigate, developed by Odeuropa researchers, participants walk around smelling and exploring stories connected to the present history of Amsterdam. 

The tour also includes the smells of the city’s past via a Rub’n’Sniff map containing five emblematic aromas. These include the stench of canals, rosemary, the scent of the civet cat in connection to historic perfumes, the fragrance of linden trees and a reconstruction of the smell of a pomander, a perfumed jewel used to protect from disease during the plague. Overall, the tour will explore narratives around colonial histories, transportation and industry within Amsterdam.

“In addition to the beautiful portraits and objects in the collection that tell the story of the rich and famous, the Amsterdam Museum focuses on sharing stories from other perspectives”, says Margriet Schavemaker, artistic director of Amsterdam Museum. “Stories about class and gender differences and the city’s colonial past. Those stories are less well represented in the collection and scent is ideally suited to tell those stories in a very direct way. That is why the Amsterdam Museum is collaborating in this project.” 

The tours are open to all and are self-guided – participants can pick up a free Rub’n’Sniff map from the information desk of the Amsterdam Museum (their temporary location at Amstel 51) throughout September.

Odeuropa researcher Sofia Collette Ehrich following the City Sniffers olfactory tour in Amsterdam. Picture: Vania Lopez.

“Although we are constantly smelling, many are not actively aware of what they are inhaling and how this relates to history, health and the environment. These walking tours bring forward the importance of our sense of smell and the knowledge which can be raised through it. This tour encourages participants to actively smell using the ‘Rub and Sniff’ map, and  we hope they also open their noses to other smells in the city”, explains Sofia Collette Ehrich, researcher and Event Coordinator of Odeuropa. 

The tour was a collaborative effort between the Odeuropa Project, the Amsterdam Museum and the Institute for Art and Olfaction. Scents were developed in collaboration with IFF; the map was designed by Liam R. Findlay and printed by Scent the Brand. To emphasise the impact of humans on the environment, the chosen locations and smells will bring forward stories related to environmental awareness and how the present day is an accumulation of our past actions. 


Odeuropa Team Milestone: Our First In-Person, Hands-On Meeting


Parisian street art: “Pendre au nez. Les murs ont des oreilles” or “Hang onto the nose. The walls have ears.” Photo: Inger Leemans.

After more than nine months of remote working due to the pandemic, we finally brought part of the Odeuropa team together. This October, 11 Odeuropa team members, representing all work packages and almost every project partner, met in Paris to smell things, co-create annotated data, bridge gaps between core concepts, and even challenge each other to a game of foosball. This lockdown period has been a burden for all research teams, but for a project researching smells and olfactory heritage, the audiovisual-biased world of online working has been a severe challenge.

Odeuropa team members Lizzie Marx and Victoria-Anne Michel smelling books during the smell walk at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Photo: Inger Leemans.

We approached this first in-person gathering ‘nose-first’ with the help of our PhD student, Victoria-Anne Michel who organized an olfactory workshop and smell walk for the team. During the workshop, we were able to smell perfumes and raw materials which we then categorized and made associations with through our sense of touch. During our smell walk through the different spaces within the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (site Richelieu) we stuck our noses into a few books, old and new. While walking around the place, we first inhaled the general atmosphere, which sensory researcher Kate McLean calls “smell catching.” We then went “smell hunting” in specific spots. Through this exercise, we felt the contrasts of olfactory atmospheres, or “smellscapes”; from the sleek and modern Performing Arts reading room, the wax wooden rotunda, the futuristic corridor leading to the old-fashioned Manuscripts reading room, and, finally, the impressive, bright, cathedral-looking Labrouste reading room. The discussions that followed were a mix of poetic impressions, technical considerations like the different types of air control systems, and personal scent memories. With this, olfaction functions as both an emotional and spatial sense! Special thanks to the curators Sylvie Bourel, Hervé Grosdoit-Artur and Mathieu Lescuyer, without whom this smellwalk would not have been possible.

This trip not only allowed us to get to know each other and train our noses, but also to truly invest in interdisciplinary knowledge exchanges within Odeuropa and beyond. Throughout the few days, we were able to  meet with researchers, heritage groups and other parties involved in the perfume and scent culture industry.

Cecilia Bembibre in the flamingo room at the press launch of the Sensory Odyssey experience. Photo: Sofia Ehrich.

Some highlights from our trip:

  • We received a warm welcome at the Osmothèque – the historic perfume conservatory based in Versailles – discussing future collaborations around olfactory heritage with the President, Head of Scientific Committee and Communications director of Osmothèque (and smelling some of the nose-boggling perfumes and odorants safeguarded by the institute);
  • We attended the press launch of Sensory Odyssey, a multisensory immersive event in the Natural History Museum of Paris;
  • We met with the representatives of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux to discuss olfactory approaches to heritage representation;
  • We had drinks with the acclaimed French historian Annick Le Guérer, to discuss her participating in one of our future Smellinars, among other things (more to be announced later);
  • We visited the Voyages Immobiles exhibition to see how smells were presented and communicated in an event for general publics
  • We annotated 371 perfumed gloves in paintings;
  • Lastly, we had four trips together to the supermarket, ate loads of croissants and had some adventures with Vélib bikes.

Alas, three days was surely not enough for all our ambitions – so much is going on in the realm of olfactory heritage in France. So: we’ll be back!


Part of the Odeuropa team having lunch together at a Parisian restaurant. Photo: Marieke van Erp.