Why is it a red carpet

Why are we rolling out a red carpet?

On February 26, the 89th Oscars will be presented to the best actors, films and producers in Los Angeles. As exciting as waiting for the winners of the Academy Awards to be announced, the rituals surrounding the media spectacle are predictable. Probably the most important symbol of fame and artistic success is walking on the red carpet - the coveted meters of woven, dyed carpeting, which give a select few the opportunity to be admired and photographed in detail. We are also "rolling out the red carpet" for heads of state and diplomats. But why is the carpet actually red?

The first explicit mention of a red carpet in our contemporary sense comes from the early 20th century. When the steam locomotive "20th Century Limited" began its maiden voyage from New York to Chicago on June 17, 1902, the railway employees literally greeted their wealthy guests with a red carpet. The locomotive, which would later land in the headlines and history books as the "most famous train in the world", had a Michelin-starred kitchen and luxurious sleeping cabins, offered its passengers secretarial services and extravagant evening entertainment. The red carpet on which the guests entered the train became proverbial for the overall package that the locomotive had to offer: The railway company's "red carpet treatment" developed into a synonym for an exclusive reception and a metaphor for particularly respectful treatment. The American Film Academy, which hosted what is arguably the world's most famous "red carpet event" at the "Oscar" ceremony in Los Angeles, is returning the red carpet to the luxury train from the Belle Époque.

The association of exclusivity and rank and name with the color red actually goes back much further and may originally have had a rather profane reason: the price of the red dye. Red - or purple - was once the most expensive dye in the world because it had to be extracted from the secretion of the purple snail.

In Greek and Roman antiquity, the discovery of the splendid color effect of the snail secretion was attributed to the Phoenicians, more precisely to the inhabitants of the city of Tire in today's Lebanon. The earliest archaeological evidence of the use of purple snails in Europe comes from Minoan Crete and the Bronze Age settlement of Coppa Nevigata in southern Italy. In both regions, scientists have found large numbers of snail shells that date back to around 1600 BC. To date.

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How exactly the purple dye was made is known to historians from various ancient authors, including Aristotle and the Roman author and naturalist Pliny. Between autumn and spring the purple snails were fished alive with the help of cone-shaped net tubes from the Mediterranean. Smaller snails were completely crushed; in larger animals, the hypobranchial gland, which produces the slimy color secretion, was first removed. The fishermen then squeezed the secretion from the glands and soaked the mass in salt for a few days and then allowed it to thicken in water or diluted urine. During this time it was possible to gradually skim off all foreign components from the surface, so that the pure dye remained after about a week. One of the most popular snail species in the Mediterranean region was Hexaplex trunculus.

Pliny emphasizes that after dyeing the fabric had to be placed in the sun for some time, as the purple color only fully unfolded when exposed to intense light. The production of the dye and the actual dyeing process were therefore extremely tedious and associated with considerable effort and enormous costs. Archaeologists have tried several times to reconstruct how many snails it would take to color an average robe. Even based on a conservative estimate, we can assume that several thousand snails would have to be processed to produce a single gram of pure purple.