Recently hygiene has become more important than ever. We must wash our hands more frequently and use hand sanitizers regularly. In Turkey, we have another tool : Kolonya (Cologne).
For hundreds of years, this Ottoman-era cologne has been synonymous with Turkish hospitality. Now, it is being used to fight corona virus.
During the Ottoman Empire the traditional fragrant liquid was rose water, which was first distilled in the ninth century in the Arabian Peninsula. As the Ottoman Empire absorbed the region, “Eau de Cologne” or “Cologne”, was discovered during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamit II (1876 – 1909). Consequently, Cologne dethroned rose water.
In Turkey, it is an important tradition to offer Kolonya during guest visits, on bus trips and in restaurants. If you should visit a Turkish house, the first thing that you will be offered is Kolonya. This is meant, primarily, to refresh a guest who has just arrived from a trip and also to help eliminate the germs that the outdoor conditions leave on our hands.
Traditionally, this sweet-scented aroma made with fig blossoms, jasmine, rose or citrus ingredients is sprinkled on guests’ hands as they enter homes, hotels and hospitals; when they finish meals at restaurants; or as they gather for religious services. But unlike other natural scents, this ethanol-based concoction’s high alcohol content (usually 80%) can act as an effective hand disinfectant.
You may have heard of this traditional fragrance in other articles so, I will focus on more of the traditional aspects of Kolonya and its place in our daily lives. Everyone has their own preference, my favourite brand is Reboul which has been in the industry since 1895 and my favourite scent is green tea. I always have a bottle in my drawer in the office, but I have different memories about Kolonya.
The first memory of the Kolonya was pure pain for me. I was little, on my grandmother’s balcony, with a wound on my foot, probably I knocked it somewhere in the garden and it was bleeding. My grandmother brought a bottle of Kolonya out, there wasn’t alcohol in her first aid box, and she poured it on my wound to kill the bacteria and clean it. Agghhh it was painful but it did the job. Kolonya is designed to be fragrance but it was always multi-use item because of the alcohol percentage. My grandmother always kept a bottle of Pereja Kolonya, another iconic brand, but certainly not my preference – maybe because my first contact with it was not really nice 🙂
As a little girl if we do have a guest to our house, it was my duty to pour Kolonya on everyone’s hands. When someone comes to a Turkish house from outside, it is an obligation to wash your hands before touching anywhere. Since you can’t say that to your guests, lovely Turkish ladies find a solution with Kolonya. When a guest comes along, you pour Kolonya on their hands to kill all bacteria so they can still obtain their house hygiene.
As I write this article, we are approaching our Eid break, long weekend under lockdown. Probably not many bottles of Kolonya will be sold during this time, but I remember people bringing it as a gift when they visit elderly people on these special days. During Eid, the chocolates and deserts are the star of the event but they are consumed by relatively younger people. If you are visiting elderly relative, you bring Kolonya because they simply use it for everything. When pandemic was our breaking news, everyone was buying Kolonya but I found out that my mum has 5 spare bottles as back up. When I ask why you have so many, she said some people bring it to me and I might also give it to someone else as a gift. Hospitality is really important amongst our society and people always had concerns about the hygiene of their household so they found alternative ways to maintain the cleanliness of their environment and Kolonya is a good solution.
At elementary school, I remember I always brought small bottle of Kolonya with me because our teacher might feel exhausted and it was a nice gesture to offer a refreshment. When you go to a traditional local restaurant in Turkey, the welcome host might offer you some so you can clean your hands without paying a visit to toilets. If you travel to the countryside of the country, you will find petrol stations where you need to pay a small fee to use toilets. When you step out of the toilet, the attendant will pour Kolonya to your hands as the last step of the hygiene routine.
So as you can see we, here in Turkey, have been hand sanitizing for centuries.