Thousands of years before our time, sweet-scented liquids were already being used for religious purposes, or simply to smell good. Depending on the fragrances used and on their alcohol content, these liquids took on various names such as, “eau de toilette,” “perfume,” or “Eau de Cologne.” The oldest fragrant liquid known in the Ottoman Empire was rose water, which was first distilled in the ninth century in the Arabian Peninsula. After its discovery in the sixteenth century, “Eau de Cologne” or “Cologne” reached the Ottoman lands during the reign of Abdülhamit II (1876 – 1909). Consequently, Cologne has dethroned rose water. The Ottomans mixed it with rosemary, orange, bergamot and lemon, and dipped it on sugar as a relief for stomach upsets.

The earliest Cologne producers in Turkey are Ethem Pertev and Süleyman Ferid. For some time, Ethem Pertev (1871 – 1927) was famous for his product lines of toilet powder, baby powder, Pertev cream, Pertev brilliantine, Kohl, and his Cologne. In 1909, the pharmacist Süleyman Ferit (1885-1973) opened the Kanaat Eczanesi in Izmir and he was successful with his special Cologne fragrances called “Altin Damlasi Kolonya”, “Safa,” “Melek,” “Kir Çiçegi,” “Senin Icin,” “Bahar,” “Besçiçek,” “Unutma Beni.” This marked the beginning of the success of today’s Eczacibasi Cologne line.

However, the Eyüp Sabri Tuncer brand that is still used today has played the most important role in spreading Cologne because it was the first product to be promoted in Turkey. Eyüp Sabri Tuncer started producing Cologne in 1920 in a little shop in Ankara; he would provide his visitors with tiny complimentary bottles of Cologne and an informative brochure. Tuncer was the first person to use a promotion campaign in the Republic of Turkey and he managed to turn Cologne into a brand name. Tuncer produced various versions of his Cologne: “Fujer,” “Hatiralar,” “Menekşe,” “Tütün,” “Altin Damla,” “Cimen,” “Kadin Teni,” “Çam,” and “Beyaz Zambak.”

Traditional Cologne is produced through a relatively simple process. The main ingredients are ethyl alcohol, water and fragrance. The alcohol used in Cologne is specially produced through fermentation of sugary or starchy substances such as grapes, potatoes, reeds, corn, barley and molasses. Before the production of Cologne, the ethyl alcohol is mixed with distilled water until it reaches the desired levels, which are determined through an alcoholmeter. After the desired alcohol levels have been obtained, the fixative fragrance, which has been blended with 95.5 percent alcohol is added and mixed with the alcohol preparation. It is then left to sit in a tightly sealed container for 7 to 10 days. Later, the product is transferred to plastic or glass bottles, and is ready to use. Twenty-five to forty grams of fragrance are added to 80 percent alcohol. Alcohol blends easily and its smell disappears in the finished Cologne. Bottles of Cologne should be kept in a cool place, away from sunlight with their cap on because alcohol evaporates at very low temperatures. When maintained in proper condition, Cologne should keep its fragrance for about five years.

Cologne has a refreshing quality because of the alcohol that it contains. Hence it is offered to guests and used as a fragrance, but also used to treat dizziness, fainting, headaches and as hygienic product because it kills germs. Cologne at 60 percent has anti-bacterial effect. According to the fragrance that it contains, Cologne takes on various names such as “Lemon Cologne”, “Lavender Cologne.” In Turkey, it is possible to find Cologne in orange, lilac, lily, lavender, tobacco and even hazelnut fragrances. Despite the fact that the tradition is vanishing fast, Cologne is still sold in bulk in the countryside and in some pharmacies. Cologne sold in these locations is transferred from huge glass bottles into smaller bottles that clients usually bring with them.

In Turkey, it is an important tradition to offer Cologne during guest visits, on bus trips and in restaurants. Its offering during holiday family gatherings and on funeral days has also become somewhat of a ritual. If you should visit a Turkish house, the first thing that you will be offered is Cologne and candy. This is meant to refresh a guest who is just off a trip and to help eliminate the germs that the outdoor conditions leave on hands. The candy that is offered along with the Cologne, represents the Turkish belief that a sweetened mouth will ensure the start of a sweet conversation.

Reference: Yesim Gokce (Bilkent University)

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