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F - 198 : Kolonya - Cologne?

Every country has its charming hospitality tradition. When you go out for dinner in Turkey, there is a bottle of Kolonya on your table to freshen up. It is Turkish for Eau de Cologne, the ethanol based fragrance that was invented in 1709 in Cologne.

Kolonya Bottle from Atelier Rebul in Ulus 29

You find Kolonya not only in restaurants. It is everywhere. People have it at their homes. When you visit someone, it is offered to you when you enter the house. It is also the perfect gift when you run out of ideas what to bring.

Since its introduction in the 19th century, Kolonya has always been popular. First amongst men, now in the entire population. Over the last fifty years, sales increased steadily. The recent pandemic boosted its use further. It has become Turkey's hand-sanitiser of choice. Sales have increased five-fold since March 2020. As every Eau de Cologne, Kolonya is around 80% ethanol and thus a very effective virus killer. Rather than using western hand-sanitisers, Turkish people prefer Kolonya. It sanitises your hands and makes you smell nicely.

Hydroxyl denatures a virus by breaking its membrane

Eau de Cologne was introduced during the Tanzimat Period (1839 - 1876) when the Ottoman Sultans made an effort to modernise Empire with the help of France. Thousands of French engineers, officers, professors and civil servants came to Turkey. They did not come alone. They brought their families and lifestyle - and with it came Eau de Cologne which translated into Kolonya. It was not the only French word that stuck. Today around 5% of Turkish words have French roots. You can see them everywhere: Dance became dans, bicycle bisiklet, actress aktris and philosopher filizof. I could fill several pagers with more examples.

Giovanni Maria Farina (1685 - 1766)

As its name says, Eau de Cologne comes from Cologne, the independent German town on the lower Rhein with its giant cathedral and the best Christmas Market in Germany. It was invented in 1709 by Giovanni Maria Farina, an Italian emigrant and perfume maker from the western part of the Centovalli. The eastern part of the valley is Swiss.

The Western Part of the Centovalli towards Domodossla where Farina was born in 1685

Farina diluted the essences of the herbs and flowers he brought from his native valley in 80% ethanol and created a stable, replicable solution which he labelled "Eau de Cologne" to honour his new home town. It became the craze of his time. Royals and nobles desired it and sales sky rocketed. Many users believed that it also had medical properties. At home, Farina called it "Aqua Mirabilis". The new fragrance was easy to wear. The hint of orange gave it a freshness that everybody liked. It was super expensive though, Ethanol production was not industrialised yet and all the flower essences had to be distilled by hand.

Eau de Cologne produced by Farina's Grand-Grand Nephew in 1811

When Cologne was occupied by France in 1794, Farina's successors lost the protection from the patents they enjoyed. Like Geneva, Cologne was fully integrated into France which allowed other French perfume makers to copy it. Eau de Cologne became a French product. Cologne regained its independence in 1814 but Eau de Cologne stayed in France. The brand 4711, a cologne named after the Street in Cologne where it was made, stayed though, was widely successful and still exists today.

The town of Cologne in 1633, 50 years before Giovanni Farina was born

Back to Turkey! Eau de Cologne was imported from France during most of the 19th century. But the business was lucrative and the first modern pharmacies started producing Kolonya. Fragrances have a very long tradition in the Middle East and procuring essences like rose petals, lavender or orange and lemon flowers was easy. Also, alcohol distillation was now industrialised and ethanol could be bought in bulk.

One of the early Kolonya Makers was the French Pharmacist Reboul, who opened in 1895

A young French Pharmacist, Jean César Reboul, was particularly successful. After he opened his Grande Pharmacie Parisienne on the Rue de Pera in Beyoglu, he experimented for years with ingredients for a distinctive Kolonya. When he partnered with Kemal Müderrisoglu, one of Turkey's first professional pharmacists, he struck gold. The two created the iconic Rebul Lavanda made from lavender which grew in Jean César's garden. It became quickly the favourite fragrance for Turkish gentlemen. In 1939, Raboul returned to France. The business became Turkish and was renamed Rebul. You find its up-scale shops "Atelier Rebul" with beautiful products all over Turkey

The iconic Rebul Lavanda is still sold today

There are of course many other Kolonya producers in Turkey such as Golden Drop from Izmir or fragrances made by Tuncer from Çesme. A little excursion into a local pharmacy is always worth it. You will be surprised by the variety. Kolonya comes in many different fragrances including lemon, orange, green tea, lilac, Lilly, lavender, mandarin or even hazelnut.

Kolonya is today an integrated part of Turkish hospitality. Children greet house guests with it. It is present in almost every hotel room and you find it on restaurant tables as we did in Ulus 29. That Kolonya has also tangible health benefits makes it an even more important part of Turkish social life.

For further readying, there is this interesting BBC article:

The Atelier Rebul has an interesting short video clip on YouTube:

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