Cologne in Coronavirus Days: The Special Hand Sanitizer of Turkey

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Cologne (kolonya), a unique and valuable hand sanitizer, reflects one of the most typical cultural characteristics of Turkey. From the Ottoman-era to Turkey, it has become a very precious medium to show the hospitality of this geography’s people. So now, cologne has been experiencing a new purpose.

Besides its authentic value and fantastic scent, kolonya is now trending with its hand-sanitizer feature, as well. Along with the arise of coronavirus pandemic, kolonya has been out-of-stock in Turkey. No matter how late the first COVID-19 case arose in Turkey (11, March), kolonya became the number one remedy to fight against the virus. So, let’s take a deeper look at the importance of it.

Cologne (kolonya), a unique and valuable hand sanitizer, reflects one of the most typical cultural characteristics of Turkey. (Credit: Turkishbazaar.ca)
Cologne (kolonya), a unique and valuable hand sanitizer, reflects one of the most typical cultural characteristics of Turkey. (Credit: Turkishbazaar.ca)

What is Kolonya?

Meaning “cologne”, kolonya has been a precious symbol of Turkish hospitality and health since the Ottoman-era. What’s more, people often described it as Turkey’s national scent. Traditionally, kolonya contains sweet-scented aroma with fig blossoms, jasmine, rose or citrus ingredients. You sprinkle it on guests’ hands as they enter homes, hotels and hospitals. Or else, you can use kolonya when they finish meals at restaurants, or as they gather for religious services. But unlike other natural scents, this ethanol-based medium comprises of high alcohol. Therefore, its content can kill more than 80% of germs and act as an effective hand disinfectant.

Rising Demand for Cologne in Turkey

Turkey’s Minister of Health championed kolonya’s vital importance to fight the coronavirus on 11 March. So, it did not only inspired a wave of national media attention for its anti-COVID-19 powers. But it also caused queues stretching nearly 100m to quickly form at chemists and stores across Turkey. Turkey’s first confirmed coronavirus case was in mid-March. However, soon after the first case, some of the nation’s main kolonya producers have said that their sales have increased by at least fivefold.

Turkey’s Minister of Health championed kolonya’s vital importance to fight the coronavirus on 11 March. (Credit: atelierrebul)
Turkey’s Minister of Health championed kolonya’s vital importance to fight the coronavirus on 11 March. (Credit: atelierrebul)

Turkish government stopped requiring ethanol in petrol to boost the production of kolonya and other household disinfectants. The reason was to meet the fragrance’s surging demand after the 13th of March. The specific purpose was to fight coronavirus, and it still is.

The Long Journey of Cologne

Long before kolonya, there was rose water. Beginning in the 9th Century, cultures across the Arabian Peninsula used this rose petal-seeped fragrance. It was reflecting aromatic and culinary beauty, as well as religious and medicinal purposes. What’s more, Persians, Egyptians and Ottomans used it to cleanse themselves and welcome guests. By the 19th Century, eau de cologne came to the Ottoman Empire from Cologne, Germany. First, Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamit II encountered it. Later on, he adapted it by blending the tradition of rose water. He blended it with the novelty of foreign alcohol-based fragrances. Thus, cologne was transformed into alcohol-free kolonya in that time.

Beginning in the 9th Century, cultures across the Arabian Peninsula used cologne. (Credit: star)
Beginning in the 9th Century, cultures across the Arabian Peninsula used cologne. (Credit: star)

In the meantime, eau de cologne means a naturally scented fragrance as we better know today as “cologne”. Ingredient-wise, there’s not much difference between eau de cologne and Turkish kolonya. Both use roughly the same ethanol-to-essential-oil ratio and often incorporate citrus oils like orange and lemon. But what makes kolonya so unique is how people use it, both culturally and practically.

Cultural Value of Cologne in Turkish Homes

After centuries, by the mid-20th Century, some enterprising people started to produce kolonya on an industrial scale. Thus, kolonya became more accessible and affordable for the masses. Today, you can find various kind of colognes in almost every Turkish home.

By the mid-20th Century, some enterprising people started to produce kolonya on an industrial scale. (Credit: Burhan Aytekin)
By the mid-20th Century, some enterprising people started to produce kolonya on an industrial scale. (Credit: Burhan Aytekin)

Kolonya has always been a staple of large gatherings. Furthermore, it’s customary at religious holidays like Ramadan. According to Dr Topaklı, “Typically [when] many people are coming together from all over the place, people use kolonya as a welcoming gift. But it is also a way to keep everyone healthy.” To tend to your guests’ health is a form of hospitality in Turkey. Tourists in Turkey have likely encountered a bottle of kolonya at their hotel. Or else, in upscale restaurant bathrooms, or had it offered to them at the end of a long bus ride. Thereby, you can encounter kolonya everywhere in Turkey.

Coronavirus Effect on Kolonya Producing

Coronavirus pandemic has also effected kolonya producing, like many other things. In addition to its hygienic qualities, kolonya is also believed to have other health benefits. Sprinkling a few drops of it onto a sugar cube is said to aid digestion, and rubbing it onto your temples can relieve a headache. Whenever you visit patients in the hospital, you should take them kolonya or a bag of oranges.

Coronavirus pandemic has also effected kolonya producing, like many other things. (Credit: ozgurcankaya/gettyimages)
Coronavirus pandemic has also effected kolonya producing, like many other things. (Credit: ozgurcankaya/gettyimages)

Consequently, coronavirus enhanced the importance of cologne in Turkish people’s life. This magical and traditional scent has already been a cultural cure and an express of hospitality. However, after COVID-19 break-out, it has become even more important. Thanks to its sanitary features, now it took its place in every single house in Turkey. But hopefully, people will again use it only for welcoming their guests at home and we remind these dark days as an old memory.

(for the original version of the article, you can click Jenna Scatena/BBC)

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