Turkish Women and Their Hookah

One of the oldest and deep-rooted traditions in Turkey is the “Nargile”, or Hookah. The Nargile started a whole new culture, which endured for many, many years. The original nargile came from India, but it was rather primitive as it was made out of coconut shell. Its popularity spread to Iran and then to the rest of the Arab world. But it was in Turkey that the nargile completed its revolution, and did not change its style for the last few hundred years. It became a very important part of the coffee shop culture, around the 1623-40s. The joy that the smokers received from this very simple yet beautiful smoking apparatus was unbelievable. Rules were created even for lighting the pipe, and if an expert smoker saw anyone lighting it the incorrectly, the culprit would be told in no uncertain term “Do yourself and the sacred nargile a favor and put out the coals by blowing into it”.

The nargile consists of 4 pieces: Agizlik (mouthpiece), Lüle (the top of the nargile), Marpuç (the tube) and the Gövde (the body of the pipe which is filled with water). All those parts were made by skillful craftsmen, who were named after the piece they produced. These parts were a unique example of Turkish handcraft and were decorated in such an artful manner.

Not all molasses qualified for usage in the nargile, and only the dark molasses imported from Iran found favor with the nargile user. This tobacco was washed several times before use, because as it is extremely strong. Only oak charcoal was used and placed on the top of the molasses. Some smokers used certain fruit, like sour cherries or grapes in their Gövde, just to enjoy the motion it created in the water. Other people enjoyed adding pomegranate juice, or rose oil.

The nargile was so popular and fashionable with the elite ladies of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, that it became the in thing to be photographed with a nargile. If you wanted to be the best hostess, the nargile was a must have for popular afternoon tea and intellectual gatherings.

Today the Hookah is a smoking pipe used worldwide. The term “shisha” is primarily used for water pipes in Egypt and the Arabic countries of the Persian Gulf (such as Bahrain, UAE, and Saudi Arabia).

The practice of adding strong flavors is a relatively recent one but has grown in popularity in the past 20 years.