It may be silly, but for me the sight of a nagile salon is as much a symbol of Middle Eastern culture as Sauerkraut in Germany or Yorkshire pudding in the UK. Ah, yes, and apple pie for my American friends!!
The origin of the wate rpipe, known as nagile or hookah seem to stem from Persia where it is said that a physician by the name of Abu’l-Fath-Gilani first introduced the method of smoking tobacco cooled and purified by passing through a small bowl of water.
The word shishe which is also used, actually refers to the tobacco which is smoked. In the Middle East, and in Turkey as well, the tobacco is flavored with a variety of aromas, whereby apple seems to be a favorite. If you are an absolute anti-smoker and hate tobacco and smoke of any kind, just don’t read any further. If you are more open minded, then follow me to the district of Tophane on the shore of the Bosphorus where the most popular and colorful nagile salons are to be found and frequented by locals and a few tourists too who have found their way to another insider place.
Let’s face it, Turks like to smoke. Look around and you’ll see them sneaking a cigarette wherever they can, although, like in many other countries, laws have been passed which forbid smoking in cafes, restaurants and enclosed places.
The nagile salons in Tophane are open, so the smoke drifts away whilst punters enjoy a leisurely puff of their water pipes, sitting in these lovely places, drinking coffee and tea or engaging in a game of chess, backgammon or domino. Sets for everyone to use are provided, so you can just drink in the atmosphere and play, if you don’t like to smoke yourself.
Tophane, just a mile or so over the Galata Bridge was a sea port and one of the many warehouses has been converted into Istanbul’s prestigious Museum of Contemporary Art, ‘Istanbul Modern’ for short. It’s just around the corner from the nagile salons and what never fails to delight me is, that cruise ships dock directly next to the museum. You see the huge liners loom only a few steps away which makes for a nice picture.
Or, if Islamic art is more to your liking, you can visit a fine example, the complex of the Kilic Ali Pasha mosque, with fountain, türbe, hamam and medrese, dating from the 16th century and distinguished by the golden ornaments around the top.
Cross the road and meander around the steep streets, stairs and alleyways of Karaköy and round off an Istanbul experience which is a far cry from the tourist hordes milling around Sultanahmed.