An ancestral product

Le 02 janvier 1492, les forces combinées des couronnes de Castille et d’Aragon récemment unies s’emparent de Grenade après plusieurs années de siège autour de la ville. C’est la fin de la reconquête chrétienne espagnole face aux arabo-musulmans implantés depuis presque huit siècles sur le territoire dorénavant espagnol. En moins de quarante ans, l’effondrement de la dynastie almohade fut marqué par les chutes successives des grandes métropoles andalouses. Le traité de reddition comporte une soixantaine de clauses dont les principales s’engagent à protéger la religion musulmane et ses pratiquants. Mais dans les faits, les européens les ont contraint à se convertir au christianisme, à l’exil ou la mort. Trois millions de musulmans andalous furent ainsi éliminés ou chassés vers l’Afrique du Nord. Les réfugiés arabe andalous se retrouvent principalement éparpillés entre le Maroc, l’Algérie et la Tunisie, emportant avec eux, le savoir-faire de la chechia.

On January 02, 1492, the combined forces of the recently united crowns of Castile and Aragon captured Granada after several years of siege around the city. This marked the end of the Spanish Christian reconquest against the Arab-Muslims, who had been established in the now Spanish territory for almost eight centuries. In less than forty years, the collapse of the Almohad dynasty was marked by the successive fall of the great Andalusian metropolises. The surrender treaty included some sixty clauses, the most important of which pledged to protect the Muslim religion and its followers. But in practice, the Europeans forced them to convert to Christianity, exile or death. Three million Andalusian Muslims were thus eliminated or driven to North Africa. Andalusian Arab refugees found themselves scattered mainly between Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, taking with them the know-how of the chechia.



The rise of the headdress


But it was in Tunisia, under the reign of the beys - initially commissioned by the Ottoman sultan - that the chechia trade became an integral part of the country's identity. A number of stories explain the rise of the headdress:

politics prevails

Several traders of Tunisian fez recount that the beys of the time, belonging to the Ottoman Empire, would have liked to gain more power over Tunisian territory by becoming independent of the kingdom and therefore of their sultan. To achieve this, and in a bid to integrate as fully as possible with the population, they made the political choice to wear the chechia, thus denying their Turkish origins and rallying to the Tunisian identity.

Aesthetics that conquer

One popular story stands out from the rest: the Bey anecdote. As chechia treading is a very noisy operation, usually carried out at night, the exasperated inhabitants of Tunis complained to Mhammed Bey, who summoned one of the chaouachis to his courtyard. By way of apology, the chaouachi made the master a chechia to which he attached his crown. The Bey was dazzled by the aesthetics of the headdress, as were his ministers. From then on, ministers, dignitaries and senior civil servants began to wear the chechia. Henceforth a sign of prestige, the population embraced it.

Tunisian handmade chechia, a must-have


In the end, no matter how you look at it, between the 17th and 18th centuries, the chechia enjoyed an unprecedented commercial boom. Initially available only to the wealthy classes, the item became increasingly popular. Soon, everyone wanted to wear the coveted headgear. Tunisia, the last country in possession of the know-how for its manufacture, and the only supplier in the world, marketed the product internationally. The product's fame spread beyond all frontiers, reaching Algeria, Libya, Cameroon, Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and Greece. Some even claim that the chechia was the most sought-after craft in the Mediterranean during this period. Demand was so great that large souks were built specifically for its manufacture and sale.