Ottoman fez and Central Europe
"The outfit is complemented by a red fez on the head, which is never taken off in public and before anyone. Only at home, because of the heat, the Turk sometimes has his head uncovered, but let a stranger come in, soon he enters the fez, so as not to violate the requirements of the convention, and maybe also of religion. Many of ours wear a fez and do not take it off, as is customary, even in a church, "wrote the Polish emigrant Władysław Dunin, who lived in the Ottoman Empire in the 1870s (Romania (Bosporus, Balkan and Danube). 1855-1878. Sketch - social against the background of memories wrote Władysław Dunin, Lviv 1887, pp. 102-103).

In 1826, the liquidation of the Janissary corps, Sultan Mahmud II, began a long-term process of modernizing the Ottoman Empire that stood out from the rest of the world. The period of reforms called tanzonat, or "reorganization" (1839-1876) initiated by him and continued by his successors, led in July 1908 to the Youth Turk revolution. Progressive forces (mainly emigration and the army) forced Sultan Abdülhamid II to restore the constitution of 1876, and in 1909 led to his dethronement. The power of the Committee of Unity and Progress (tur. İttihad ve Terakki Cemiyeti) took over power, which in November 1918 was dissolved. It is worth adding that this young Turkic political structure was created as a result of the merger of two secret organizations in 1907 - the Committee of Unity and Progress operating since 1889 and the Ottoman Freedom Association established in Thessaloniki in 1907 (tur. Osmanlı Hürriyet Cemiyeti). The aftermath of these changes and the global conflict of 1914–1918 were de facto partition of the country. This, in turn, triggered the war of liberation (1919–1922), culminating in the creation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 (tur. Türkiye Cumhuriyeti) with Mustafa Kemal (1881–1938) as its president.

One of the symbols of these turbulent events and the associated socio-cultural changes has become the male headgear quoted at the beginning. The first to arbitrarily mentioned Mahmud II. Having disgusted, among others, with old-fashioned turban (tur. Tülbent) symbolizing backwardness, with which he undertook an unequal fight, he decided to dress a reformed model of the West European army in a new hat model in the form of scarlet felt fez. The functional, conical headdress was named after the Moroccan city of Fez, in which these hats had been manufactured since the 18th century. In 1829, the requirement to wear scarlet cones, the Sultan also extended to the civil administration of his vast state, ultimately prohibiting (except for persons performing religious functions) the wearing of turbans and other headgear. Unlike a simple "democratic" fez, they reflected a complex hierarchical system within both Islamic religion and the civil structures of the state. Craftsmen from North Africa were brought to Istanbul, who began to produce comfortable and uncomplicated fezes for the army in the capital. Their workshops were located in a large brick complex (Tur. Feshane) in the Eyüb district on the Golden Horn on the European side. To this day, the center of this district is an important mosque for Islam and the Ottoman state. Memorabilia of Prophet Muhammad are kept there, and Eyüba (tur. Ebu Eyyûb el-Ensarî) who was killed under the walls of Constantinople in 672 or 674 was buried there, where Muhammad lived after escaping to Medina. In Ottoman times, the mosque hosted the enthronement ceremonies of subsequent sultans, also performing (in the years 1517–1924) the function of caliphs (Mohammed's successors) in Sunni Islam countries. The workshop itself has recently been thoroughly restored and now houses an exhibition center.

Originally, fez was dyed with dogwood extract, but the invention of synthetic dyes meant that almost all their production moved outside the borders of the Ottoman Empire. Those who took the opportunity to develop a lucrative business (in 1900 there were 31 million people under the sultan's scepter) were progressive Jews from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Fez first went to Strakonic (German: Strakonitz), a small town in the south of the Czech Republic, and then to a much larger Biała in the Silesian Beskids near Bielsko (German: Bielitz; Bielsko-Biała since 1951), i.e. on the northern border of Austria-Hungary . Thanks to Straconian entrepreneurs, felt cones also nestled in the capital of the Habsburg monarchy itself. Their production developed dynamically until 1925, when the newly created Turkish republic banned their wearing. First, however, the memorable 1908 put an end to the production of fez in Galicia. At that time, the Balkans were overwhelmed by the first crisis of European significance, in which the role of antagonists was played by neighboring Habsburg and Ottoman empires.

The 1908 Youth Revolution became an opportunity for the Vienna government to get a bite off the platter of a weakened neighbor. In response to the unrest in the Ottoman state, Franz Joseph decided to annex Austria, occupied by Austria from October 1878, located deep in the European continent of Ottoman Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the one hand, the so-called Bosnian crisis resulted in the permanent incorporation of this province into the structures of the Habsburg state, which was accompanied by the proclamation of independence by Bulgaria, which was part of the Ottoman Empire until October 5, 1908, and on the other a manifestation of Turkish powerlessness in the form of a boycott produced by Austro-Hungarian scarlet subjects fez. Enraged by the actions of the Lightest Lord, Istanbul's street demanded the complete suspension of their imports and switching to the supply of "neutral" white fez from French factories. It should be mentioned that under the rule of the youths, the army continued to use fezes (forces until 1909, and in the navy until 1916). Only officers began to wear sheep's hubcaps (tur. Kalpak) - hats of Turkian origin, but used so far mainly by the Russian Cossacks who did not enjoy the Bosporus.

The first fez were made in Strakonice as early as 1805 at the instigation of a Linz entrepreneur - Braun. The new industry owed further development to a local entrepreneur of Jewish origin, Wolf Fürth (around 1882-1850). He initiated the entire dynasty of fez producers, active in this business until the 1920s. In the mid-nineteenth century, the products of Wolf Fürth & Co. founded by him in 1818 they already accounted for a third of local industrial production. After Wolf's death, his second wife, Rozalia, took over the rule, along with his sons Jakob (1816-1889), Moritz (1818-1892) and Eduard (Elias). The death of Rozalia and Eduard in 1854 meant that the rudder of the family business fell into the hands of the youngest of Wolf's sons - Josef (1822-1892). His successors were, in turn, Adolf (1859–1925) and Eduard Fürth, who on July 17, 1899 established in Vienna together with partners from Strakonicz Josef Zucker and Carl Volpini de Maestri from Mikulovice (German Nikolowitz) near Třebíč joint-stock company. With capital of 6.4 million crowns in shares, it used the name Société Anonyme des Fabriques de Bonnets Turcs. Over time, it has become the largest producer and exporter of fez in Europe. It operated in this industry until 1926, and its prosperity fell just before the outbreak of World War I - in 1911–1912 the annual profit amounted to almost one million crowns. From 1918, the company - with a note in the name Strakonice, Republique Tchecoslovaque - continued production in the newly created Czechoslovakia. The company's net profit in that year amounted to over 2.5 million crowns, reached its apogee in 1921 by 6.6 million, and closed the year 1926 in minus.

The Fürths, who were also leaders of the Strakonic Jewish community, sent their award-winning products, including the silver medal of the Viennese craft exhibition in 1845, from all over the Ottoman Empire: from Istanbul to the Middle East to Egypt, and even to India. Obviously, the largest number of fez were exported to the Bosporus, the rest via Vienna went to other recipients. For example, in British-controlled Egypt since 1881, the company's branch operated in Cairo on Fahamine Street in the Ghourieh District. Of course, this did not mean that there were no other factories of these commonly used headgear in the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but they could not compete on a scale with the Strakonic-Viennese brand.

The only Fez factory in Galicia has been operating since 1902 in Biała. Its owner was a Jewish industrialist and philanthropist Theodor Pollak associated with Biała and Bielsko, born in 1853 in Prague and died in 1912 in Merana. His company Fabrique Autrichienne de bonnets turcs Theodor Pollak, Biala près Bielitz, occupied factory halls built in the 1870s at 13 Żywiecka Street (in 1910 it was taken over by the cloth factory of Samuel Tugendhat). It exhibited products at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900, among others. It ceased operations as a result of the aforementioned Bosnian crisis in 1908. In January 1909, undeterred by the failure, Pollak and his son started a new factory, registered as a public company Theodor Pollak & Sohn. It was located at the intersection of the road to Hałcnów with the Bielsko-Kalwaria railway line. They manufactured goods much more resistant to political and cultural shocks in the form of bolts, screws and rivets as well as metal products for railways. It is worth mentioning that Pollak senior also acted as the president of the Bielsko-Biała Humanitarian Association B'nei B'rith "Austria" and rests at the local Jewish cemetery on Cieszyńska Street.

Meanwhile, Fez settled down so well among the inhabitants of the fallen Ottoman Empire that Mustafa Kemal also considered it necessary to visually seal his draconian reforms with the introduction of a decree on November 25, 1925 prohibiting the wearing of fez under the threat of death penalty. He considered the felt cone as "a symbol of ignorance, neglect, fanaticism and hatred of progress and civilization" and ordered "to take a hat in its place [tur. şapka], a headgear used by the entire civilized world, "but completely alien to its confreres culturally. Sam, after abandoning the sheep's hubcap, most often showed up in public borsalino hats, less often checkered flat caps, and on ceremonial occasions he put on a hood (kind of folding cylinder). Perhaps the owner of a small Istanbul hat shop Şen Şapka [cheerful hat] - Sephardic Jew Vitali Hakko (1913–2007) benefited most from his arbitrary decision. The store, founded on a wave of changes, expanded its range over time and changed its name to Vakko, becoming the most luxurious clothing brand in modern Turkey.

Under the influence of Orientalism popular in European art since the mid-nineteenth century and in connection with the development of Middle Eastern tourism, which was helped by the launch of convenient rail connections to the capital of the Ottoman Empire (including Orient Express) and the construction of comfortable stations in Istanbul (Sirkeci in the European part , Haydarpaşa in the Asian part) and hotels (including Pera Palace), losing its political and civilizational context, Fez has also become a fashionable tourist souvenir, and finally a mocking gadget based on stereotypes. He's still fine in this last incarnation. It is worth remembering, however, that this symbol of "Turkishness" owes much to Central Europe.

Abdülhamid II, 34th Sultan and 113th Caliph of the Ottoman Empire (1842–1918), in Fez. Official photograph taken in 1868 in the Istanbul studio of the Abdullah brothers.

Barbers on Istanbul street. Postcard from the beginning of the 20th century in the collection of P. Nykiel.

A boycott of Austro-Hungarian goods in Constantinople in October 1908. The red Austrian fez are to replace the French ones.

Mustafa Kemal (1881–1938) in a sheep's hubcap. Photograph from 1918.

The President of the Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal in the Western European style clothing. Photograph taken in 1928 in Ankara during the official visit of the King of Afghanistan, Amanullah Khan.

Etiquette of the Strakonic factory of fez from 1918, appearing on the international market under the name Société Anonyme des Fabriques de Bonnets Turcs. Strakonice, République Tchecoslovaque. B. Nykiel collection.

Founder of the Biala Fez factory Theodor Pollak (1853–1912). Photograph taken around 1906 in the collections of the Jewish Community in Bielsko-Biała.

Vignette of one of the two factories of Theodor Pollak.

The former factory hall at 13 Żywiecka Street, where in 1902–1908 fez was produced. Photograph from 2020, photo author Piotr W.

One of the many Western European postcards from the beginning of the 20th century, giving the fez a completely new meaning.

More about Turkish modernization in the album issued by the ICC. Istambul. Two worlds, one city, accompanying the exhibition of the same title (9.05-2.09.2018).

added to cart:

continue shopping go to cart