Chechen traditional costumes

Source – “The Chechens”  here (pdf format)

On Amazon The Chechens: A Handbook

The Chechens are an ethnic group of the Nakh people; the Nakh  (Chechen, Ingush and Kist) belong to the Northeast Caucasian family.

The Chechen population counts 1.500.000 people; up to 500.000 were displaced to Europe after the second war (in Germany, France, Scandinavia, Poland, Belgium).

Chechens refer to themselves as “Noxchi”.

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1870 Chechen woman

1870 Chechen woman

1870 Chechen woman – traditional Chechen headscarf/ veil was simple, made of cotton. The main materials used were woolen fabrics and animal skin. More sophisticated fabricss appeared after year 1900.

Modern Chechen dress was heavily influenced by Circassian costumes in the XIX century.

North Caucasus Chechnya dancers chechen men women chechens



Customs originate in most ancient times. They define “checheness”, very important in the identity of Chechens. Society was not stratified and had no social classes, instead it was organized in tribes. Therefore the code of Chechen morals were the backbone of  Chechen society.

Women were considered for marriage from mid to late teens, whereas men started married later. Men and women met at dance parties and communication was made through family members.

It was taboo for men to touch women in public (available to this day). Touching a woman meant defilement and the culprit was executed by the family of the woman.


North Caucasus Chechnya people chechen girls chechens

North Caucasus Chechnya people chechen men traditional costume

Chechnya chechen men North Caucasus people chechens

Wedding is the way of celebration for the new family acquisition. Only the groom’s family celebrates while the bride and her family stay away from main wedding ceremonies. The bride’s family is considered to have no reason for celebration since they “lose” a member.

Chechens consider pride and affection as weakness and do not openly show joy at the birth of children or show affection in public towards partner or children.

Chechens only marry within their own ethnic group. Chechen women are held in high esteem, however if a woman is raped, she will be considered tainted and no one will marry her. Although during the Soviet period, mixed Russian-Chechen couples were common (between Russian women and Chechen men, never the opposite), the fact that one may be ethnically mixed (especially with Russian) is frowned upon.

North Caucasus Chechnya people chechen men women chechens.

Chechen wedding – the bride and groom make their vows separately. While the groom celebrates at home with his friends, the bride arrives at the main party but doesnt participate. She sits aside quietly in what translates as “modesty” in Chechen customs.

*Numerous youtube videos show sumptuous Chechen weddings which usually belong to Chechen president Kadyrov’s circle. Regular Chechens are modest.


North Caucasus Chechnya people chechen men traditional outfit

Itum Kali Chechnya national costume chechen children dance

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Hospitality was a sacred institution prevalent all over the Caucasus and respect for guests was a source of pride for all Caucasian peoples. A guest was lodged in the best quarters of the house and special provisions were set aside for guests. On the other hand, travelers with no bona fide hosts were considered as hostile and were usually taken as prisoners or slaves.

At social or family gatherings (parties, dinners, weddings etc), men and women never sit together, but at separate tables.

Though women are held in high esteem, they must show a certain respect to men. Women always stand up when a man walks in, and they never speak over a man.

North Caucasus Chechnya chechen women

Chechen woman 1897

Chechen woman 1897

North Caucasus Chechnya men old photo archives

North Caucasus dress Chechnya people chechen men chechens archive photos

North Caucasus outfit Chechnya chechen men Caucasian kama dagger shalt


Chechen Shalt Kama traditional dagger North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh


Nakh towers, typical of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Built to stand as solid refure not only from invaders, but also from each other during their deadly tribal feuds.

Nakh towers, typical of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Built to stand as solid refuge not only from invaders, but also from each other during their deadly tribal feuds.

Nakh towers, typical of Chechnya and Ingushetia. Built to stand as solid refuge not only from invaders, but also from each other during their deadly tribal feuds.


North Caucasus Chechnya chechen men traditional outfit chechens

North Caucasus Chechnya people chechens

North Caucasus dancers Chechnya chechen women

North Caucasus dance Chechnya chechen men women traditional outfit

Chechnya chechen dancer North Caucasus

Chechen men traditional dance North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh

Chechnya chechen dancers North Caucasus people

North Caucasus Chechnya dance chechen men women chechens

Chechnya chechen men dance North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh

Chechnya chechen men traditional North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh

Chechnya chechen men traditional costume North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh

Caucasus Chechnya national costume chechen boys Itum Kali chechens

Chechen men traditional dressing North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh


North Caucasus Chechnya national costume chechens


Chechnya chechen men drummer traditional music North Caucasus people Vainakh

Chechnya chechen men traditional drums music North Caucasus people nakh




North Caucasus chechen men traditional dance chechens

North Caucasus people Chechnya chechen dancers Vainakh

Children dressed in national costumes dance in central Grozny during celebrations of the lifting of security regime

Chechen girls traditional dressing North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh

Chechen girl traditional dressing North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh


Chechen men traditional dressing North Caucasus people nakh



Chechen men women traditional dance North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh chechens

Chechnya chechen men women traditional costumes North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh chechens

Shamkhan Hadji Khamadov, 56, the Kharachoi clan, Grozny, Chechnya


Chechnya chechen men Caucasus people nakh

Chechnya chechen men traditional costumes North Caucasus people nakh Vainakh chechens

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Lezginka Chechnya chechen men women dancers painting


“Secular” women are becoming more ad more Islamic in their customs and dressing. While the Chechen leader Kadyrov is allegedly forcing certain women to wear Hijab, more and more young people are willingly adopting it was a way of life, as Sunni Islam is seducing the youth (as opposed to Sufi Islam, practiced by old people).

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Regular dressing involved long dress (short dresses are forbidden and see as degrading), and the traditional chechen scarf (which covers head only partially).

Chechnya, Russia, Chechen insurgents’ wife arrangers her scarf on a mountain base. Chechen women fighting in war was common until radical Islam took over and they were excluded from all activities.

Chechen insurgents’ wife arrangers her scarf on a mountain base. Chechen women fighting in war was common until radical Islam took over and they were excluded from all activities.

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The Hijab (covers all hair) is becoming a normal occurrence, included even in traditional full costume

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Chechen girls in front of central Grozny mosque.

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Chechen women walking in downtown Grozny.


Caucasus culture – Vainakh architecture

A detailed description of Nakh architecture which includes both Chechen and Ingush structures



Chechnya watchtower

Hundreds of stone towers, some nearly 1000 years old, are spread across the Caucasus mountains. However, what we see today is only a fraction of the thousands of edifices that had existed well into the XVIII century, which stretched all the way to (today’s) Grozny and beyond. The craftsmanship of the builders reached its peak in the XIII to XVI centuries after the devastating Mongol invasion. The last towers were built in the early XIX century.

A (combat) tower was one of the symbols of the taip (clan). The towers also functioned as dwellings and sanctuaries. Traditional tower settlements in the mountains were located on slopes or in deep gorges.

The first known mention of the towers is in an Arabic manuscript dating from the Xth century AD. Pre-Islamic edifices have pagan markings which make them important sources in the reconstruction of ancient Chechen culture. The most intact collection of towers is located in the Argun Valley or the ‘Tower Gorge’, as it is also known. Two military towers stood at the entrance and many hundreds more stood along its perimeter up to the Georgian border.


Dwelling (residential) towers

The dwelling tower was a residential structure where families lived. It consisted of 2 to 3 floors, reached heights of up to 12 meters and usually had rectangular bases of 8–10-m sides. The thickness of the wall at the base was about 1 meter. Their walls are made of rough stone blocks with a small amount of mortar. The flat earthen roof was stacked with stones for reinforcement. A central column of large stone blocks served to anchor the inter-floor ceilings. The central pillar, also of thoroughly dressed stone, supported the ceiling rafters.
Each floor of the residential tower had a separate door. A ladder was used to reach to the second or third floor.

Residential towers

The two lower stories were intended for livestock. The floor was made of boards or stone slabs.
The family lived in the second floor, where they also kept their possessions in tin-plated wooden chests (carpets, dishes, clothes, etc). Dishes and kitchen utensils were arranged on wooden shelves along the walls. There was usually an arrangement of weaponry on the wall above the master’s bed. It was a necessity in wartime, and mere custom in times of peace.
Household utensils and food stock were kept in the top floor, which also had the guestroom and the nuptial chamber. The top was the family citadel when the tower was attacked. The latter residential towers became wider and had more rooms.

There were outside stairs for access to the upper floors, and inner ladders made of tree trunks with jutting branches or notched footholds for use in emergencies. First floor usually had no windows, but only small air holes which served for good ventilation. The vaults always remained cool even during summer. Heating was done by fireplace. Shelves were built to store different things. The center of life was the fireplace which was surrounded by wooden benches covered with carvings, where the family and their guests would sit.


Pagan symbols

There were engravings on door-posts and sometimes on the walls. Doors and windows were made of stone and had a semicircular arched form. These arched stones were often decorated with carved petroglyphs, which were decorative or reflected religious beliefs. The swastika was a widely used symbol in the Caucasus and the rest of the world, as it represented eternal life. Other symbols reflected beliefs in the cult of the sun which the Nakh shared for centuries.


Combat towers

The first combat towers to be built were usually 4 stories high, had heights of 12–17 meters and had a base of 4 meters sides. They had roofs in the shape of step-pyramids with protruding sharpened white stones. The entrance on the second floor, which had a single stone block (kor-kkheera=window-stone) as a keystone, was accessed by a ladder. The inter floor ceilings were made from stone and wood. Top floors had protected loop-holes and overhanging floorless balconies (mashikul) for shooting and for pouring noxious materials on the attackers. The Golgotha cross found on towers, served as a protection sign.


Built on mountain slopes, in inaccessible locations

Classical combat towers of the XIV- XVII centuries had 5 or 6 floors, reached heights of 25–30 meters and had square bases of 6 meter sides. In general, combat towers were built among a number of residence towers. According to B.Plaetschke (1929), combat towers were not inhabited in normal conditions but were only used during an attack. While dwelling towers were private properties, combat towers belonged to the whole community.

An elaborate warning system was set in place in the mountains. As soon as invaders made their appearance in the valleys, fires were lit on top of the towers which were at visible distances from one another, and the danger signal was transmitted from one watchtower to the next. The cry ‘Ortsa daala’ (literally: ‘raise the alarm’) alerted people to the impending danger and exhorted women, children and old men to seek shelter and able-bodied men to take up arms in defense of the land.


During Russia’s colonial wars in the Caucasus, tsarist soldiers willfully destroyed hundreds of towers and dismantled many more in order to use the stones to build forts. During and after the 1944 Chechen-Ingush deportation, the secret police blew up towers and carted away many priceless tower artifacts. More damage was brought upon the towers in the last decade. These symbols of Chechen identity and culture remain under real threat of obliteration.


Sadly, various Russian sources have tried to discredit the merit of the Natives in their architectural mastership . Alexander Ippolitov wrote in his “Ethnographic Sketches of the Argun District” that the towers of the Argun Gorge were built by a nation much more civilized than the indigenous population. P. Golovinsky makes a similar assumption in his essay “The Mountain Chechens”, where he ascribes tower construction to so-called “forebears”. Proceeding from genealogical legends, he considered them strangers – Georgians, Greeks, Jews or West Europeans.

Upon deeper study it was revealed that the architectural style was unique and couldn’t be found anywhere else, therefore it was undoubtedly a merit of the Caucasus native populations.


Balkar towers

Bezengi tower balkars nothern Caucasus mountains

Bezengi valley

The Balkar people built their own towers up in the high Caucasus mountains, in what is today’s Kabardino-Balkaria republic. The Balkar tower in Bezengi valley is built and furbished in typical Balkar style: the carpets, furniture, pottery, guns etc, while at the same time having modern amenities for tourists.

Other Balkar towers – Upper Balkaria

Click below to take a 3D tour of the beautiful Bezengi valley and to visit the tower


“Adygea” by Ahmed Nagoev

Circassians in photo-session made by photographer Ahmed Nagoev, named “Adygea”

Karachay and Balkars – Turkik people of the Caucasus

The Balkars and Karachay are a Turkik people who arrived and settled in Central Caucasus around the XII century. Although having their own Turkik languages, they adapted to local Caucasian culture – dressing, dance, customs; also, values like hospitality and honor, prevalent throughout the Caucasus, are essential part of Karachay-Balkar culture.

Karachay-Balkar language is divided in 2 dialects: Karachay-Baksan-Chegem and Balkar. The Kumyks, their ethnic cousins who speak the same language live in today’s Dagestan.

 The Balkars live in Kabardino-Balkaria republic, mostly in the high mountainous regions which are also some of the highest in the world.

The Karachay live in neighboring Karachay-Cherkessia, at the foothills of the Caucasus mountains.

The Karachays and Balkars are followers of Islam.


Both the  Karachay and Balkars were deported in 1943-1944 at Stalin’s order, together with the Ingush, Chechens and Digor people (muslim minority of North Ossetia). Like all other deportees, many perished due to unbearable conditions (cold, starvation, hard labor, lack of medical help etc). The survivors were allowed to return in 1957 after Stalin’s death.

A particularly bloody episode took place in 1942, when over 1.500 villagers were killed in Upper Balkaria by NKVD – Stalin’s secret police.

TV report on the Balkar people
Karachay dance called “Abezek”

Karachay song
Dance ensemble “Balkaria” live performance
Balkar dance (couple)

Dargavs – “city of the dead”

Dargavs necropolis dead town North Ossetia crypts North Caucasus mountains

Dargavs “Dead City” is a pagan necropolis situated in Prigorodny district of North Ossetia republic, in the historic Kurtat gorge.

Dargavs contains 97 crypts, making it the biggest necropolis in North Caucasus. Next to the crypts lies a watchtower, meant to protect and watch over the dead.

The architecture has a visible resemblance to that of Vainkah crypts (found in neighboring Ingushetia and Chechnya). The crypts were built during the pagan era in the Caucasus, before the introduction of Semitic religions (Christianity and Islam).

Dondi-Yurt open air museum, Chechnya

Dondi Yurt open air Museum beautiful Chechnya north Caucasus

Dondi-Yurt open air museum of Urus-Martan, Chechnya, is a private museum built by Adam Satuyev, ex-Chechen athlete.

Mister Satuyev, who had been collecting Chechen artifacts for years, decided to exhibit his collection in an open-air museum. Satuyev himself reenacted typical Chechen dwelling (residential) towers on his property in which he exposed his collection. The museum visit is free of charge.