Photo by © Jerónimo Alba / age fotostock
The dyeing vats at Chouara—as well as at the city’s other tanneries—are among the Fes medina’s most iconic sights. The ancient craft of tanning and dyeing, in all its visceral authenticity (cow urine and pigeon poop are still key components in the process), plays out much as it always has. Chouara has been around since the 11th century. The dyes used in the tannery pits are natural: Blue comes from indigo; red, from poppy or paprika; yellow, from saffron, pomegranate, or even a mix of turmeric and mimosa flowers. The best vantage point for observation is from one of the roof terraces. Leather shops hawking everything from butter-soft leather babouches (iconic Moroccan backless slippers) and poufs, to copies of designer jackets and handbags. (That Hermès Birkin bag, or a facsimile of it, could finally be yours at a fraction of the price.) Although the guides around here are a tenacious lot, don your best smile, carry a posy of mint to hold beneath your nostrils, and settle in for a long chat with the shopkeepers to learn about fascinating process. Expect prices in the shops to vary wildly—much depends on your haggling prowess. A favorite store is the aptly named La Belle Vue de la Tannerie, off the main drag. The shop has sought out skilled tailors with European know-how to create items of better quality using all Moroccan hides, which results in better leather goods. The tailors can copy a motorcycle jacket for you in three or four hours from goat or lambskin, the softest of the hides.
By Tara Stevens, AFAR Local Expert
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The Dye pits of Fez (Fes)
While the stench is overwelming, the experience is once in a lifetime.......
Wonderfully colorful, but indeed stinks like hell. The men working there are up to their thighs in colored water (? - liquid). Magnificent and eminently photographable.
By Linda R
Chouara Tannery | Ancient Leather in Fez, Morocco
Chouara Tannery – over a thousand years old. There are different leather shops positioned around the tanneries so you can look out over the different dyes. The smell was interesting but not as strong as people led you to believe. Don't forget to barter with shop keepers for finished leather duffles, sandals, wallets and the very best goat hide natural toned ottomans!
By Chloe OBrien
Follow your nose to the Dye Vats in Fes
The medina in Fes is unparalleled - it will surprise, delight, and offend you as you wind through it's maze of shops. One of the highlights for those interested in seeing unusual professions is the leather dye vats. You don't need a map to find them, just follow your nose. You can view the vats from above from the various leather shops that have 'viewing areas'. You will be astonished at the work going on below you. Cow and goat hides are soaked in large vats to clean and then to dye them. The dye colors are natural and come from plants and flowers such as poppy (red), saffron (yellow), and mint (green). Men only work literally inside the vats stomping the hides down into the dyes - like grapes at a winery. They slather their legs in vaseline to ensure their skin doesn't get dyed in the process - a hazard of the workplace. This is a site to see so don't forget your camera. And don't worry - if you are worried about the smell, the shop will provide fresh mint for you to inhale while peering over the edge to see this ancient profession in action. How to find the vats? Most people hire guides to navigate them through the medina, so simply ask your guide - or just point your nose to the sky and inhale!
By Sherry Ott, AFAR Ambassador
Visit to the Fez Tanneries
Within Morocco’s artisanal economy leather is the country’s largest export to partners like Spain, France and India. Visiting the Tanneries of Fez is for free. There is a viewing station for visitors which allows you to see it on a top view. However, hustlers will always find a way to scratch the “free admission” policy. The hotel owner recommended a guide so we can easily access the tanneries. He said that we can give him ten dirhams (1 EUR) at a minimum. The rest is up to us. Continue reading: http://trishavelarmino.com/2013/07/19/a-visit-to-the-fez-tanneries/
Tanneries in Fez, Morocco
A visit to the tanneries was quite an experience. Walking through the medina of Fez, you will definitely be stopped by more than one or two locals begging to guide you to the tannery. I suggest finding a licensed guide before setting off to find it on your own, unless you are navigationally gifted. After being led by our guide down the twisted and narrow paths in the Medina, we were taken up to one of the leather shops ( the best views of the tanneries working can be seen here.) My husband and I were greeted by merchants with sprigs of mint to ward of the very strong odor that is definitely an assault on the senses. It is quite fascinating to stand upon the rooftops and watch the tanners using nothing but their bare hands and feet to dye the leather. Leather tanneries in Morocco still follow the ancient system of treating leather. Hides are soaked for a few days in vessels full of cow urine, quicklime, water and salt before being picked at and dried. Next they are sent to a different set of vessels filled with diluted pigeon excrement and water to be softened. With nothing but their bare feet and hands, tanners knead the skins to their desired softness as well as with the final dying process. Afterwards, you have the option of purchasing leather products in the shop. No worries, the merchants are not offended if you decide not to, just be polite when declining. This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Fez.
By Lisa C.
Fez Old Town Tannery
December 12th, 2013 We had an afternoon tour of the Fez medina - winding our way through the ridiculously huge twisty labyrinth that is the Fez Medina. The culmination was a leather goods shop on the edge of tannery dye vats. In typical Morocco fashion, the proprietors were keen to press us hard for sales in exchange for the view, but by now we had been in the country long enough to see it coming and stick to our guns. Traditional dyeing and tanning like this one of the reasons that the Fez Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
By AFAR Traveler
Getting Lost in Fes
Walking through Fes is like being a mouse trapped in a huge maze where cheese is found around every corner - you never want to leave! We set off through the old town to try to find the Tanneries, but ended up exploring the whole city by accident because we were unable to find out where we were, let alone where we were going. Market shops, outdoor restaurants, and colorful locals were all around us, so we had a great time on our journey. Eventually we found the tanneries, but we had to go into some shops in order to see them from above.
By Bryan Tighe
Quartier des Tanneurs, Fès 30000, Morocco