The Chouara Tannery is the largest of the four historic tanneries that remain in the center of the medina of Fes el-Bali. The manufacture and dyeing of lamb, cattle, goat, and camel leather take place in an unlimited number of pits that are filled with natural colors. Together with the other tanneries, the Chouara tannery provides one of the city’s most attractive and fragrant sights that you need to stop by on your trip to Fes. On this blog, you can learn all about this famous tannery, its tanning process, and the cultural significance it holds in the city of Fes.
The Chouara Tannery: history & culture
There are shops with terraces all around the tanneries where you can see the skilled workers at work. You will be given little mint sprigs at the entry to the tanneries, which will do nothing to mask the very strong and frequently unpleasant stench.
Despite the not-so-pleasant odor, the Chouara tannery is one of the city’s most characteristic and iconic sites; seeing it is necessary for getting to know Fez. It is customary for salespeople to try to convince tourists to buy a piece of leather in exchange for seeing this exhibition, but with a modest tip, they will be pleased.
It was established back in the eleventh century and is currently the biggest tannery in the city. It is located in the Medina‘s oldest district, Fes el Bali, and was chosen because it is adjacent to the Saffarin Madrasa and the river. It was helpful to have easy access to the river since it supplied much of the water required to work the leather. Without a question, the fact that Chouara Tannery’s current structure is substantially intact from its modest origins is what makes it unique. This puts it well over a thousand years old.
The tanning process
At conventional tanneries, the first process is to place the hides into large vats filled with lime and pigeon dropping, where they rest for a few days. This combination is used to soften the skin so it may be treated further and coloured while also halting skin deterioration. The remaining hair is then removed, and the skins are colored by immersing them in big vats of natural colors. Once the skins have been dyed and dried, they will be sent to artists who will make them into bags, luggage, shoes, and jackets for sale to the general public.
What’s even more astonishing is that Morocco still uses the same method for producing leather today. It is mostly done by hand, and they employ natural components in their processing procedures and colours. In the tannery of Chouara, all of the anti-aging products are natural. Poppies are used to make red dye, whereas indigo is used to make blue dye and henna to make orange dye.
Your Guide to the Chouara Tannery
Many leather stores surround the Tannery of Chouara, and they also offer some of the best views of the tanneries from above. To watch the Fes Tanneries in action, you must enter the perspective using one of them. No. 10 on Derb Chouara is the simplest to discover on your own. The store is a nearly hilarious labyrinth, and the nicer of the two terraces may be reached via the leather slipper department to the north. Naturally, there are many locals who will insist on guiding you to the “best viewpoint” in order to assist you in finding the tanneries. If you can, avoid them because, yes, you are expected to leave them a tip (20 – 50 MAD is enough).
Concerning opening hours, the tannery is open every day from roughly 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. This is mostly dependent on whether or not the stores are open. Although, we recommend going early in the morning while the pits are covered with colored dye. On Fridays, which are sacred days in Morocco, stores may be closed at particular times for prayer. Keep in mind that the tanneries have no official admission fee because they are not government tourist attractions. You could even wind up buying some of the leather products at the shops.
If you wanted to have a more in-depth look at the process and would prefer not to view the tanneries from above, you could do so by going inside the facility. A guided tour of the tannery is an option. You may even hop on top of some of the tannery pools if you wish to during your guided tour, which includes an inside look at the workshop and an explanation of the production process. In there, the men may be seen working with the leather to treat it as they enter the vats of dye.
Worried about the smell? That’s understandable, but it comes with the package of visiting the tanneries. It’s not quite as horrible as you imagine. After the first five minutes, you become accustomed to the stench. If you are a vegan, vegetarian, or sensitive to the killing of animals used for animal products, it is not advised that you stop by the tannery unless you’d really appreciate to see the labor-intensive process involved in making leather.
If you’ve been curious to see where and how is the Moroccan leather made, we suggest a trip to Fes to see the Chouara Tannery all in flesh. While in there, you can also buy leather goods and souvenirs for yourself or your loved ones. As usual, let us know what amazes you the most about leather tanning in the comments section below.