The Colorful Tanneries of Fez
Updated: Jan 4
The secret of Morocco’s quality leather products
Cover photo by @charlies_wanderings
The ancient city of Fez and its spectacular souks offer an exciting journey into the past. The narrow walkways of the medina wind up and down through the hilly city, allowing only small carriages to make their way through. In fact, the old town of Fez is considered the largest car-free zone in the world. The pace of life here is different and wandering the streets you are easily transported back in time. No where is this sensation stronger than in Fez’s mesmerizing colorful tanneries.
Fez is home to three ancient leather tanneries, the largest and oldest being the Chouara Tannery, which is almost one thousand years old. Since the inception of the city, centuries ago, the tanneries of Fez have operated in the exact same fashion. The processing of the hides continues to be entirely manual, an expertise preserved through the generations, as it passed from father to son. As you watch the men in their arduous labor, you gain a renewed appreciation for handmade Moroccan leather goods, and for the artisans who put it to such wonderful use.
The tanneries are spread out like a tray of water colors with a spectacular range of colors and shades. Deep vats hold the dyes, each one manned by a single tanner standing waist-deep in the colorful pools. The men place the raw leather into the vat and stomp on the hides for hours at a time until they are soft and pliable.
Interestingly, one of the main secret ingredients in the vats is pigeon droppings that are added to the mixture of natural acids for their high level of ammonia. The acidic mixture helps break down the tough leather and allows for the full absorption of the dye at the next stage of the process.
The hides are then soaked in the dyeing solutions, which use natural colorants such as poppy for red, indigo for blue, henna for orange, cedar wood for brown, mint for green, and saffron for yellow. Once the leather reaches the desired color, it is taken to a nearby rooftop and laid flat in the sun to dry. This entire process lasts several days.
While this is an incredible sight to watch, keep in mind that the aroma of Fez’s tanneries can be a bit overwhelming. To view it you will need to enter one of the leather shops that surround the tannery. Most of these large shops have a terrace offering a panoramic view of the area. Usually, a local guide or shop owner will supply visitors with some fresh mint for a refreshing sensory relief.
The finished leather is sold to merchants and artisans who use it to craft the high-quality leather products Morocco is renowned for, such as babouches (Moroccan slippers), handbags, garments and accessories.
The Nopo offers a large variety of top-quality leather goods carefully curated. Among the items you’ll find are beautiful leather poufs and leather handbags designed by talented local artisans, such as Hamimi Living and IDYR Desgin,
Shop our Collection of Moroccan Leather Goods Here