An Unforgettable Experience In The City Of Fez

Photograph courtesy of Angeli C. Picazo (taken November 01, 2014)

The city of Fez is the third largest in Morocco and home to about one million people. The old town or medina has narrow, car-free alleys with hundreds of merchants selling a wide range of products from carpets, spices, dates and copper urns. However, what Fez is highly known for is its leather products that come from three ancient leather tanneries, the most popular of which is Chouara Tannery. The best view of the thousand year old tannery can be obtained from the surrounding terraces where an abundance of leather shops are located. We asked some of the local tradesmen how leather products are made and we were given a rundown.

Stone vessels are filled with a wide range of dyes and liquids that look like trays of watercolors from our vantage point. Dozens of men are seen working under the heat of the sun unmindful of the strong pungent smell of cow urine where the hides are first soaked to breakdown the tough hide and loosen its excess fat and flesh. The whole tanning process is done manually without any machinery that will speed up work and increase productivity. The process of tanning has remained the same throughout the centuries that is why visiting the tanneries at Fez is an absolute requirement. Don’t mind the smells because there are fresh sprigs of mint leaves given to visitors to overcome the odors.

Do you know that the hides of your precious leather purses and shoes are also soaked in pigeon poop? Yes indeed because pigeon poop contains ammonia that is used as a softening agent so that the hides will be malleable enough to absorb the various dyes. Pomegranate powder is also rubbed on the hides to give them a yellowish tinge. Olive oil is used to make the hides shiny. Once the leather has been dried under the sun, it is sold to craftsmen to be made in the famous babouches, Moroccan slippers as well as the bags, wallets and accessories that are sold in Fez.

Visiting Fez was a memorable experience because it allowed me a glimpse of the medieval times through the Chouara Tanneries.