Photo Essay: The Tanneries of Fez

While more modern methods prevail elsewhere in the world, in Fez, Morocco, artisans have been tanning leather using techniques that date back 1000 years. These tanneries are tucked behind the medieval buildings that comprise the old city center, the medina. First, animal hides are cut, cleaned and dried. Then they are put into giant stone vats and stomped for hours until they are soft and pliable and have taken on the color of the dye. Tanners stand directly in the vats, using their hands and feet to manipulate and crush the hides. Later the leather is taken to rooftops and drying lines to dry, before being sold to local merchants who use it make shoes, hats, bags and any number of other items. When you buy a pair of vivid leather shoes from the souk in Fez, bear in mind the backbreaking, dirty work that was required to produce those gleaming slippers — a tradition that will likely go on for another 1000 years.

Fez tanneries

Fez tanneries (photo by Sarah Khan)

Chouara Tannery, the most famous in Fez.

tannery vats white


A worker pulls hides out of cleaning vats, the first part of the tanning process. The skins are washed and soaked in a mixture of water and pigeon poo, which makes them supple and soft.

man working in tannery vat fez


The skin of the tanners takes on the same hue as the dye vats they are working in. The work is incredibly labor intensive.

hides drying fez


Sheep skins, goat skins, camel skins, and cow skins are all used to make leather goods.

fez leather hide


Natural vegetable dyes such as poppy flower, henna, cedar wood, and saffron are use to make hides red, yellow, orange and brown.

fez tanneries

Fez tanneries (Shutterstock)

The rainbow-coloerd tannery of Chouara is one of the most striking sights in the medina.

tanned hides fez

Photo by Protographer23/flickr

Dried hides that will end up as bags, shoes, hats, or…?

chouara tannery door

Photo by American_Rugbier/flickr

Chouara tannery, the largest and most famous in Fez, offers tours. Hold your nose, though, because the smell is INTENSE.

Photo Of The Day: Colorful Shoes In The Souks Of Fez

Photo by Sarah Khan

A store in the souk selling the famous Moroccan leather slippers, known as babouche.

fez leather goods

Leather handicrafts on the souk of Fez (Shutterstock)

Colorful leather hats, sold in the souk from leather tanned in the vats of Fez.

Related content on AFKTravel:

The Ceramic Artistry Of Fez, Morocco
#InLoveWithAfrica: Falling Hard For Fez, A City With Soul
The Ateliers and Artisans of Fez

Want to discover the finer side of Africa? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Leave a Comment