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.
Chouara Tannery, the most famous in Fez.
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.
The skin of the tanners takes on the same hue as the dye vats they are working in. The work is incredibly labor intensive.
Sheep skins, goat skins, camel skins, and cow skins are all used to make leather goods.
Natural vegetable dyes such as poppy flower, henna, cedar wood, and saffron are use to make hides red, yellow, orange and brown.
The rainbow-coloerd tannery of Chouara is one of the most striking sights in the medina.
Dried hides that will end up as bags, shoes, hats, or…?
Chouara tannery, the largest and most famous in Fez, offers tours. Hold your nose, though, because the smell is INTENSE.
A store in the souk selling the famous Moroccan leather slippers, known as babouche.
Colorful leather hats, sold in the souk from leather tanned in the vats of Fez.
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