Leather tanning in Fez

Fes Travel Leather custom craft culture vacation special color tradition adventure adventure-edition Morocco


A city of beautiful Riads that were built not long ago, but seem to be the main spots for any tourist.

Tiny streets, huge markets, with a smell of leather and spices in the air. In many corners, traditional workplaces offer some snapshots into a time that is forgotten in many other places – a time of handcraft, tailoring, traditional fabrication. Back to the streets. Donkeys are passing through, people are shouting. The streets are crowded, confusing, and lovely. Large groups of German and Asian tourists are blocking the way, elderly people in traditional costume are slowly making their way uphill.

We are looking for the tanning places, the traditional ones, those that we had seen in pictures. Everyone we ask is pointing in a different direction. In front of us, a tourist guide leading another group appears. We follow for a while until we see a sign. Suddenly, a store owner waves us into his store. Come see the terrace, it’s free. It’s great.

Up we go through a tiny door up some tiny stairs overcrowded with leather bags of all shapes and sizes. They give this nice smell of leather again.

Stepping out to the terrace, the nice smell is gone – and is replaced with a daunting, sharp stink.
Looking down, we see the first leather baths that we had seen in all the pictures before. Going further, the smell gets heavier, the view gets wider, and a whole area of coloring baths appears.

People are working hard in the sun, shoveling leather up and down in and out of tubs, walking on the small stone partitions in between. Tourists are crowding up on terraces around, taking pictures from above. We are still far away and decide to get closer, heading back through loads of leather, and out into the streets.

Around the next corner, someone starts talking to us. He is working in the tanning area and can show us the way. We are now really close to the tanning tubs. He directs us up another flight of stairs. “Can I go this way?”, I gesture, pointing into the direction of the tubs, the workers, the smell.
We can go. And we go close – climbing over leather, avoiding the donkey shit, walking right into the action. I can even go on top of the tubs, walk there like all workers do, our friend suggests. Keeping in mind that the room is checked out and the flight is two hours later, I decline – I can already see myself diving right in. The workers are smiling. It seems like they like to see people just walking around. They probably got used to the terraces full of tourists a long time ago. I gesture if I can take a picture. One of the workers laughs, does a wide gesture around – everyone does it, so feel free, he tells me. Another one poses for my favorite picture of the day.

We go up some stairs to get change for the money we gave. At that, we get an explanation and a sample of pigeon excrements that is used to soften the leather before the tanning process begins.

The smell hangs in my nose long after finishing the visit. I might have even taken it on the flight. The images remain as well. It was an incredible experience to see this art of tanning done in such a traditional manner.

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