About the Tanneries
Tanning is the process of treating skins and hides of animals to produce leather. In Fez, there are many deep vats (from the medieval times) which hold a variety of ingredients (depending on the color, see below), but the main ingredient is pigeon poop and cow pee. The acidity in the ingredients help to break down the leather to make it soft and to allow the leather to absorb the dye.
Once the leather is done absorbing the dye, it is laid out flat on the surrounding rooftops to dry in the sun.
Ingredients used for each color:
Red » poppy
Orange » henna
Yellow » saffron
Green » mint
Blue » indigo
Purple » (mix)
Pink » rosemary
Brown » cedar wood
Black » mascara
Prepare for Pushiness
Before setting off, be very aware of the pushiness that you will inevitably encounter while visiting the tanneries of Fez. Without even asking for help, locals will approach you and tell you “the best” tannery in Fez that you must see (and probably owned by their cousin – it’s always a cousin)…
Once inside the tannery, they experience is relatively the same for each: (1) You’ll follow a guy passed a lot of handbags and other leather good, up a flight of stairs, (2) you’ll be offered some mint to keep with you and smell whenever the tanning process’ smell is too overwhelming, (3) you’ll take some pictures once you’re on the terrace, (4) you’ll head back downstairs where you’ll be asked to buy some leather products. (5) If you politely say no, over and over again, and the sales-guy finally gives up, then he’ll get a bit nastier and demand that you at least pay the tip. I was told in a few different tanneries that there is a fee “regulated by the government” — they even had a sign on the wall about a fee (which was only told to me AFTER I said I didn’t want to buy anything). Of course I didn’t pay the fee because I knew they were lying to me!
Which to See
Chouara Tannery is the most well known, but there are a bunch with terraces and rooftop views. Most of the tanneries have a number (you’ll see markings on the walls saying (No.1, No.9, No.11, etc.) Keep mental note of the numbers so you remember which ones you’ve already seen (they pretty much all look alike).