Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Famous Fez Chouara Tannery Gets a Makeover

Probably the most visited site in the Fez Medina, the Chouara Tannery, is undergoing a transformation. With all the dye vats being rebuilt. Sue Bail, reports for The View From Fez


The 11th-century Chouara tannery still operates as it did a thousand years ago.  It is the place where cow, sheep, goat, and camel hides are brought to be preserved, dyed, and turned into the handbags, jackets, and wallets sold in the surrounding souks. However, at the moment the tannery resembles a construction site, with two large cranes and 240 builders working around the clock.


There had been speculation in the last few years that, because of environmental concerns, the tannery might be moved out of the Medina. The major concern was that of waste water pollution. However, as the present work includes adding a waste water system, it appears that the tannery will remain where it has been for the last 1000 years or so.

One of the alternative architectural visions for the tannery

The need for control of waste water is obvious as the process begins with the raw skins being soaked in a mixture of cow urine, pigeon faeces, quicklime, salt, and water. This loosens the hair from the hides and makes them softer. After a few days of steeping in this concoction, the skins are hauled out and hung from rails on the balconies to dry. Then comes the dyeing. Tannery workers plunge the skins into the coloured wells, leaving them there for a few more days to absorb each hue. The dyes all come from natural substances, such as indigo, henna, saffron, poppies, and pomegranates.

The tannery vats prior to the makeover

When the tannery will be operational again is not clear, but The View From Fez will report on progress.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ok, the tannery tour guides will give the nice spiel about the natural dyes but you guys living in Fes know this is rubbish and should be reporting the reality, not perpetuating the myth spun for tourists. How expensive is saffron?!! As if it would be used to dye leather on this scale nowadays? And poppies? Ha! Come on...

Anonymous said...

My sentiments exactly! And an update now that the restoration appears to be complete would be welcome.