Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Chouara Tannery in Fez

Chouara Tannery in Fez

Located in the center of the Fez Medina, the tannery in Fez is actually one of the oldest tanneries in the world, dating from the 11th century. Artisans at work use today’s methods, transmitted from generation to generation. Their knees are planted in natural dye pits, working hides to vibrant leathers under the Moroccan sun. It showcases a raw, authentic peek into the traditional craft of Morocco. And, further, the splendid view from the terraces around allows onlookers to peer over vats of colorful dyes and look at the craftsmen working—as if in another era.

What is a Tannery

A tannery is quite literally where the magic occurs when animal skins are converted into soft, usable leather. It’s a bit gritty and raw—actually. Workers, often from the knees down, are treating the leather in ancient methods to color it with the use of natural dyes and liquids. All pretty organic, with the use of nothing but nature’s products in terms of tree bark and pigeon poop—yes, you read that right. Visit a tannery like Chouara Tannery in Fez to get a rare, close-up look at this traditional craft. It’s not so much the cool pictures of the vivid dye pits being snapped (though, man, are they photogenic). It’s witnessing a craft that has been perfected over generations.

Chouara Tannery in Fez

How to see the Tannery in Fez

There are actually a few ways through the medina to find one’s way to the Tannery, though it is the iconic viewpoint of the Tannery from above that one would ideally want to see. In fact, that is not always very easy, with the many shops that will actually tempt you to come in and have a look in their attempt to get you buying things before they allow you upstairs to see the viewpoint. Some even lie that there is a viewpoint from the shop. There usually would be expected to pay for the courtesy view of the establishment if no leather goods are taken with them on their departure. Best, therefore, to do your homework beforehand to not leave with your foot in your mouth. We actually decided to cover the Tannery in Fes as part of the walking tour we were already covering after reading a few forums about difficulty locating the Fez tannery viewpoints inside the medina.

Nonetheless, you have several options.

1. Navigate Yourself to the Tannery in Fez

If you are an adventurous soul, navigate to the Chouara Tannery, one of the leading attractions in Fez. Set right at the heart of the bustling, lively Fez Medina, the main Tannery Street (Derb Chouar) is alive with activity. Local shops line both sides of the street, creating a vibrant atmosphere that draws you into the heart of local commerce..Follow the signs—or the aroma of leather! Local shopkeepers are generally glad to help point you in the right direction. Once there, try to gain access to a rooftop view. You can freely access the rooftops of many shops around the tannery, putting yourself in the perfect spot for photos. However, if you enter a shop and head up the stairs to the viewpoint, you should buy some leather goods or pay a small fee (anywhere from 10 to 50 DHS) for the view

Book a guide

 If you want a more elaborate history of the tannery and leather dying, then book yourself a local guide. Guides reveal hidden gems and insights you might miss on your own, preventing you from getting hopelessly lost in the Medina’s labyrinth of streets..A private guide typically goes for around 200-300 MAD but truly pays off for the context and added local flavor they bring to the experience.

Group Walking Tour

In case you are under budget constraints and want to meet more travelers, then group walking tours are great options. More stops include the main tannery and other landmarks of interest by tour guides, hence more value for your money. They will tell you all about the tannery and other sights, usually for around 100 MAD per person. We did some research online and found a really good one through GuruWalk. Our guide Abrahim gave our group a wonderful history lesson as he guided us through the labyrinth of the Fes Medin for 2 hours, finishing up in the Fes Tannery at the very end.

Tannery in Fez

Why I preferred seeing the Tannery in Fez through a booked walking tour

Going on a tour meant you could stop thinking about where to go and start dodging the constant hustle from local vendors. Literally, we got to have a mini history lesson straight from our knowledgeable guide. He was also the one who knew where and had the connections with the vendors. In other words, he has arranged with the shops so that you can enjoy the experience without being put under any pressure to buy. Seriously, if you really just want to soak everything in without all that headache, then you need to take a tour. Super chill, informational, and you get to appreciate the full craft without the annoying distractions. Plus, you will have saved yourself time for more adventures in Fez!

Where are the best viewpoints of the Tannery in Fez located?

Viewpoint of Tannery

For the best views of Fez Tannery, head to places like the Leather Gallery or Terrasse des Tanneurs near the Saffarin Madrasa along the Oued Fes. These shops strategically position themselves around the tannery’s perimeter, offering their terraces to visitors eager to capture the perfect shot of the vibrant dye pits below.

If you’re looking for specific shops that offer great views of the Chouara Tannery in Fez, aim for shops like Number 10 and Number 64. Visitors highly regard these spots for their excellent vantage points overlooking the tannery pits.They are part of a cluster of shops around the tannery that generally welcome tourists to their rooftops for an enhanced viewing experience.

When you arrive, you can either ask locals for directions or follow the signs that many shop owners display to guide tourists to the rooftops. A small tip of usually 10 to 20 MAD goes a long way and ensures access—it’s a small price to pay for the unmatched view you’ll enjoy.

Things to know before going to the Fez Tannery

mints sprigs in fez

First up, let’s address the elephant in the room: the smell. The traditional method of leather tanning involves some pretty pungent ingredients like pigeon poop and cow urine, which can be quite a shock to the senses. Most shops at the entrance provide mint leaves for visitors, which you should hold under your nose to help mask the odor. It might seem strange at first, but once you experience the overwhelming smell, you’ll understand why it’s necessary. It can be quite potent and overpowering, so make sure to grab some mint when it’s offered and keep it handy.

Dress Appropriately

 The area around the tannery is slippery and wet, so wear shoes that can handle a bit of mess. Dye pit splashes are likely, and you wouldn’t want them on your favorite shoes. Opt for old sneakers or walking shoes that are easy to clean—they’re your best bet.

Bargaining Tips

 Be ready to haggle—it’s part of the fun and helps you get the best deals on unique leather goods. A good starting point is to offer half of the initial asking price. It might sound bold, but it’s standard practice in Moroccan markets, and vendors expect and respect a good haggle. Keep your bargaining friendly and light-hearted; a smile goes a long way. If you’re not getting close to the price you want, don’t hesitate to walk away. Often, vendors will call you back with a better offer. Also, take your time to explore multiple shops to compare prices and quality, which can vary significantly.

Cash is King

Having cash on hand can sometimes help you get a better price than using a card. With these tips, you’ll not only walk away with a fantastic piece of leather but also the satisfaction of mastering the negotiation game.

Timing Your Visit

The tannery operates from about 9 AM to 6 PM. It’s a working factory, so coming earlier in the day lets you see more of the action. Mornings tend to be cooler, which can make the smell a bit more bearable.

Visiting the Fez Tannery offers a unique glimpse into a craft that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. With these practical tips, you can fully enjoy the vibrancy and tradition of one of Morocco’s most fascinating sights.

water fountain Fez

Tips on navigating the Fez Medina to the Chouara Tannery

1. Map Out Your Route

 Before you step into the Medina, it’s wise to get a good grasp of its layout. Use a detailed map or a GPS-enabled app designed specifically for pedestrian areas. Remember, many smaller alleys might not appear on your map, so a general sense of direction is essential.

2. Consider hiring a Guide or doing a Walking tour

To deeply understand the history and effortlessly navigate the Medina’s labyrinth-like streets without too many detours, consider hiring a local guide. A guide can provide insights into the buildings and customs, ensuring you’re on the right path to your desired destinations.

3. Comfortable Footwear

You’ll encounter a variety of walking surfaces, from cobblestones to uneven dirt paths. Opt for comfortable, sturdy footwear to easily navigate the terrain.

4. Be Alert and Respectful

The Medina is much more than a tourist attraction; it’s a vibrant, living city. Respect the locals, their customs, and their privacy. Keep your belongings secure and stay alert in crowded spots.

5. Embrace the Experience!

The Medina should be experienced fully, not just observed. Allow yourself to meander, try local foods, observe artisans at work, and immerse in the rich sensory tapestry of sights, sounds, and smells that is uniquely Moroccan. This vibrant atmosphere is what makes the Medina a truly memorable place. One of my favourite things about just taking in the medina and its surroundings were the cute kittens we came across every few streets!

I hope you find the Fes Tannery as fascinating as I did. This spot isn’t just a feast for the eyes; it’s a dive into living history. While the smell might be strong, the view of the vibrant dye pits and the buzz of traditional craftsmanship make it all worth it! If you are heading to Fes, check out my other posts on things to do in Fes here.