Exploring The Souk and Tanneries of Fez, Morocco

As we continued on our way traipsing through Morocco, we couldn’t miss Fez. Like Marrakesh, the ancient city of Fez has been attracting merchants, traders, and tourists for hundreds of years.

Most of the old quarters date back nearly 1500 years with their roots in the very early days of Islam in northern Africa. Palaces, fortress, mosques, universities, and of course traders’ stalls are all smashed together in a tightly packed cauldron of history.

Fez is said to have one of the most incredible medina’s in all of Morocco where anything your heart desires can be found, especially if your heart desires leather goods! Some of the tanneries of Fez have been in operation in the same locations for over a thousand years with very little changed in the leather tanning process.

Taking a tour is the best way to visit Fez tanneries, and the Chouara Tannery dye pots are a sight you won’t want to miss.
A visit to the tanneries is a must when visiting Fez.

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The Fez Souk

A winding street of the Fez Medina is blocked by a delivery man and his donkeys.
Share the road! Narrow alleys, like this one, are common in Fez.

There are no motor vehicles in the Medina so pedestrians must share the road with beasts of burden and stevedores all madly rushing along, up and down, the slippery, narrow cobbled alleys. They are on a mission to get their wares in or out and woe be to the tourist that should get between them and their destination.

The Main square in Fez, where people come and play with their children, eat snacks, and gossip.
Evenings in the Fez Medina is a good place for people watching.

The entrances to the Medina have open squares like this with snack carts offering prickly pear cactus fruit, boiled snails, or some other delicacy. You can usually find a seat at an outdoor café along the edges of the square and take a break from the pressing confines of the medina while enjoying a refreshing mint tea.

Copper Vendor in the Fez Souk.
You can find almost anything in Fez Medina.
A silversmith in a bright blue lab coat holds a beautifully engraved silver bowl.
A silversmith displays a beautiful bowl.

You don’t really need to plan on buying anything in the medina; you can walk around, take photographs, ask about the curious items you see and just be amazed at all of the fascinating events taking place around you. Be careful though, if you ask how much something costs you have just placed a target on your back that is hard to shake.

That little bit of interest is going to cost you time or money. By inquiring about a price you are telling the seller that you want that item and he will stop at nothing to sell it to you.

More than one unwary traveler has purchased an item in the souk merely to escape the haggling session. Ultimately, you can just walk away with an apologetic “merci,” a shake of the head, and a smile. But keep walking and don’t look back unless you really do want that ashtray!

Rabbits for sale for food in Fez.
Fresh chicken for tonight’s table.
Two women stop to talk to a vendor selling dates in the Medina.
A vendor in the Medina sells dates from a cart.

Getting lost is the best part about wandering through the Medina.

Colorful sweet nougat is one of the millions of things you can find in the Fez souk.
Sweets for your sweeties, the famous Fez nougat!
A shop in Fez Morocco selling Dates, nuts, and more dates.
Dates, nuts, and more dates.
A lady makes thin bread by draping it of a ball.
Everything is fascinating, like this thin bread cooked on a round ball.
A man in traditional clothing waits at an intricately carved door.
A great place to chill.

Pro Tip: We find the Medinas in Marrakesh and Fez fascinating, and if you do too you might also enjoy a Berber market. If your travels to or from Fez take you on the old highway between Marrakesh to Fez on a Tuesday, stop in the small village of Azrou and visit the weekly Berber market

A group of teenage boys at a table stacked with small loves of bread waiting to be served by the vendor.
Happy young men waiting for their sandwiches.
A young boy is served a snack at a small shop in the Fez Medina.
A young boy gets a snack at a Medina shop.

A Moroccan Tannery

Fez Tanneries are a must see; this one has pelts hanging on walls to dry.
First signs of the tanneries

Depending on which way the wind is blowing, you will smell the tanneries before you see them. But don’t let that put you off, the tanneries really are worth the suffering you’re going to put yourself through.

This is such a photogenic place, it’s hard to point your camera somewhere that doesn’t have a story to tell. Fez has been producing leather and leather goods for generations upon generations.

The stench created by the tanning process (which includes feces and urine from several types of birds and animals) is incredible. I’d like to say you get used to it, and maybe you do if your work in and around the ancient stone vats every day of your life in the tanneries of Fez, but I never did.

Local leather from the tanneries is sold in the Fez Souk; the souk and tanneries of fez are economically connected.
Getting closer to the leather.

You can buy purses, wallets, bags, backpacks, pants, vests, dresses, you name it. Or you could buy a tanned hide and create your own artisanal piece.

How to Visit the Fez Tanneries

There are many tours that you can take that will give you a good Fez overview, but for the tanneries the best one I’ve found is the Fez Handicraft Tour. The great thing about being on a tour is there is no guesswork and you will get good insight on the entire tanning history and process.

It’s also very possible to do on your own. You just need to get yourself to the tannery area of town and find a shop with a tannery attached in the back. We chose the Couara Tannery, where we were shown around by one of the merchants.

However…

Another word of warning about the tanneries, however, this is a hard sell area. You are free to walk into the tanneries and look around but you will pick up a guide and they will take you through their leather shop at the end.

What a stunning scene with red and yellow skins drying on the roof tops and in between an area with at least 100 tannery pots.
Into the gaping maw.

You don’t technically have to pay for the tour or even buy anything from the shop, but these are some of the most hard pressing salesmen we’ve come across. We left with a small tip to the guide and some small change purses for gifts.

A man removes pelts from a pit and stacks them in a huge pile.
It’s important work but not for the faint of heart.
Fez tannery worker dips the pelts into the dye pots.
The colors were all a little subdued on the day of our visit, except these bright orange and red vats.
Pelts drying on the Moroccan tannery roof.
Every surface is used in the tanneries.

Where to Stay in Fez

Luxury

Hotel Sahrai
Riad Mayfez Suites & Spa

Mid-Range

Dar Hafsa
Riad Jamaï

Budget

Medina Social Club – Hostel

How to Get to Fez

As you know, we drove, but you can get to Fez taking the bus or renting a taxi. I suggest taking the bus. You can book your tickets with CTM.

From Marrakesh it costs about 200 DH or $20, and takes 10 hours.
From Chefchaouen it costs about 75 DH or $7.50 and takes 4 hours.

A colorful lighted fountain discovered in Fez in the evening.
A colorful fountain discovered on an evening walk.

Conclusion

If you are planning a visit to Morocco, you really should include Fez in your plans. The UNESCO World Heritage List is always a good indication of sites that must be visited and it didn’t let us down here. The Medina is an incredibly intricate look into the myriad of sights, sounds and mysteries to be found in Morocco. So find the Medina gate, clutch your purse tightly, and dive on in.

Pin the tanneries of Fez for later!
The Fez tanneries are one iconic reason to visit this fascinating city in Morocco. Click here to find out how you can make the most of your trip.

8 thoughts on “Exploring The Souk and Tanneries of Fez, Morocco”

  1. The day we visited the tannery was yellow day. All the leathers were strewn about on rooftops to dry after the tanning process. Yes, it stinks as the tanning process involves pigeon poo and other noxious “things”. All the same, hubby still enjoys his leather wallet and our ottoman is fabulous.

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