Shopping for Leathergoods in Fez.
Where should we go to buy leather goods? we asked our guide Moh from Berber Treasures. Wait until we reach Fez he answered and we were pleased we did!
Fez is known as the artisanal capital of Morocco. It is a city that remains rooted to it’s rich past, a city where culture and tradition are as important as they were in medieval times. As Lindy and I wandered through the medina of Fes El-Bali, we felt little had changed in hundreds of years. Navigating our way along the narrow cobbled laneways, overflowing with stalls selling food, craft, carpets and leather goods, we dodged donkeys transporting skins to the tanneries and the motorbikes that had little regard for pedestrians, in this car free zone. The sights, sounds and smells are all a part of the Fez experience! Leather Shopping in Fez lay ahead of us.
Our destination was the Chouara Tannery, built in the 11th century.
Leather goods have been produced at the Chouara Tannery using the same method, for more than a thousand years.
Chouara produces a huge amount of the leather for sale in Morocco and for export around the world. What appeals to visitors to the tannery, is the immense range of leather goods.
Leather products in vibrant colours ranged from deep red, bright tangerine, lemon and mustards, to aquamarine and sky blue. They were stacked to overflowing on the shelves and even hanging from the rafters.
The tanneries process the hides of cows, sheep, goats and camels. In the tanneries the hides are turned into high quality leather products such as bags, coats, shoes, and slippers. This is all achieved manually, without modern machinery and the process has barely changed since medieval times.
Every day, the tanners place the raw hides into the deep earthenware vats. Then through a process of soaking, stripping, drying, more soaking and finally dyeing.
The leather hides are first soaked in a mixture of cow urine, quicklime, water and salt, for two to three days.
After which tanners scrape away excess hair fibres and fat, in order to prepare the hides for dyeing.
The hides are then soaked in another set of vats, which contain a mixture of water and pigeon droppings.
Pigeon droppings contains ammonia, which acts as the softening agent. This allows the hides to become malleable so they can absorb the dye.
The tanner then uses his bare feet to knead the hides for up to three hours, to achieve the desired softness.
The mix of pigeon droppings and cow urine produces a pungent stench. As a result, the staff at the tannery offers visitors sprigs of fresh mint to carry, to help disguise the odour.
The hides are then placed in dying pits containing natural vegetable dyes.
Poppy flower for red, indigo for blue, henna for orange, cedar wood for brown, mint for green and saffron for yellow.
LEATHER SHOPPING IN FEZ
Our mission was to select a range of bags, belts, handbags and backpacks from one of the best collections of leather goods in Morocco.
Several hours later, while having enjoyed several glasses of mint tea to sustain us, we looked at our leather purchases. We were pleased with our choices.
Leather bags in rainbow hues were spread across the tiled floor. Hand crafted from supple sheep and goat skin and the sturdier camel skin and cow hide.
Some bags with woven panel inserts of Kilim wool, others with fringing and tassels. Backpacks were decorated with fancy stitching and brass studs.
Walking back to our Riad in Fez, we were tired but happy with the purchases of the day. Most of all we were pleased to have had the opportunity to buy our leather at the Chouara Tannery. All the while experiencing the sights and smells of the traditional practices used since medieval times. It has been a successful day of shopping.
Next step is to see all our purchases safely home in Sydney.