Moroccan tannery, a thousand-year-old heritage

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Tannery is an art that's been practiced for several centuries in Morocco, one of the only places in the world where tanning is done in a traditional way to this day. It was at the time of the Almohad dynasty, in the 12th century, that this art spread in the kingdom, mainly from Fez and Marrakech. Tanneries can be found in other cities such as Tétouan or Taroudant, where the tradition is maintained and practiced using the same techniques as before.

The transformation process

The transformation of animal skins into leather in traditional tanneries is done in 3 essential steps:

First, you have to put the skins into large containers filled with lime, ammonia and pigeon droppings where they will rest for several days.

The second step is to remove the remaining hairs from the skins and color them by immersing them in tanks filled with natural dye. For example, mint is used for the color green, henna for the color orange, leaves and stems of indigo for the color blue, etc.

Finally, the skins are rinsed then dried and finally sent to artisans who will make bags, coats, shoes, etc.

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The Chouara tannery.

The city of Fez has three ancient tanning establishments, but the largest is the Chouara tannery, which is also the oldest in Morocco. It has existed for 900 years, extends over 7200 m² and more than 500 master artisans produce 3,000 to 5,000 leather skins every day. In this traditional tannery, everything is handmade and the materials and techniques are the same as in the 12th century.

Several historical sources prove that tanning was an important industry from the beginning of the city's history and played an important role in the economy; the products of the tanneries of Fez were even exported to Baghdad. Al-Jazna'i states that the Almohads (late 12th to early 13th centuries) owned a total of 86 tanning workshops and another source attests that there were around a hundred under the Marinids (late 13th to 15th centuries). The Chouara Tannery continued to expand to now contain 193 tanning workshops.

The heritage that the world will share with Morocco through this tannery is the famous tarbouch, or Fez hat whose pigment that gives it its color was extracted from crimson berries. Fez in the Ottoman era would refer to the entire Sultanate of Morocco. Consequently, the popularization of this hat by the Ottomans throughout their empire, bordering on Morocco at its peak, paid tribute to this practice, which can be described as a millennium.

Today, Morocco is the only country where the Fez hat is regularly worn by its heads of state as well as during official visits.

La famille royale accueillant Emmanuel Macron, actuel président de la France.
The royal family welcoming Emmanuel Macron, current president of France.

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