I have to admit, seeing this tannery on Instagram is probably the main thing that convinced me to book my trip to Morocco. After scrolling through countless photos of the colorful pits of dye, I was sold - I needed to see it in person.
I kind of arrived in Fes with no idea of what else there was to see - I had two days to spend there, so I had to figure out what else was worth seeing. Lucky for me, this city provides endless little streets filled with amazing architecture and colorful details. If you only have one day to spend in Fes, make sure you don't miss these three top things:
1. Experiencing a Thousand Year Old Process at Chouara Tannery
Chouara Tannery is quite easy to find. Just type it into Google Maps and it will take you to the correct area. You have to cross a little bridge into a weirdly modern and empty side of town, but after following the route for a few minutes it starts to look familiar again. Shops lined the sides of the tight alleys, but this time something is slightly different - all of the shops sell only one thing: leather goods. You will also notice photos of the tannery hanging on the doors of these shops. These photos usually represent the view you will get from going up to their terraces. This is the only way that I am aware of of viewing the tannery - by entering one of the shops and going up to their terrace.
The views are "free", but the owners will require a small tip or a purchase from the shop. I have no idea what a "small tip" means, by the way, and this was a recurring issue throughout Morocco. It seems that no matter how much you tip, people will always kind of laugh and pretend it's not enough. Most likely a tactic to make the tourist feel guilty and tip more. Little do they know I'm cheap AF! Joke's on you, leather man. Anyway, I tipped like 30 Dirham ($3) and got the "That's it, lady?!" look. I feel like if you are gonna get mad at me for not tipping enough, then you should maybe just set a fixed price?! Anyway - if you tipped more and still got the same kind of reaction, I'd like to hear your comments below. Rant over. Moving on.
Built in the 11th century, it is the largest tannery in the city. Since the inception of the city, the tanning industry has been continually operating in the same fashion as it did in the early centuries. The tanneries are packed with the round stone vessels filled with dye or white liquids for softening the hides. The white liquids are made from various mixtures of cow urine, pigeon feces, quicklime, salt, and water. With that said, it can stink here! This is why store owners will offer you a little bunch of mint to hold on to and smell whenever you've feeling overwhelmed by the cow pee/pigeon poo smell.
The workers at the tannery don't seem even a little bit bothered by the fact that there are hundreds of tourists at any given time taking photo after photo. They just go on about their day like no one is watching, and it's quite the experience to observe and photograph.
It's worth noting that the shop owners will kick everybody out of their terraces after about 10-15 minutes (something they don't tell you before hand), so make sure to get all your photos quickly. The good thing is that you can move from shop to shop and get a lot of different angles. Also, if you commit to a big purchase or large tip, I'm sure they'd have no problem letting you stay on the terrace as long as you please - but for the rest of us peasants, 10-15 minutes is what you can expect.
2. Visiting the Fes Medina
I found the Medina area in Fes to be much more clean and organized than Marrakech. There you can find an almost unlimited supply of snacks, beverages, clothes, souvenirs, and of course - Moroccan tapestry. It's easy to get lost in the little alleyways, so you could hire a guide if you choose, but I think getting lost is part of the fun. You're bound to encounter something amazing you didn't even know was there, like this empty little square with amazing lighting.
There are also a few museums and mosques, although you cannot enter the mosques if you are non-Muslim. Apparently, a few years ago you used to be able to enter the courtyard area and take photos regardless of your religion, but unfortunately that is no longer allowed, so you'll have to settle for standing outside and trying to take some pictures through the waves of people walking in and out.
Keep in mind that in Morocco, Fridays are almost like a weekend, and everything is either closed all day or closes early. This is bad news if you're looking to do some shopping, but great news if you want to walk around an empty Medina! about half of the shops were still open at around 11am, but after noon or so they all started to close down, and the tight Medina streets slowly got emptier and emptier until there was barely a soul in sight. It's a lovely time to explore without having to bump into strangers every 5 seconds.
3. Taking Photos at Dar Batha
If you like museums, Dar Batha is nice. If you like beautiful architecture, amazingly intricate tilework, and lush gardens, Dar Batha is amazing. Either way, it's worth the 10 Dirham ($1) entrance fee.
When I went, they were closing the museum for some reason at around 1pm (lunch?) - but they did so without warning. I had paid to get in about 45 minutes prior, and all of a sudden they were just kicking everybody out and closing the doors, when Google told me they didn't close until 5pm! RUDE! Anyway, make sure to ask about the hours when you pay to get in to avoid being kicked out mid-exploring. For me, the time I got to spend there was more than enough, so it wasn't a big deal.
4. Smelling All of the Herbs at Jnan Sbil
This 18th Century park is a great place to relax after a busy day of sightseeing. It's a bit out of the way from the Medina area, but you can easily make it here by walking (25-30mins) or taking a short taxi ride.
Upon entering the park, you are greeting by a long row of tall palm trees, some fountains and other plants/flowers, as well as orange trees - which you will find in abundance all over Morocco. If you take a stroll around the park, you will eventually come across a beautiful, oasis-like setting, with plenty of benches to sit and watch the birds flying around it.
The park itself is very nice and relaxing, but the best part is the amazing herb garden in the back. I had no idea this was even here, and as I approached, the park guard was eager to pluck out some herbs and hand to me to smell! Everything smelled so fresh and amazing and its a perfect little treat to get you excited for lunch after a stroll in the park.
While in Morocco, I visited Marrakech, Fes, Chefchaouen, and Tangier, and Fes was probably my favorite. It felt like a step up from Marrakech in regards to infrastructure and amenities, but still had that very original Moroccan feel. Although I feel like two full days were enough to see all of the main sights, I would love to be able to spend some more time there and really get to know the city and the locals.
Have you spent any time in Fes? What was your favorite part?