Opening Times
Mon-Thursday 9am-6pm
Friday 9am-5pm
Saturday 9am-2pm
Bank Holidays 10am-4pm

Wednesday, 23 April 2014 12:00 AM

Holiday Attractions in Morocco - Marrakech Tanneries and Communal Ovens

Away from the main tourist attractions of Marrakech - the Saadian Tombs and El Badi Palace (in the kasbah region of Marrakech medina), the Ben Youssef Madrasa and the Museum of Marrakech (just to the north of the main souk of the medina), the Majorelle, Menara and Agdal gardens (just outside of the medina to the north and south) - lie the other side of Morocco and Moroccan life.

The tanneries are the harsh reality of how the fine leather seen in the tourist shops is created, tough work in nasty working conditions; whilst the communal ovens give a glimpse of the local Moroccan families and community, again a stark contrast to life in the "West". Both are well worth a visit.

Marrakech Tanneries

The tanneries of Marrakech produce the fine raw leather material for subsequent working into the various leather goods you see in the souks, one of the important products of Morocco.

Whilst the tanneries are less impressive than those in Fez, they offer a glimpse of the unsanitised Morocco away from the tourist souks and attractions – the unpleasant reality can be a fascinating eye-opener and education for any age, but it is a personal decision whether to visit. They have an evil and nauseating pungency so pick up a sprig of mint to help you to combat that.

The tannery processes have changed little over the centuries (the tanneries are reported to date back to the mid 11th century). Local men wade half naked up to their waists in dozens of clay or concrete vats full of various mixtures (cow urine, lime, pigeon droppings, acids and dyes) cleaning and curing raw hides to make fine leather that are hung out to dry.  

The best views are from the balconies of local shops where you will be expected to take an interest in the merchandise on sale but, if you have no interest in purchasing, a polite but firm “no but thank you” will get you out to the street again without significant hassle.

The tanneries are difficult to find (near the Bab el-Debbagh) and, although locals may help you find your way, watch out for the many touts who may pressure you into visiting their shop or ask for a guiding fee. Therefore, we highly recommend an official guide who can make the most of your excursions away from the main tourist areas.

Communal Ovens

In your exploration away from the main tourist areas, perhaps to the tanneries with a guide, it is well worth keeping an eye open for the communal ovens. These are located in each small district and are attached to the local public hammam – they use the wood fires that heat the hammams for baking the bread.

Fresh home-made bread is an important part of family life and cuisine in Morocco and they have developed a system whereby families may take their home-made bread to the local oven to be baked for a small fee, which is simplest for the family and useful extra income for the fire-minder.