Tétouan, Morocco – A Look Inside The Medina and The Tanneries
Tétouan, Morocco. It isn’t a traditional Moroccan bucket list city for most people like The Blue City or Marrakesh. It seems to be a city in Morocco that gets skipped all together by tourists who visit Morocco. No frills or gimmicks in Tétouan. Nothing that really stands out in travel books. However, for us, Tétouan ended up being a pleasant surprise, and we were glad that we kept it on the travel itinerary. In fact, it ended up being one of our favorite cities in Morocco that we have visited.
Tétouan gave us the type of travel experience that Nate and I are always searching for – ones where we feel like we are the only tourists around. I know it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Nate and I love authentic, untouched, raw travel experiences that get us out of our comfort zone. We aren’t there to be pampered, though that’s nice too on occasion. Call us weird, but we enjoy being thrown into a new culture and language, being fully immersed, and having memorable and often times awkward moments with the locals. We enjoy the simple travel times where our minds are opened and our world views are expanded. Tétouan did exactly this for us, and that is why it ended up being one of our favorite Moroccan cities.
Private Tour With a Local
Nothing gives you the full local experience of a city than going around on a private tour with a local yourself. Nate’s coworker set us up with a friend of his who lives in Tétouan and asked if the three of us could tag along with him for a day. He gladly agreed and offered to show us around. He spoke several languages, but English wasn’t one of them. The one language that we all semi-spoke was Spanish, so we conversed in Spanish as best as we could. It was difficult for all of us, but we got by. Because of him, we were able to have a unique taste of Tétouan through the eyes of a local. We started the day off with a trip to the art school to see the Moroccan handicrafts being made and then headed to the medina.
The Medina in Tétouan, Morocco
I’ve been to a lot of medinas in Morocco and I’d have to say that the medina in Tétouan is my all time favorite. The Fez medina is the largest medina in all of Morocco and the Marakesh medina is the most exciting and exotic. But despite that, the Tétouan medina trumped them all. It was so different than in Fez or Marrakesh. It was small and intimate, completely unfiltered and untouched. No one was putting on an act for tourists. The people there don’t have much experience with tourists because they rarely see them. Everything that we saw was real life, as raw and honest as you can get. It was amazing. We also loved it because it was the cheapest medina that we had ever been to. The prices in Tétouan were far cheaper than any other Moroccan cities. Every city is cheap compared to American standards, but Tétouan is even more so. You can snag some great deals fairly easy there. The people in Tétouan are fair. They aren’t there to rip you off and mess with you. They just want an honest and fair deal where both of you are happy. It was a breath of fresh air being there and seeing a calmer side of Morocco.
The pictures below are some of my favorite photos that we snapped while wandering through the Tétouan medina. They are exotic, wild, real, and often times uncomfortable. They depict the normal everyday life of a Moroccan living in Tétouan.
Jimmy got hungry while we were wandering through the medina. Usually I am overly prepared with a variety of snacks packed inside of my backpack as well as everything else you could imagine that you just might need for a young child. You can’t be over prepared right? But, in Morocco, it was harder for me to be prepared with snacks that Jimmy would actually eat because they were harder to find. Luckily, our tour guide helped us find something. It wasn’t the healthiest of choices, but it was full of calories, and I knew it was something that he would actually eat. And it was wrapped, so I knew it was clean and safe for him. A packaged donut it was, preservatives and all.
The Tanneries in Tétouan, Morocco
Even though the famous tanneries to visit in Morocco are the ones in Fez, we made our tannery stop when we were in Tétouan. We had visited the Marrakesh tanneries in the past and weren’t huge fans of them. I remember walking around on our tour carrying a handful of fresh mint leaves under my nose to avoid the smelling the deadly scent of the tannery. Every visitor was given some fresh mint because without them the smell is practically unbearable. This stench comes from the use of cow urine and pigeon poop, two things used in the process to soften the leather and break it down so it can absorb the dye. This smell turned me off from visiting all future tanneries, it was that bad. Our tour guide in Tétouan, not aware of our thoughts about tanneries, took us to the tanneries in Tétouan, so we gladly followed. We’re always up for an adventure in a new place.
The tanneries in Tétouan are very small and intimate. We were the only visitors around and there weren’t really that many workers either. Maybe it was the time of day, as we went later in the afternoon. Nice to not have to fight the crowds of tourists. The thing that I found the most interesting from the tanneries was the different tubs of natural color that they use to dye the leather from all types of animal skins, such as cows, sheep, goats, and even camels. The dyes are made from natural vegetable products like henna, mint, saffron, and cedar wood. Olive oil is used to make the leather shiny. It makes for a pretty picture that’s for sure, all the different colors. It reminds me of a large color pallet of paints that an artist would use to create a painting, dipping his brush into each one to get just the right shades.
I also find it fascinating all the work that goes into the tanning process. Everything is done manually, with no use of modern machinery. Nothing has changed since medieval times, making a visit to see it even more impressive. So many steps and so much physical labor. Moroccans sell gorgeous leather products. Part of that is because of the techniques that they use in the tanneries to create the leather used for the bags just perfectly.
I hope you enjoyed this post about the medina and tanneries in Tétouan. Please leave me a comment in the comment box below!