Lying to the east of Marrakech, Bab El Debbagh provides entrance to one of the oldest districts of the city, the tanneries. Of all of the 19 gates that puncture the red pisé-cement ramparts of Marrakech, Bab El Debbagh is the only one to be named after a craft, demonstrating the historic importance of the leather trade throughout the city.
The tanners are said to have been the first to settle in Marrakech during the city’s formation and the tanneries still stand in the same location thousands of years later, at the city’s most easterly point. The original tradesmen chose this location for two reasons: as the tanneries were distanced from the centre of the city, so that the smell did not affect the central residential areas, and so that they were close to the seasonal waters of the Oued Issil river, as water was needed in the tanning process.
The tanning process itself, as with many traditional practices in Morocco, is deeply embedded with symbolism. Indeed, there are a number of competing legends and myths concerning the gate. One such legend suggests that 7 virgins are buried at the foot of the gate, and that women who desire a child should offer them henna and candles. Another story claims that the Tanners Gate is inhabited by Malik Gharub, a genie who led a failed revolt against Sidna Suleyman, the Black King, only to be condemned to tan a cowhide for eternity.
Bab El Debbagh not only functions as a gateway into the city, but it is also the start point of our ‘Leather and Tanning’ Medina walk, a curated tour which traces the significance of the historic leather industry across Marrakech’s old town. If you would like to find out more about the free MarrakechRiad app, the ‘Leather and Tanning’ walk or any of our other Medina walks then our Riad staff would be happy to help.
The famous Marrakech Tanneries are located to the East of the Medina and offer a fascinating opportunity to see an ancient craft alive and well in the twenty first century. The tanners use their skill and judgement to progress animal hides through a succession of processes essentially unchanged from those used by their forbears centuries ago. Many of the tanneries offer guided tours and there are opportunities to purchase finished leather goods at reasonable prices.