Fez - The tanneries of Fez provide a tourist experience unlike any other.
Fez – The tanneries of Fez provide a tourist experience unlike any other.
In the heart of the medina in the Old City, lies an ancient leather tanning facility. There, hundreds of laborers who have been in the business for generations process the hides of cows, sheep, camels, and goats and manufacture them into shoes, bags, coats, and other products to be sold locally as well as imported.
Though it is a popular tourist site, the tanneries are not for those with weak stomaches. Due to the contents of the stone pools where the leather is processed, the tanneries have a very distinct, sour, hard to swallow smell about them (especially to those who aren’t accustomed to e odors). Despite this, there are usually a number of tourists visiting and observing.
The leathers are first soaked in a mixture of cow urine, salt, and quicklime. This acidic combination allows the hides to be processed fully by breaking down their tough texture a getting rid of excess hair and fat.
After they are dried, the leathers are processed again in a mixture of pigeon feces and water. The workers use their bare hands and feet, standing in the pools, to step on and soften the leather for a few hours.
Then, they are dyed in all-natural dye mixtures made from plants in yet another pool. For example, yellow is made from saffron and blue is made from the indigo plant. Finally, they are laid out to dry in the sun and then made into products.
Most visitors perch themselves up on a viewing deck, located in the various leather shops surrounding the tanneries, where the processes can be seen from above. However, some are lucky enough to have a tour guide willing to take them directly though the tanneries, in close proximity with the pools, workers, and animal remnants. This is a messy process; the ground is slippery and uneven and in order to get around the pools, a lot of climbing and navigating is required and visitors must be careful not to slip or even fall into a pool processing leather.
A frequent practice used by tour guides is to provide mint leaves to help mask the smell of the pools. However, workers and locals do not do this as they are apparently very used to the odors from working there for years.
The tanneries are definitely a unique experience, especially to those who have not witnessed leather production at such a close and personal level. It is a must-see for those looking to experience the entirety of Morocco.
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