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Morocco: Fes Tanneries

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Fes Tanneries | Morocco | Africa

[Visited: May 2003]

While looking for the way to the tanneries, a Moroccan tells me to follow and leads me to a door in the alley, removes the mint leaves, knocks on the door. I follow him upstairs, on a staircase that becomes smaller all the time, and then suddenly I arrive on a flat roof. From here, I see the city skyline, the surrounding hills, and below, I have a perfect view on the tanneries I was looking for. Enormous round vats, all filled with coloured liquids fill up the space between the houses. Men are walking around, carrying animal skins, adding water, making colours, treating skins, shouting, putting leather into a vat here and taking it out somewhere else.

Picture of Fes Tanneries (Morocco): Tanneries at Fes: working the skin

I can see the process from beginning to end. I see new bunches of skin arrive at the other side of the river, I see the preparative white vats where the skin will rest for a few days in a mix of water and lime to get rid of hairs and flesh. Then, they are hung or laid down to dry, and after that they make their final move to one of the huge vats with all the colours you could want, dark yellow and blue, with predominantly reddish colours in different shades. The people foing this work have been doing it since medieval times, and the profession is still passed from generation to generation. Not surprisingly, it is an exclusively male profession.

Picture of Fes Tanneries (Morocco): Colouring the leather: tanneries in Fes

While standing on the roof and watching the coming into being of leather, I realized that while just next door I could see satellite dishes and I could make a call with my mobile phone, the scene below has been carried out like this for centuries without a change. The penetrant smell caused by the use of all kinds of animal products (excretions, urine and brains) It is a perfect example of how this city sticks to its traditions, clings to old practices. When I have a look at the products in the shop below, I have a different look at all those leather products.

Picture of Fes Tanneries (Morocco): Fes: colouring leather in tanneries
Picture of Fes Tanneries (Morocco): Drying skins at Fes tanneries
Picture of Fes Tanneries (Morocco): Skins drying, skin dyeing: work at the Fes tanneries

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