Having lived in Spain for a while, I’ve come to know that if you see anyone walking around with a nice leather bag, the chances are it’s from Morocco. The country has been famous for hundreds of years for producing some of the finest leather goods in the world.
The tanneries in Fez are a popular spot for tourists to visit to see all the leather being processed and turned into beautiful products. As you walk up to the rooftops of the surrounding buildings to see the view, you’re given some mint leaves to smell. This is because one of the steps involved in cleaning the leather is to keep it in pidgeon poop for a while, to let the ammonia work it’s magic. These are in the big white vats that you see in the pictures below. The stench is particularly revolting, and I was more than happy to have the mint to whiff instead.
The brown vats are where the leather is dyed various colours. Men work in the sweltering heat in these (having grown accustomed to the overwhelming smell of pidgeon crap coming from nextdoor), after covering themselves in sunflower oil in order to not get dyed themselves.
In between these stages, and after, the leather hung up to dry out in the sun, which is what you’ll see in the towers situated in the middle and around the outside of the tanneries. You will also see piles of wool spread out across the rooftops, which is used for stuffing leather cushions or pillows.
Once the leather has passed through all of that, it’s ready to be cut and sewn up to create all the products you’ll find in the buildings surrounding the tannery. These have the novelty factor of having been made a matter of metres away from the store, but they also come with that price. You’ll find leather products all over Fez and Morocco, so make sure you shop around for a bargain as just a few streets down from the tanneries the leather goods are much cheaper.
Photos contributed in part by Sophie Derrington of Switzerland.