A Trip to Les Tanneries

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We were warned of the smell by our driver Karim but nothing could quite prepare you for the mixing aromas of drying animal hides, various dye mixtures and what we later discovered, pigeon droppings.

I wasn’t sure what I was walking into as we approached the famous tanneries of Fez, I’d seen the stunning pictures of the potent coloured dye baths and knew that the tanneries were a part of a long line of Moroccan history, but that was all. As we entered the mudbrick building we were each handed a sprig of mint and we soon realised what it as for. We were warned of the smell by our driver Karim but nothing could quite prepare you for the mixing aromas of drying animal hides, various dye mixtures and what we later discovered, pigeon droppings. Our guide met us, energetic and mint-less, insisting you eventually get used to the smell. He happily gave us a detailed explanation of the natural processes they have used for almost a century to create some of the world’s best leather. I couldn’t scribble down the information fast enough so even after I’d asked him to repeat the entire process twice, I was still grateful I had the amazing Erin next to me capturing his every word on camera.

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To begin, the hides are soaked for 2-3 days in a mixture of cow urine, lime, water and salt which helps to breakdown the leather and remove any excess fur, flesh or fat

The hides are then moved to a vat of water and pigeon droppings to soften and prepare the hides for dye absorption. Men, knee and thigh high deep in the vats stomp on the leather like grapes, the hot sun beating down on them. Circular vats were filled with rich colours of saffron, mint, indigo, poppy, cedarwood, henna and coal for the hide to be dyed.

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They knead the leather in the dye vats for up to three hours before it’s at its desired softness and then leave the hides to dye for up to 10 days.

They knead the leather in the dye vats for up to three hours before it’s at its desired softness and then leave the hides to dye for up to 10 days.

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Generations of families made up the co-operative that was the tannery; from the tanners to the seamstresses, guides and salesmen.

The guide explained that the only thing different about the tannery today in comparison to a thousand years ago were the workers. Generations of families made up the co-operative that was the tannery; from the tanners to the seamstresses, guides and salesmen. It was fascinating to witness the work of a tradition so special to Moroccan culture and see the processes behind the product.

With love, Sarah xxx

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