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Morocco - Fes Tanneries

Discussion in 'Wanderlust and Travel' started by Jimbojack, Apr 30, 2007.

  1. I'm very happy to see that people liked my photos from the Hassan II mosque, so here is another series of pictures from Morocco.

    Fes is very well known for its medieval tanneries. Although Marrakech also has a few tanneries, the ones in Fes are more famous and I believe were the first. The tanneries are used the same way since they were established, more then 1000 years ago! Sheep, goat, camel and cow skins are used, with different skins used for different quality leather products. The skins are first placed in vats, to prepare them for the leatherworking process. The skins are placed successively in saline solution, lime, pigeon droppings (the ammonia from the droppings softens the skins) and then in vats containing the coloring agents. Traditionally natural dyes were used, although some tanneries now use artificial dyes. The traditional tanneries get the red color from poppies, yellow from saffron, brown from henna, and green from wild mint.

    Most of the workers work barefoot, and use their toes to pick up the skins from the bottom of the dying vats, then work on them with their hands. Up to 600 skins sit in a vat at any one time, spending up to 2 months being worked on. Berbers traditionally prefer to work on goat and sheep skins, while Arabs use mostly camel and cow skins.

    Since the animal skins are placed in vats containing pigeon excrement, and often have rotting animal flesh attached to them, the whole area smells extremely bad. When you enter the vicinity of the tanneries, guides and workers offer everyone fresh mint leaves to put under your nose for the duration of the visit.

    Although it doesn't look great, this is actually a very good job and is relatively well paid. Studies done about the health of the workers found out that they actually live longer and healthier lives then workers in other Moroccan collectives.

    Overall view of two of the main tanneries in Fes:






    Workers in the tanneries:














    Red skins in the vats:



    Various skins drying in the sunlight:




    Leftovers of the animal skins. The horns are often made into combs:


    A finished product of the process, leather slippers for sale at a market:


    The whole series has 31 photos, you can see it on my site in the Morocco section, but here I posted some of the better ones.

    I hope you all enjoy this series of photos, in the next few days I'll post pictures from my time trekking in the Dogon Country, Mali
  2. WOW! What an awsome experience! I could almost hear the Middle Eastern music as I scrolled though Morocco! Thanks for such a wonderful trip! I can hardly wait to see the next leg of your journey!
  3. What a fantastic series, Phillip - thank you so much for the story of this process. I'll never view my red leather heels the same way again. :wink:
  4. Fascinating post Phillip, the images as well as the narrative - thanks!
  5. These photos are great.

    I visited Fes last summer, along with Meknes and a few cities in Andalucia. I saw the tanneries last summer. Fes is a very interesting city.

    That trip is a big reason I decided I wanted to learn more about photography (and wanted a DSLR as well).

    Thanks for sharing.
  6. Andyc


    Nov 6, 2006
    South Wales UK
    Great photographs. No Health and Safety rules there then?

    Best regards
  7. Phillip, I truly mean this, I thought I was looking through a National Geogrpahic magazine. What an outstanding documentary, I thoroughly enjoyed every shot.

  8. Thank you all for the comments.

    Visiting the tanneries was a very interesting experience, the smell is something I will remember for a loooong time. Most people who visited the tanneries held some fresh mint under their nose. I didn't really use it, but there were times when I had to move to a less smelly area for a couple minutes.

    I'll post more pictures from my trip soon!
  9. BigPixel

    BigPixel Guest

    neat shots. Man, I want some of those shoes!!! Did you buy any?
  10. I thought about getting some, but after thinking about it I decided not to. I wouldn't really wear them. I also thought about picking up some traditional leather seats (puffs), but I have 2 which I got in Egypt on a previous trip.

    Moroccan leather is amazing quality though, the puffs were much nicer then the ones I got in Egypt for example, the skin is super soft. Those guys really know what they are doing.
  11. GastheerG

    GastheerG Guest

    What a great report. Very very nice
  12. Faceman


    Aug 19, 2006
    LI, NY
    Very nice series.
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