Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Fes Tannery - Fes, Morocco

Vessels filled with several dyes
The first soak in the acidic pigeon excrement 
A tour in Fes would not be complete without a visit to the tannery. The famous and oldest leather tannery in the world is located in the northeast of as-Saffarine, a quarter in the old Medina. This tannery dates back from the 9th century and the old production method of producing leather has not changed much since then. As we climbed up the small winding stairs to visit one of the leather shops, the stench pungent aroma filled the air but we braved ourselves through just to have a look at this ancient tannery. It is almost impossible to have a view of the tannery without visiting the leather shops since all viewing galleries are part of the shops.

The tannery actually comprises several stone vessels filled with vast color of dyes and the men would be working in the vessels soaking the hides (skins). The first soak is in the vessels of diluted acidic pigeon excrement, cow urine, animal fats and brain…no wonder it stinks! Then the hides are transferred into vessels of vegetables dyes of henna, pomegranates, turmeric and others to give the colors. There is no machine or what so ever equipment used in the process… it’s just plain laborious male job. Men squash, scrape and stretch the smelly skin, while donkeys are still used to transport the skin like in the good old days. I imagined the working condition must be unbearable in the peak of summer when it’s extremely hot in Fes.

After the sheep and goats skins have gone through the tannery process, they are made into bags, shoes, slippers and coats which we can see in the stores. It is mass production without modern technology. The leather products are cheap but your fate lies in your bargaining skill. And for the Muslim visitors, the vendors will always say, “We are brothers and sisters, we give you the best price (halal)” well…unfortunately I don’t buy that after being conned several times J!
The tannery in the middle of Fes neighbourhood

Drying the hides
View from the balcony
The tannery after a long day work
The leather goods in the viewing gallery

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