Friday, December 27, 2013

A Visit to Fossil Factory - Rissani, Morocco

The rocks are wet with water to make the fossilized critters visible
The fossils in the rock become visible when splash with water
Rissani is a remote desert town in eastern Morocco, near Erfoud and according to the 2004 population census, it had about 20,000 people then. It is not far from Erg Chebbi, the magnificient desert.  After traveling a few miles in the region of Er-Rachidia, we made a brief stop at one of the fossil factory to see some interesting fossil crafts which will actually make very nice souvenirs to carry home.  They make all sorts of goods from small figurines, ash trays, plates, mugs and  to huge items such as tables, sinks, bathrooms  and home decorative items.  

The guide explained that the desert area of Morocco was once a sea more than 400 million years ago.  When the sea receded, the critters died and later became fossilized.  Today the fossilized rocks are mined and it becomes a growing popular industry in this part of Morocco. Some of us bought pendents, rings and very small items as souvenirs - anything bigger than that can be quite heavy to take home.  You also need to be careful with the authenticity of the fossilized products as there have been instances where fake fossilized items made from cement and shaped in moulds are mistaken for real. 

Trilobite Fossil
Several artifacts made from fossil stones
Fossilized Squids
They call it - Desert Rose
Moroccan Amonite
The guide showed us some fossil stone blocks
Beautiful plate from fossil rock

The Artisans of Fez - Fez, Morocco

Carving on a gold plate

The man patiently working on his piece

Rambling in Fez medina would be more meaningful if we understand the history as well as the culture of the locals.  Fez is more than just a religious city, trade and artisans flourish from medieval until today.  It is a paradise of artisans and traditional authentic crafts is all over the Medina.  If you have a lot of time, it would be wonderful to explore the Medina and get yourself lost among the 9,000 little shops but if time is your biggest constraint then hiring a trusted guide is the best option. We tried both, getting ourselves lost in this medieval walled city as well as hiring a professional guide.

We were lucky to have an excellent guide, Khalid, who introduced to us several crafts and artwork available in the city. We stopped to have a glimpse of some artisans working on silver, gold and camel bone.   The artisans are very skillful as they have inherited the trade from one generation to another for hundred of years. The medina though congested, is divided into various sections
Lovely intricate design on the plate

Unlike our earlier experience of getting lost in the crowded Medina, this time with Khalid, we moved from one section of the souk to another with great ease but sharing the narrow streets with the donkeys can be hard. When we heard men shouting "Belek, Belek!" surely behind us will be the heavy laden donkeys trying to make their way.  

Very effective time management - in just half a day, we were able to get to most part of the Medina. We went to the metal section, the tannery for the leathers, the food section, textiles section, copper and wood section. Several names of the sections in Arabic were mentioned by Khalid, like Attarine,  Daraqqin, Saffarin and I lost count of them.
We bought this beautiful piece as a wedding gift for a friend

Copper, silver and gold plated plate for the wall decoration
Beautifully decorated pieces
The chest box is made of camel bone and wood
Mirror decorated with camel bones
Hand-crafted tombstone 
The man working on the tombstone
Beautiful jar made from pieces of camel bones
Hand-made cooking pots